Signs your teen is in trouble and what to do about it

Sunday, March 17, 2013 - 11:00pm

(StatePoint) Being a teenager is never easy, but for some kids, it is excruciating. For parents, being able to tell the difference between normal growing pains and real trouble is crucial.

From drug abuse to depression to more serious physical or mental abuse, it's important to recognize when your teen is in trouble.

"Young people don't always have the tools or perspective to process everything that's happening to them. Many teens will turn inward, keeping feelings to themselves," says Bulbul Bahuguna, a psychiatrist and author of the new novel, "The Ghosts That Come Between Us," a coming-of-age story about a victim of childhood sex abuse. "

But Bahuguna, whose novel is informed by her work treating adults coping with childhood abuse issues, says parents can break the silence. "What can hurt teens even more than the troubles and issues they face, is the silence of those around them. Parents should never play the role of silent bystanders," she says.

Here are some steps you can take to help your child survive the teen years emotionally unscathed:

o Recognize that it can take courage to talk about certain issues, such as depression, or being the victim of bullying or abuse. Just because your child isn't vocalizing an issue, doesn't mean everything is okay.

If your child is acting withdrawn, secretive, angry or sad, set aside time for a discussion. By engaging regularly, you can encourage teens to speak honestly with you before problems start. Don't force or pry, however.

o While you're no longer changing diapers or spoon feeding your teenager, older children need parents too. "Being there" for teenagers means reviewing report cards, communicating with teachers, facilitating extracurricular activities and being a great listener and emotional support system.

o While you may be able to talk your child through some of life's bumps in the road, some situations call for professional help. Not only is a therapist or psychiatrist professionally qualified to help develop coping skills, your child might feel more comfortable talking to someone objective.

Such aid can be crucial to helping your teen move on and grow into a healthy adulthood, stresses Bahuguna, whose new novel "The Ghosts That Come Between Us" traces the life of an abused girl as she grows of age into a triumphant but tormented adult. The novel implies that the protagonist's adult life would have been less tormented had she had access to help growing up.

o Ensure your school offers easy access to mental health services and encourage your child to use those services.

o Boost self-esteem by fostering your teen's talents and regularly letting them know you love them. It is normal for a child to seek specialness. Unfortunately, this pursuit of specialness sometimes is exploited by abusive adults. It is important to fill teenagers' specialness void by nurturing their innate talents, say experts.

"Society needs to believe the victim and the victim needs to believe that healing is possible with courage, honesty and patience," says Bahuguna, emphasizing the need for trust and patience.

More advice from Dr. Bahuguna can be found at www.BulbulBahuguna.com, along with information on her new book.

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