“Sooner Rather than Later” Can Make a Big Difference

With kids and adolescents, it’s easy to take a “wait and see” approach to behavioral and emotional problems that arise. Perhaps they’re just going through a phase, or it’s something they’ll grow out of, or it “comes with the territory” for their age. While this is certainly true about some aspects of adolescence, it’s also true that sometimes, problems are evident but people are hesitant to find a therapist or counselor, afraid either of perceived stigma or afraid that they’re overreacting as a parent.

But new research is showing that intervening to provide psychological support can make a considerable difference. Specifically, childhood problems left unaddressed are linked to long-lasting problems in adulthood. Take this recent study from the Karolinska Institute, a medical university in Sweden: early substance misuse continues into middle age. It’s easy to write off teen partying as typical rebellion and experimentation. But if teens are going so far as to regularly abuse alcohol or drugs, they’re much more likely to continue that behavior for the rest of their lives, developing mental, physical, and financial problems along the way. Suddenly, bridging that awkward gap of insisting your teen get counseling seems more urgent.

It’s not just adolescents. Kids who exhibit behavior problems—ranging from aggression and anger to depression and withdrawal—may need intervention as soon as the problem appears, says Lisa Serbin of Concordia University. New research from the institution finds that when kids first exhibit behavior problems, they experience a spike in the stress hormone cortisol. As those problems persist, the cortisol levels become very low—so low that they can contribute to depression and decrease a child’s interest in performing well in school. It’s a long-term trajectory that could benefit from the decision to find a child psychologist early on.

This isn’t to say that all toddlers, children, adolescents and teens that exhibit difficult behavior are at risk for extended mental health problems. But if those problem behaviors are coming from a deeper place, it could be a sign that additional help is needed. If your child seems to be acting out more than his or her peers, you may way to consider finding a counselor for a bit of added support.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Harriet J

    Harriet J

    February 17th, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    A stitch in time saves nine-and it is no different when it comes to behavioral issues. If left unchecked,the adolescent may get acclimatized to such behavior As you’ve said and this will bring a whole bunch of problems later on in their adult life.

  • gordon


    February 17th, 2011 at 5:44 AM

    There is a tendency to think that the longer you try to wait something out then it will go away. But there have been a lot of recent cases which suggest the opposite. Issues like these do not go away on their own. Often they simply fester and get worse and worse until someone gets hurt.

  • Larson


    February 18th, 2011 at 5:52 AM

    Anything that is a problem in childhood and is left unresolved is very likely to cause problems well into adulthood. Isn’t this the case always? You leave something unresolved and it does not go away it just keeps showing up in other places all of the time. No surprise.

  • Johnathan


    February 20th, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    You can’t just “wait and see” for anything. Would you say it for a leaky pipe? If you do you really have to take a look at how you deal with things. There is no wait and see for mental issues, especially if you don’t change what’s exacerbating it.

  • Clay


    February 20th, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    In a way I can understand the temptation to ignore that there may be something wrong with your child. We want our children to be perfectly healthy and have perfect lives. If you face up to them having mental health issues, they are no longer perfect. Personally I think perfection’s overrated anyway.

  • Martha T.

    Martha T.

    February 20th, 2011 at 6:38 PM

    I think a lot of depression is caused by something that starts in your youth and it needs to be recognized and dealt with at that point or else it’ll get worse, aggression especially. If you say your son or daughter has aggression problems after they give another pupil a black eye in school, the authorities won’t be pleased that you knew it and did nothing about it.

  • Brianna


    February 24th, 2011 at 2:43 AM

    Later can also wind up becoming part of “I’ll get around to it.”, I’ve been meaning to “get around to” a several things for about two months now and I’ve still not done them. Mental health issues however should not ever be put on the back burner.

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