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.
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