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Adjustment Problems in Adolescence

Sarah, a 14 year old girl

Sarah, a fourteen year girl from Thornhill, who just started Grade 9 came to see me. Sarah’s parents were concerned because her marks were dropping and she was not adjusting well to high school. Sarah’s mother reported “my daughter stays in her room and is not talking to me or anyone else”. She refused to go out with her family.

Sarah's teacher called her parents to say that Sarah was crying in math class and had not done the homework. Sarah was eating alone at school. Apparently her middle school friends were ignoring her. Of course, Sarah was very upset and feeling isolated. Sarah was an A student in middle school and had won many awards.

Sarah attended eight counselling sessions in my Vaughan counselling office. Initially she was reluctant to talk about what was bothering her. I made her comfortable and put her at ease so that she could express herself and speak about the challenges with her peers and school work.

She was being teased by friends from the old school. She was finding the amount of homework overwhelming and was placing excessive pressure on herself. We worked on coping strategies to enable her to express herself and deal with relationship challenges in high school. She responded well to mindfulness and stress reduction approaches.

For this particular situation, Sarah agreed to have her parents attend a few sessions with us. This helped Sarah’s parents understand what was going on so that they could support her in getting the school to provide additional assistance. In time Sarah was able to join in some school activities and developed new acquaintances. Slowly her marks began to improve.

Tips you can use to help your child

1) Determine if there has been a change in your teen’s overall functioning and mood.

2) Have marks dropped? Change in relationships? Teasing from peers? Calls from school?

3) Notice if there have been changes in sleep, eating, and work/study patterns?

4) Create an atmosphere for dialogue with your teen; find the right moment and place to talk. Is it a coffee shop, driving somewhere or after watching a movie together.

5) Stay calm when engaging in this dialogue and avoid parent/child argument around homework and chores at that time.

6) Consider if there is a friend or other family member who can connect with your teen.

7) Monitor the situation to determine if this is phase or more of a problem that requires outside help.

8) Utilize resources such as: the family doctor or guidance counsellor at school.

9) Utilize phone crisis numbers available in your local community if the situation intensifies.

10) Proceed to the local hospital emergency department if you become concerned about safety or suicidal thoughts/behavior.

This scenario is based on a real situation. All details have been changed to protect the identity and confidentiality of the clients.