Dear Teen: 6 Common Reasons Why You Are Afraid to Ask for Help But Shouldn’t
So, you haven’t been feeling like yourself for a few days, maybe even a few weeks or months. You have lost interest in things that you normally enjoy, you are struggling to focus in school and turn in assignments, and you feel overwhelmed by even small tasks. If you have reached out for help, that is great! Reaching out for help is the first step in helping you to feel better and get healthier. If you have not reached out for help, don’t worry, you are not alone. Unfortunately, many kids and teens struggle to reach out to their parents for help, for a number of different reasons. Here are some of the most common reasons and some strategies to help you overcome them and reach out.
“I am worried because I don’t know how my parents will react.”
Facing the “unknown” is often a scary proposition. The “unknown” fuels our anxiety with “what if” worries and can often lead to inaction. However, the reality is, the sooner you reach out, the sooner you can start feeling better. And while you can’t know or control how your parents will react, you can plan how you approach sharing the information with your parents. Making thoughtful choices about when and how to disclose your feelings can have great impact on how the conversation goes. Some things you can do to help set up the conversation include:
· Picking a time and place that allows for enough time to have a thoughtful conversation (i.e. don’t do it as your parents are running out the door on their way to work).
· Ask your parents to set aside time on a certain day to talk.
· Jot down your thoughts ahead of time so that you know what you want to say and how you want to say it.
· If you are not comfortable with a face-to-face conversation, write a letter. This allows your parents some time to reflect on what you are sharing and you the space to share everything that you are thinking and feeling without the pressure of an immediate response.
“My parents will be angry.”
This is one of the most common worries that I hear about from my clients. Most kids and teens want approval and acceptance, especially from their parents. If you are one of these kids, you may worry that your parents will see your struggle as a sign of weakness or an annoyance. Sharing something so personal can lead you to feel very vulnerable and therefore particularly sensitive to how a loved one responds. If you are worried about this, it can be helpful to keep these things in mind:
· Sometimes anger is really based in fear. Think about the parent who responds with anger when their child gets separated from them in a public place. They may yell at their child, “where were you,” or “don’t ever walk away from me like that again.” Now, do you think they are really just angry? Probably not. Most likely they are reacting to feeling really frightened and helpless. The same way that your parents might feel if you share that you are struggling with depression or anxiety. So, try to reframe a potentially “angry” response as more of a “fear/caring” response.
· Think about the last time you shared something difficult with your parents. Did it go better than expected? It usually does. Often, we plan for the worst-case scenario as a defense mechanism, when in reality, things usually go much smoother. If your parents have a track record of responding calmly and with understanding, remind yourself of this and give them the benefit of the doubt. If you find that unfortunately they don’t usually respond well to disclosures of this nature, it may be helpful to tell another trusted adult who can support you in sharing the information with your parents.
· Remind yourself that no matter what other people think, asking for help is a strength and the right thing to do!
“My parents will ask too many questions.”
Sometimes when parents are worried they cope by asking a lot of questions so that they can get all the information they need in order to help. However, sometimes that can feel like an interrogation when all you want is for them to listen, validate, and help you come up with some strategies to manage your feelings. If you are worried about this, you can:
· Start by sharing with them how they can best respond and/or help. Parents are not mind readers and don’t always know how to respond to situations. Don’t expect that they know what you want. Instead, share that you know that they will have a lot of questions, but right now it would be most helpful if they just listened.
· Know your boundaries. Sometimes you might not be ready to share everything. That is OK. Let them know when you are not comfortable talking about something and ask if you can discuss it at later time, maybe with the help of a professional.
· Know that it is OK to not have all the answers. If you did, you wouldn’t be feeling this way. Instead, if you find that they have a lot of questions that you can’t answer, suggest that it might be helpful for you to see a therapist so that you can get a better understanding about what is going on and how to help yourself feel better.
“One or both of my parents are part of why I am struggling.”
If one or both of your parents contribute to how you are feeling or why you are seeking help, there are several options for what you can do.
· If you trust one parent, you can explain how you are feeling and ask that they either tell or do not tell the other parent.
· Reach out to another trusted adult in your life. This might be a school guidance counselor, a teacher, a religious leader, a coach, or an extended family member. While seeking support from friends can be helpful, remember that it is more important that you reach out to an adult who can assist you in getting the help that you need.
“My parents won’t understand or take me seriously.”
Even if your parents love you, sometimes it’s hard for them to see or understand what is actually going on. Maybe they dismiss how you’re are feeling as typical “adolescent problems.” Or, maybe they don’t believe in mental health and therefore don’t support you seeking help. Being invalidated by the people most important to us can be extremely painful and discouraging. You may even start to believe that nothing is wrong, and you should just “get over it.” However, ignoring your feelings and experience won’t help matters. Instead, you should continue to push to get the support you need. If you feel that your parents aren’t reacting in a way that is helpful, you can:
· Reach out to other resources (guidance counselors, teachers, coaches, relatives) for help. Maybe they can even help you talk with your parents.
· In Maryland, you can get therapy without parental consent at the age of 16.
· Keep trying and don’t give up. Talk with your parents again or write them a letter. Your health is important and sometimes you need to be your own advocate.
“My parents already have enough to worry about.”
It’s true, adults have a lot of responsibilities and stress of their own. That just comes with the territory. Regardless, your wellbeing and health is important and deserves attention—no matter what else may be going on with your parents. If you’re worried about stressing out your parents, pick a time to talk when things are calm, and bring information about what you’re going through and what kind of help you would like. Also, remember that if you don’t get the help, chances are things will get worse and likely become even more stressful for everyone.
Remember, your health is important. Reach out soon and get better sooner. You are not alone, there is help out there!