Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects approximately 500,000 children and teens in the US. While it is a well-known condition, OCD is frequently misunderstood and more common than most people expect. However, talking about OCD with your teen can encourage open conversation, help you and your teen recognize symptoms, and find appropriate treatment.
At its core, OCD is an anxiety disorder. Like social phobia or generalized anxiety, it centers around the physical and mental symptoms of fear and worry. However, it functions differently from those disorders. OCD is a recursive condition defined by two major characteristics: unwanted and overpowering obsessions and ritualistic, soothing compulsions.
These characteristics feed one another and keep the cycle going. When an obsession is ignored, the anxiety and discomfort around it grow exponentially until a compulsion is used to soothe it. However, this ineffective coping mechanism usually leads to the next obsession in due time. Alternatively, certain environmental triggers – from stress to timing – can trigger an obsession.
Children and teens with OCD may not necessarily know or understand that they’re struggling with something most people don’t struggle with. But the obstacles OCD can throw into schoolwork and home life can further feed the anxieties, frustrations, and depressive thoughts that may plague your child.
In teens who do know what OCD is and suspect they may have OCD, it becomes common to try and ignore or avoid the issue to dodge the stigma surrounding mental illness. Making sure your teen feels comfortable enough to talk about their anxieties, and seek treatment, is important. Here’s what you should know when talking about OCD with your teen.
OCD is a complex disorder and not one to be lightly diagnosed. If you suspect that your teen or loved one might be struggling with OCD, especially if it runs in the family, it may be worth taking note of your teen’s behavior and speaking to a specialist first.
Learning more about OCD can help you talk to your teen about how they’ve been feeling and how they’ve been coping. Learn more about the different obsessions teens can struggle with and the many different ways in which compulsions develop.
OCD symptoms can even appear in the least likely of places, such as your teen’s gaming habits. There’s a difference between a quirky habit and a ritualistic devotion to certain daily practices.
If or once your teen is diagnosed, taking the time to learn more about OCD and how it is treated can help give both you and your child a better perspective of what’s to come and what to expect.
Dealing with Treatment Refusal
People are not often enthusiastic about being encouraged to see a therapist or mental health professional. We do ultimately still associate mental health disorders with personal failings, despite the fact that they are not related.
It is crucial to ensure that your teen understands where you are coming from as a parent, in the sense that you want them to have a chance at their best life, rather than center on the idea that something is fundamentally wrong with them. We don’t blame people for having a bad knee or for suddenly receiving a cancer diagnosis. We can’t blame anyone for having OCD. But we can do something about it together.
Recognize Your Role
It can be hard to admit that we may contribute to our teen’s compulsions and behavior, but even inadvertent involvement can negatively affect your teen’s perception of their own condition, being misinterpreted as tacit approval or a sign that things are fine.
This can come in many unexpected ways, such as providing excessive reassurance (feeding the proverbial feedback loop of OCD) or inadvertently participating in ritualized behavior, such as nighttime rituals your teen can’t sleep without.
If you find yourself involved in your teen’s compulsions, it’s best to see a professional yourself and bring it up. They can guide you through a context-sensitive way to help your teen and introduce better coping mechanisms.
Champion Transparency and Honesty
This can be difficult for some parents. It may sound counterproductive to give your teen more space when you want to have a greater effect on them. But sometimes, pulling away is the best way to get your teen to come to you.
To truly help your teen, you ultimately need their full trust and their total honesty. That comes from showing your teen, time and time again, that you trust them, too, and that your love and affection towards them is entirely unconditional, no matter what they think or feel.
Begin by respecting both their privacy and their right to a non-judgmental home environment. Snooping is an effective way to figure out what your teen is doing, but it’s an even better way to break their trust.
You want to make sure that you foster an environment where your teen feels that they are being increasingly treated like an independent adult – while still being your child and your loved one. Then, talk to them in earnest. Be honest about your own experiences. Relate to what they feel, whether it’s anxiety about school or your own experiences with depression and stress.
When you can’t relate, be empathetic. Ask them what they want to do. Start talking about OCD with them. Talk to them about getting help. Offer to bring them to a therapist the next day.
Support Their Treatment
Conditions like OCD are difficult to treat and difficult to live with. They can be a lifelong obstacle, requiring continued treatment and varied coping skills to make do. But when a person’s loved one is diagnosed with these conditions, it poses a unique challenge.
Standing on the sidelines is difficult because your influence on your teen’s condition is, while important, ultimately limited. It is a battle you cannot fight for them. The most you can do is be in their corner, always.
At times you will be their cheerleader. At times you will be their caretaker. But with patience, compassion, and the right help, you will also have many, many times where you will feel nothing but pride and joy for how your teen has overcome their challenges and continued to lead a good life in spite of them.
OCD Treatment for Teens at Visions
If talking about OCD with your child isn’t enough, contact us at Visions Treatment Centers. We can provide the tools and best OCD treatment approach to help your teen get back on track.