Whether you’re struggling with your mental health, having problems with your friends, or feeling overwhelmed with school and extracurricular activities, talking to a therapist can be a great step in the right direction towards taking care of yourself. You might know you need help…but convincing your parents can be another issue entirely.
A lot of teens feel worried, scared, or anxious to talk to their parents about getting help or starting therapy. It’s understandable! No matter what you’re going through, telling your parents you’re experiencing something big can be tough. However, at the end of the day, it’s your parents’ job to help support and care for you. Here are some tips to help make the conversation with your parents a little easier.
When you hear stories about successful people - athletes, CEOs, musicians, actors - they all have something in common. They’ve all experienced hardships, setbacks, difficulties, or challenges and have learned how to bounce back and grow from their experiences. Adversity is part of life and how we recover from adversity, not adversity itself, defines us. Seeking help when you need it is a strength, as it allows you to bounce back from setbacks faster and learn new skills and tools to help you in the future.
Mental health struggles are also really common in the teenage years. About 1 in 3 teens will experience anxiety and about 1 in 10 teens will experience depression. The good news is that therapy has shown to be helpful in treating both anxiety and depression, as well as other mental health concerns like trauma, disordered eating, substance abuse, and self-esteem problems just to name a few. Additionally, therapy can also help you learn problem-solving and time management skills, as well as communication and relationship building skills.
Have your parents ever come into your room and started asking you to do things while you’re in the middle of doing homework? When this happens, you probably feel irritated or annoyed and have difficulty concentrating on what they’re saying. It’s tough to focus on a new conversation when you’re in the middle of something.
The same idea applies to bringing up therapy with your parents. Try to find a time when they’re not busy doing something else, as well as a time when they’re not stressed or upset and are in a good mood. Think about conversations where you’ve asked for things in the past that went well - what factors do you think contributed and how can you replicate those for this conversation?
When you ask for help, your parents are likely going to want to know what’s going on. Think about what you’d like to say to them before having the conversation. You might feel comfortable sharing a lot of what you’re experiencing or you might not want to give too many details. Either way, your parents will likely want to know something, so it’s helpful to be prepared beforehand.
If you’re feeling anxious, you could tell them something like “I’m spending a lot of time worried about my grades and it makes it hard for me to concentrate at school” or if you’re feeling depressed, you could say “I’ve been feeling pretty down lately and that’s made it hard for me to want to see my friends or go to practice.”
Going into this conversation, you might feel like you need to have all the answers or be able to explain why you’re thinking or feeling the way you are. Try not to get caught up in analyzing what’s going on - that’s the job of the professional! Instead, focus on directly asking for what you need, like saying “I’d like to see a therapist” or “I want to see someone who can help.”
Many parents worry that their teen will use therapy as a platform to blame parents for their problems. Others believe that the “real problem” is simply motivation and effort - if you were to work harder at school you’d do better, for example. Many parents are simply unfamiliar with or distrustful of therapists based on cultural background or personal experience. Anticipating their concerns may help you prepare talking points that address them. At the bottom of this article are 6 common roadblocks parents present, and ideas for what to say.
You might find that despite your best planning, your parents were not receptive or open to the idea of you seeking help. This can be frustrating and discouraging! Sometimes, it might take a few tries before your parents get on board - don’t give up! The most important thing to remember in these conversations is that at the end of the day, your parents likely want the same thing you do - for you to feel OK.
Approaching them calmly and giving them space to process new information will help get you a step closer. You can also consider recruiting another trusted adult to help with this talk, such as your school counselor, coach, pastor, or friend’s parent. Try to think of other adults your parents respect and would listen to.
While you’re planning on when to talk to your parents or are waiting to try again, there are resources available to you.Here is a list of freely available resources for a wide range of problems.
Going to therapy can be compared to going to a medical doctor, to a trusted adult for support, or to a coach or physical therapist for sports - pick an example you think your parents will relate to. You can explain that therapists are professionals with special expertise in mental and emotional health.
It may be helpful to lean into an example here, too, like visiting a physical therapist to resolve an injury. You can also outline some of the other benefits of improving mental health - like doing better in school, improving family and friend relationships, and improved physical health. You can also reference a known and respected person who has been open about mental health such as Olympians Michael Phelps and Simone Biles, Prince Harry, and actor Kristen Bell. Again, try your best to put yourself in your parents’ shoes, and think of examples they will understand and relate to. The message is that, while therapy may seem like something new, it’s actually something they’re familiar with and find trustworthy after all.
Therapists are trained specifically not to promote or impose their values on their clients. It’s the therapist’s job to get to know you and your family, and then find ways to support you that make sense in your family system. Even if you personally disagree with values that your parents hold, your therapist will not have an agenda to align you against your family or “turn you into” someone you’re not. Addressing this fear can help your parents feel more receptive to inviting another adult into your world.
You can explain that the purpose of therapy is actually the opposite of this - the therapist’s only agenda is to support you, not be judgemental. Plus your parents may be pleasantly surprised that getting support for their teen actually helps family conflict go down.
Talking about money can feel really hard, and parents may not be comfortable discussing the details of your family’s finances with you - that’s totally ok! This is a time when it might be easier to let an adult help you out. You can suggest talking to one of Joon’s Care Coordinators who can tell them exactly what the costs are and options for insurance and payment. It’s free and easy to schedule, and will also give them the opportunity to ask an expert the real, “hard” questions about therapy.
So you’ve done the hard work of convincing your parents to get you a therapist - now are they expecting to be involved at every step? Any therapist specializing in care for teens and young adults should have explicit and transparent policies about when and what they communicate with parents AND should be clear about communicating these policies to parents. At Joon, these policies are outlined at every step and reviewed frequently. The short (and reassuring) answer is that your therapy will focus on you, and will only involve your parents when it’s related to your therapy goals or immediate safety.
It’s really important for anyone struggling to get help. The fastest way to find relief is to connect to a licensed professional specializing in evidence-based care for teens and young adults, like the therapists at Joon Care.