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What to Do with an Unmotivated, Depressed Teen?

Questioner

A

Reply Date

Nov 27, 2018

Question

I have troubles with my teenage son. He lies and has become deceptive and untruthful. He has also picked up bad habits like smoking and drinking. He is unmotivated and seems uninterested in having a goal in life. He straggles through life and gets emotional and over reactive when we talk. I feel he hates me and only cares about friends and fun. What should I do?

Counselor

Answer


What to Do with an Unmotivated, Depressed Teen?

In this counseling answer:

•Teenagers going through such tough circumstances need someone to love them as they are, to accept them for what they are, to understand and have empathy for them, and understand what they are going through from conflicting emotions and thoughts.

•Be a good, active listener who encourages and supports, who really tries to understand what is going on in the life of his teenage child and inside his head.

•When discussing the limits, you explain the reasons and what the consequences for breaking them would be. Consequences should be just reminders and not things that belittle or insult their dignity.


As-Salamu `Alaikum dear brother,

Thanks for confiding in about Islam and giving us the opportunity to help. I can feel from your words how stressed and concerned you are about your son. May Allah make it easy for you and your son. May Allah help us by providing you with some useful words that can be of help in your situation.

Of course, we need to know much more about your son, his personality and his life in order to be able to understand him as a person and be able to help him or tell you how to help him. Thus, I will give you some general guidelines and raise some questions for you to ponder on which in sha’ Allah will be helpful for you to help your son.

First of all, in order for you to deal with your son in an appropriate way, you have to approach him and know him well as a person. You need to get closer to him and understand the whole picture of him; how he thinks, how he feels, what he needs, what he likes and dislikes, what he is good at, what makes him happy, sad, angry, proud, etc. Many of our actions are expressions of unsatisfied psychological needs, especially those actions which seem unreasonable or bring harm to us. Therefore, you need to try to understand why your son acts this way and what are his needs that might be unfulfilled and which he mistakenly tries to fulfill through his bad behavior.


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Besides the common needs of his developmental stage, there could be some psychological needs that are specific to him. As human beings, we share a lot of commonalities; however, every individual is still unique and should be seen and treated in a unique way. Hence, we will have to look at both the general needs of teenagers and your son’s needs as a unique individual.

How does adolescence feel like for an adolescent? It is well known that teenage years are one of the major transitions a person goes through in his development. It is a transition from childhood to adulthood – two very different phases of one’s life which entails a lot of changes in one’s physical, psychological, and mental states. It is a stage where the individual tries to find an identity for himself in his world. Any transition for any person is never an easy thing; however, for some people, transition and change are very difficult situations to go through due to their sensitive nature.

Sometimes, parents miss the part that their teenage children are no longer kids, and they continue treating them like small children, not giving them trust and responsibilities that match their age. This way of treatment may cause great distress for teenagers who are now growing into independent adults, hence they need to practice independence and need to have their own privacy (of course, under supervision from the parents but not total interference and control).

These are their rights as they are now defining their identities as separate individuals in this world. If parents fail to acknowledge this fact and act accordingly, teenagers would necessarily find ways to express their distress and their needs for independence. Everyone would have his own way of expressing these needs according to his personality and his circumstances.

Teenagers also experience some feelings of fear and insecurity as they are new to the world of adulthood. They may express their fears and insecurity feelings through lashes of anger and over-reacting. Your son’s over-reacting might be calls for you to be near to him, to protect and support him.

Another factor that could make adolescence even more difficult is the childhood phase and whether it went smoothly or it included many difficulties. Childhood, especially the first five years of a child’s life, are the basis on which a child’s psychological well being are built. If the child enjoyed unconditional love and support, then his/her psychological state will be strong and healthy, thus s/he would be able to grow smoothly into adolescence and then into adulthood. But if a child’s life lacks this unconditional love and support, then his teenage years will be difficult.

What do teenagers need from their parents in this critical period? Teenagers going through such tough circumstances need someone to love them as they are, to accept them for what they are, to understand and have empathy for them, and understand what they are going through from conflicting emotions and thoughts. They need a parent who is a friend, who listens with open ears and open heart – without criticizing or judging.

Be a good, active listener who encourages and supports, who really tries to understand what is going on in the life of his teenage child and inside his head. When listening to your son, put your number one priority to understand him and make him feel that you care about everything he says and that you understand him and can feel how he feels.

When your son feels this from you and trusts you, he will naturally feel comfortable to come to you for advice and opinion in different situations. He will aspire to be like you and to imitate you and take you as his role model.

Teenagers are in dire need of direction and guidance, but one that is soaked in love and acceptance and not one that is direct and has a lot of criticism and judgment. If a teenager does not receive from his parents love, acceptance, support, warmth, fun and quality time, then surely he searches for outside sources that would fulfill his needs for these feelings and emotions. These outside sources could be a major factor in his involvement in bad habits.

Of course, teenagers need to have limits to be set for them. This rather gives them a feeling of safety and security that they have someone in power who acts as a safeguard for them, one who they can resort to when in trouble, and one who can protect them from any dangers. However, such limits should be kept to the minimum and should be explained to them and discussed with them. When discussing the limits, you explain the reasons and what the consequences for breaking them would be. Consequences should be just reminders and not things that belittle or insult their dignity.

In the end, dear brother, I hope I have been able to touch upon the points that are important to you and your son. And never forget the power of du`aa’ for your son and for your relationship together. Feel free to contact us again if you need any further assistance.

Salam,

***

Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information that was provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, it’s volunteers, writers, scholars, counselors, or employees be held liable for any direct, indirect, exemplary, punitive, consequential or other damages whatsoever that may arise through your decision or action in the use of the services which our website provides. 

 




About Layla Al Qaraqsi

Layla Al Qaraqsi has worked with islamonline.net since 2008. She has been the editor of the counseling section till May, 2013; then a counselor and writer since March, 2015. She has also worked in early childhood psychosocial development;and managed a support group in Egypt. Layla has been studying psychology and counseling since 2011 in the Islamic Online University (IOU) of Dr. Bilal Philips, University of North Dakota, and in several specialized psychological institutions in Egypt including Tawasol Center, one of the offline projects of Islamonline.net. Her studies also included group psychotherapy, psychodrama techniques, mindfulness.  You can contact her via: [email protected]

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