Parenting and Possibilities: Tools and Treatment for Parents of Teens with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Unusual seems to describe the normal course of parenting, especially with raising teenagers. Every day becomes an adventure of one sort that we hope to navigate with resourcefulness and resilience. However, there are times in our lives and that of our teens when we encounter something different other than what we thought we would be living.
It is important to remember that no matter what we face in life, whether it’s silly or more serious, God will meet us where we are. Spiritually and practically, He will route us to people and places that can help us navigate our current space with His joy, wisdom, and grace.
Symptoms, solutions, and strategies.
Understanding obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD in the life of your teen is no different. While the term obsessive-compulsive disorder is often tossed around popular culture circles, a working definition will help you to better understand it.
The APA or American Psychological Association characterizes OCD as recurrent intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that provoke an individual to perform compulsive rituals and behaviors to neutralize or satisfy the prompt.
In teens, OCD may resemble the following symptoms: “elaborate showering routines, excessive checking behaviors, bizarre and unwanted thoughts about sex or violence, the need to replace a ‘bad’ thought with a ‘good’ one among many others.”
These thoughts and behaviors are often characterized around certain themes such as eliminating dirt and germs, excessive thinking and praying, or even self-harm and punishment, but each individual’s experience varies.
Individuals affected by OCD are often aware of their thoughts and behaviors. While adolescents are experiencing multiple changes in rapid succession, they may already be hypersensitive to differences between them and their peers. They may try to hide or camouflage their behaviors, not wishing to draw additional attention.
The stress of not having someone to talk to or being wrongly perceived or judged can also have negative impacts on their mental and emotional wellness, aside from the OCD itself. The stigma attached to the obsessions and compulsions can produce feelings of shame about something they don’t completely understand.
This demands empathy and understanding from us as parents. We don’t have to interrogate our sons and daughters. Neither do we have to hide from their OCD symptoms or ignore the disruptions that their compulsions can cause in the function and flow of the household.
Embracing the spiritual fruit of gentleness can help us to engage our teens from a place of curiosity (Galatians 5:22-23). We can ask questions and invite them to share what they are thinking, feeling, and experiencing, enabling the entire family to grow together through this experience.
It is possible to communicate what we observe without being harsh. Instead, we can simply acknowledge the patterns and repetitions that we’ve noticed. This may provide relief when teens sense that they don’t have to suppress their compulsions for fear of being stigmatized at home. Furthermore, it can enhance relationships when they recognize that their parents are willing to support them.
Seeking solutions and strategies will not only serve the teen with OCD but will further address the needs of the entire family unit, as the entire household is affected by the diagnosis and how it presents in family life.
Treatment and tools for parents of teens with OCD.
Taking time to listen to teens’ experiences and observe and respond to them without judgment can be educational for us as parents. We are learning about and from our teens. It can be a new and interesting role to be a student again, especially when we have been accustomed to serving our children and families from a teaching and leading capacity.
As we gather information about OCD, we anchor what we glean from counselors and trusted sources in the insight provided by our spiritual Source. Jesus promised that His Spirit would lead and guide us into all truth, including OCD (John 14:26).
Because of this guarantee, we don’t have to handle teens or what we face from a place of fear. Instead, we can model what it looks like to embrace divine direction through the unknown. The Holy Spirit will minister unique grace to guide our paths through this experience.
Giving teens enough space to grow while balancing with support and structure may initially appear as an awkward dance. Yet, while we are learning, we must be willing to accept what we didn’t anticipate.
Practical resources will prove invaluable to meet us where we are with what we can use both now and later. Professional support, in particular, offers a variety of treatment techniques and tools that teens can use to navigate the way that OCD may present in their lives. It can provide access to a network of other families and parents who have navigated what we are presently experiencing.
As time evolves, the OCD presentation may change as teens are exposed to treatment and the tools that will advance them in their personal development. We can take a lead role in cheering them forward by seeking out empathetic counselors and support groups where they can find community and engage with other youth who share their experiences.
Establish, engage, and expect.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects everyone in the household, though we all may not carry the diagnosis. The compulsions have the potential to hijack our routines and disrupt our family dynamic if we permit it. Allowing OCD to take over the family dynamic can be detrimental to the teen, other children, and to the entire household.
This can cause the teen with OCD to feel isolated and objectified while stirring resentment in our other children or even our spouse. We may feel caught in between, so parents need to be aware of this potential, yet insightful with setting limits that serve the family’s greatest good.
Establishing boundaries, engaging in healthy communication, and expecting follow-through are as important for the teen with OCD as it is for us and the other children in the family. Involving other family members is essential, even as the household reconfigures some of its operations concerning chores, household contributions, and navigating schedules.
As parents, we may want to try to control things in an attempt to rescue teens from what presents as awkward and uncomfortable. It can be tempting to accommodate teens with OCD by removing responsibility and accountability in areas that impact the entire household in the interest of buffering teens from further discomfort. Yet, we have to consider the expense that it will exact on them, us as parents of teens, and other children.
Despite the challenge, we are entrusted to raise them and teach them the initial skills needed to move through life and relationships. We are still the parents and retain the right and responsibility to put healthy and appropriate parameters in place. It doesn’t have to breed confusion and contention.
The presence of the OCD diagnosis can invite an opportunity for all of us to grow together and deepen our relationships in meaningful ways. Practically and spiritually, we can practice patience and find ways to embrace humor, joy, and resolve in the reality we now live.
Next steps for parents of teens with OCD.
No matter what they face, teens still require their parents’ love, affirmation, and understanding. We can best champion teens with OCD once we locate our discomfort and address our misgivings.
Parts of our journey may be awkward, but the Holy Spirit is trustworthy to order our steps. Embracing His wisdom and practical knowledge will meet us where we lack understanding. He furnishes access to resources and useful tools to navigate us through with wisdom and grace.
Be willing to receive that grace as you steer through this territory with the Lord. The Lord has provided an abundance of every resource you need. You can trust Him to embrace joy and discovery in this unexpected adventure.
As you seek counseling on behalf of your teen with OCD, you may also find it useful to connect with a counselor. Search this site, schedule your appointments, and find the support needed to navigate obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“Family Stroll”, Courtesy of Some Tale, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Prayer”, Courtesy of Vince Fleming, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Journaling”, Courtesy of Sincerely Media, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Cliff’s Edge”, Courtesy of Joe Pohle, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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