You know the drill: To take good care of your child, you need to take care of yourself. Joining a support group for parents of adolescents is a significant step in this direction. Unlike a therapy group, which is often led by a person who analyzes and interprets group interactions, a support group leader typically facilitates, while peers socialize, problem-solve and share experiences and hope. However, if you suspect your teen is experiencing more than the normal struggles of adolescence, seek guidance from a professional such as a school counselor, an adolescent psychologist or pediatrician. Regardless of your teen's issues, a support group can be a help.
Forming an identity and preparing for adulthood are primary, if not always conscious, factors in adolescent development, which is driven by hormones and neurological remodeling of the brain. Changes that affect your child cognitively, physically, emotionally and socially can make adolescence -- about age 11 to the early 20s -- difficult, to say the least, for parents and kids. It's no wonder that parents in support groups commonly report relief in discovering that they are not alone. Still, a good support group does more; it offers comfort, a safe outlet and practical solutions.
A reliable facilitator is also key when it come to an effective group. Whether the facilitator is a mental health professional, trained volunteer or simply another parent, look for experience and expertise. The facilitator should also promote a safe emotional environment.
Also, consider group dynamics. A support group might feel right for one parent and not for another. Some personalities may clash, but this is OK, provided members maintain respect, putting principles before personalities.
Online Support Group Tips
If you feel at home in social media communities, an online support group may be for you. Look for ones hosted by a credible organization or an individual with verifiable credentials or references. Before joining, read the forum threads to see how group members treat each other, and how the facilitator and moderators lead and interact. Check the activity level.
Don't forget anonymity. In an online group where you will be discussing your teen, use a handle instead of your real name, and never name your teen. The effects on your teen if he sees your or his name -- or if a peer or prospective employer runs across it -- could be dire.
Finding a Support Group
Thousands of support groups for parents of teens exist across the nation and online. The types of groups vary from general support for parents of teens to specific groups such as groups for parents of teens with a mental illness like depression, or a challenge like autism.
Various sources can help you find a group near you or online. Locally, a school counselor, family physician or adolescent psychologist can often be of assistance, as can a county mental health agency or even your local newspaper's community calendar.
Online sources include the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which offers local and online support groups to families of the mentally ill. Its website provides information to help parents determine who to call for additional help, such as the National Suicide Prevent Lifeline (800-273-8255). Parents Anonymous lists local support groups for parents of children of varying ages and challenges. The National Parent Hotline provides phone support to parents, literature and a directory of local groups.
Additionally, search online for parent support groups, trying different keywords in your search such as your city, state and the type of group you'd like to join.
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