Wondering if your teenager needs medication is something that can weigh heavily on the minds of parents. Parents often wonder about medication if their teenager begins behaving differently, is struggling with being able to pay attention in school, has significant mood swings or seems to have a very low mood much of the time. The idea of having your child on medication can be very scary for parents and there are so many conflicting opinions out there – how do you know what the “right” one is. Placing children on medication is a big decision and one which deserves both information gathering and a lot of thought.
Since every situation is different and there are no clear lines that dictate when a teenager should or should not be placed on medication, I cannot give specific advice about which types of behaviors warrant medication. I am also not a doctor so knowing which medications are most effective and when they should be prescribed is not my role. However, I can give some guidance about how to make sure you are making an informed decision about medication.
- Clearly outline the reasons you are thinking medication may be helpful. It is often helpful to keep a log of your child’s moods or behaviors that will help clarify what the concerns are, how long they have been occurring, how long they last each time they are present, how often they are occurring, what the response is, etc.
- Look online to gather preliminary information. The internet is a great resource for information gathering and to begin to inform you about what your child may be experiencing, however, remember that each situation and child is different so don’t use this as your only source of information. In addition, when locating information on the internet, make sure you are clear about who the author of the information is to make sure they are giving truly objective and factual information.
- Speak with a professional. Many parents will use their teenager’s Primary Care Physician as the first professional they speak with. These individuals can be great resources for general information about what your child may be experiencing and can begin to educate you about what medications may be available if they feel they may be warranted. They may also refer you to have your child meet with a therapist (you should look for a licensed therapist who has experience working with children and teenagers) and / or a psychiatrist.
- Therapist or Psychiatrist? Many times people are confused about these two roles. A very simple explanation is this – Therapists provide therapy or counseling and cannot prescribe medication, however, they are usually knowledgeable to some degree about medications as they relate to symptoms in general. Psychiatrists are extremely knowledgeable about medications but may not also do therapy which can be very helpful in addressing many issues with teenagers. Often times therapists and psychiatrists work as a pair to best meet the needs of individuals who may benefit from both therapy and medication. It is often recommended that families start with a therapist first and see if this will address whatever concerns they may be having and if not, then also have a medication consultation with a psychiatrist.
- Get more than one opinion. It is perfectly reasonable to get more than one opinion about the decision to have your teenager use medication. If something does not make sense, you should not hesitate to ask for clarification. It is okay to question professionals about why they are doing something or ask if there are other options for your teenager. You are the parents and should make sure you are remaining in the driver’s seat at all times when it comes to your teen’s care.
- Make sure your teenager is informed. It is really important that your teenager understand what is taking place if you do decide to move forward with therapy and / or medication. This can be very scary for them or may make them feel “abnormal” which can result in resistance, sadness or anger. Being able to work with professionals who are sensitive to this will be critical for your teenager.
A book that I have found useful and which I have recommended to parents with whom I have worked is Straight Talk About Psychiatric Medications For Kids by Dr. Wilens. Being well-informed is critical if you are in this situation so that you make the best decision you can for your teenager.