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How to Manage Obsessive Behavior in a Teen

by Tiffany Raiford

Your teen might double or even triple check to make sure she turned off her flat iron or blew out the candle in her bedroom, and that’s perfectly normal. However, if you notice that her behavior seems to extend beyond that of what you would consider normal, she might suffer from a form of obsessive behavior. According to family therapist Dr. Karen Ruskin, parents often overlook obsessive behaviors in teens and children due to a misconception that their behavior is normal. While not all obsessive behaviors mean your teen has obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is important that you learn to manage your teen’s obsession.

Take note of your teen’s obsessive behaviors. According to helpguide.org, a nonprofit organization designed to educate you about health problems, your teen’s obsessive behavior could include anything from obsessive counting and washing to cleaning, checking or even arranging. Notice what it is your teen seems obsessed with doing. Knowing what it is will help you manage her behavior.

Contact a therapist or psychologist who specializes in dealing with obsessive behavior, advises Dr. Karen Ruskin. Even if your teen’s behavior is not obsessive-compulsive, left untreated it could escalate and become obsessive-compulsive. Your teen’s doctor will help him understand his obsessive behavior, typically by offering cognitive behavioral therapy if he determines that your teen’s behavior is obsessive-compulsive. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches your teen to recognize what causes his obsessive behavior and how to deal with it when those triggers occur.

Help her redirect her attention elsewhere, advises helpguide.org. If your teen is an organizer who likes everything symmetrical and perfectly in order and you notice that she is starting to go through the living room shelves and reorganize your decorations, suggest that she go for a walk, run, swim or even bike ride. When you redirect her attention elsewhere, it helps her to refocus her attention and stop thinking obsessive thoughts that will likely turn into obsessive actions. Each time you redirect her and delay her obsessive behavior, try making it a little bit longer. Tomorrow suggest that she go for a walk and then head straight to the shower to clean up and get ready for dinner without allowing her time to stop and think about obsessively rearranging things to their symmetrical positions.

Help your teen anticipate his obsessive behaviors, advises helpguide.org. If he is an obsessive washer, meaning that he washes his hands repeatedly, help him visualize himself washing his hands. When it’s time to sit down to dinner, follow him to the sink and ask him to visualize himself washing his hands. Before he goes back to the sink to wash them again a few minutes after making his plate, ask him to picture himself as he was a few moments before, standing at the sink washing his hands. This helps him categorize his thoughts as obsessive when he can see himself performing the action recently.

Stop allowing your teen’s obsessive behavior to rule your household, advises KidsHealth. If you spend a lot of time waiting in the car while your teen goes through the house to check -- for the 10th time -- that all the flat irons and clothes irons are unplugged and candles are blown out, you are allowing her obsessive behavior to rule your house. This often causes her obsessions to become worse. Take control and do not allow her to go back in and check when it is time to go.

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