How to help a teenager manage OCD symptoms


Reading Time: 4 minutes

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is often thought of as an adult mental health condition. However, many adolescents live with OCD symptoms that cause academic, social and relational challenges. In fact, up to 3% of children and adolescents currently live with OCD symptoms that impact their daily life. 

If you’re a parent of a teenager and have noticed your child exhibiting a pattern of OCD-related behaviors, or if they have already been diagnosed with OCD, it is vital to seek professional help and guidance for your teen. Licensed therapists can help you pinpoint the signs, symptoms and underlying causes of your teenager’s OCD so that you and your family can feel empowered to get the help your child needs. 

What is OCD?

OCD is characterized by persistent and recurring thoughts, behaviors, impulses, or images (obsessions) that cause anxiety or distress. These compulsions are often performed in an attempt to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. 

The obsessions and compulsions associated with OCD can be time consuming and interfere with daily activities, causing significant distress and impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning. Examples of common obsessive thoughts and compulsions in OCD include:

  • Fear of contamination.
  • Fear of causing harm to oneself or others.
  • Excessive concern with symmetry or order.
  • Unwanted, intrusive or aggressive thoughts.
  • Excessive cleaning, counting, checking, or repeating words.
  • Excessively arranging items in a certain way.

It is important to note that having occasional obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors can be a normal part of human experience, but in OCD, the thoughts and behaviors become excessive, time consuming, and distressing and can interfere with daily life. 

People of any age can experience OCD symptoms, and teenagers are no exception. Teens may suffer from OCD symptoms for a variety of reasons, some which may be due to:

  • Genetics — OCD has been found to run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component to the disorder. If your family has a history of OCD or related mental health disorders, your teen may be more likely to develop it. 
  • Brain chemistry — OCD may be related to imbalances in certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin. Teens may be at a higher risk of developing mental health disorders like OCD, as their brain chemistry is undergoing significant changes and can be more vulnerable to stressors in their environment. 
  • Trauma or stress — Exposure to traumatic or stressful events can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms in some individuals, including adolescents. 
  • A coping mechanism — OCD symptoms may be a way for some teenagers to cope with difficult emotions or life experiences, such as anxiety or stress.

How can you help your teenager manage OCD symptoms?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder that can be challenging for teenagers to manage. Here are some ways parents can practically help their teenager manage their OCD symptoms:

  • Educate yourself and your teenager about OCD — Understanding the disorder and its symptoms can help your teenager feel less alone, less intimidated, and more supported when dealing with OCD symptoms.

  • Encourage your teen to seek and stick with their professional help — A mental health professional such as a therapist or psychiatrist can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop an individualized treatment plan. Dynamic and professional help can be essential in managing the symptoms of OCD. Treatment for OCD typically includes a combination of medication, therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy [CBT] and exposure and response prevention [ERP]), and self-help strategies. With the right treatment, support and self-help techniques, you and your teenager can learn how to manage their OCD symptoms and help improve their overall well-being. 
  • Help your teen practice exposure and response prevention — To help your teen manage their compulsive thoughts, you can encourage them to question the evidence for those thoughts and help them consider alternative and less distressing explanations. In addition, you can help your teenager gradually face their feared situations, objects, or thoughts, and to resist the urge to perform their compulsions. This process can be challenging, but it can help to reduce the severity of their symptoms over time. Of course, your supportive management strategies should first be discussed with and guided by a professional therapist. 
  • Encourage your teen’s healthy habits — Eating well, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep can help reduce the severity of OCD symptoms and improve your teen’s overall well-being. You can encourage your teen to establish mindfulness habits, go to bed early and keep a well-balanced diet. 

Recovery from OCD can take time, and setbacks can happen. It is therefore crucial for you to be patient and remind your teenager that progress is not always linear. In addition, you should try your best to encourage your teenager to talk about their symptoms with friends and family, and to seek support from others who understand the condition.

Lightfully can support you in helping your teen manage their OCD symptoms

Are you concerned about helping your teenager manage their OCD symptoms? Our team of experts at Lightfully can help. We use an innovative process-based therapy (PBT) approach to treat our clients and their core challenges. With consistent and compassionate therapy, your teen can feel empowered to not only live with their OCD symptoms, but thrive in their home, school and social environments. 

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

Connect with Admissions