My teen told me a troubling secret about her boyfriend. What do I do?


Q: How do I help my daughter’s friend who is hearing voices? My daughter, 14, has her first boyfriend. He is very close to her. They have been together since sixth grade. This summer, they started to spend time apart from school.

She told me recently that he confided to her that he sometimes hears voices. He was so concerned that he researched it online, he now believes he might have schizophrenia. I cannot betray his trust by telling his parents. Though I considered telling the school counselor, I kept encouraging her to tell him that he should talk to his mom. What should I do?

A: We are grateful for your interest. It is difficult to hear everything from someone else. It’s good news that the young man has started his own research, but it can be terrifying to believe you have schizophrenia and to hold on to this secret.

Let’s look at schizophrenia a bit. This mental illness usually develops in younger people than it does for women. The youngest person diagnosed with schizophrenia is around the age of 13. The symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions and hallucinations as well as cognitive issues, flat affect, and cognitive problems. As hallucinations are the most common symptoms, it is easy to see why this young man sought help for his symptoms.

But here’s why loving adults, pediatricians and psychologists need to be involved: Hallucinations can also be brought about by the use of drugs, such as methamphetamines and marijuana, or by a serious and chronic use of psychedelics. It could also indicate other mental illnesses such as anxiety, major depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Voices could also be a sign of trauma or everyday stress.

There are many reasons that this young man might be hearing voices. The sooner he seeks help, the better chance he will receive proper diagnosis and treatment. Many people can live full lives with schizophrenia even though it’s not curable.

As a parent, you of course want to keep your child’s confidence whenever possible. There is a time when you can sit down with your child and tell her that it is your responsibility as a parent to help this young man. This is an opportunity to have a conversation about values with your child. While you value your word, a more important value is the safety and well-being of minors. This is how you live your life. (Just as we all value nonviolence and will defend ourselves against assault, we will also fight back.

Create a list of possible solutions. Telling his secrets will have consequences, just as keeping them secret can. What are some ways that you can help your daughter? Discussions like this are crucial, because your daughter will inevitably run into and be friends with people who are being abused, abusing substances or having mental health problems, and you want her to feel empowered — and not afraid — to come to you.

Start a values conversation with your daughter. Discuss the importance to get clarity about these symptoms for your son’s well-being. Don’t sugarcoat that this will be easy; just keep the discussion focused on safety and his well-being. If you focus on finding a cooperative solution, even if it isn’t your first choice, it will be a good step forward.

This is the caveat: If the youngster displays suicidal ideastion or violence against himself or others, please immediately contact his parents.

Trust your intuition, but please don’t leave your young teen to deal with this on her own. You are helping to remove stigma attached to mental illness by relying on others. Good luck.

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