How Do I Know if My Teen has OCD?

Do you know the warning signs to know if your teen has OCD? (photo credit:
Do you know the warning signs to know if your teen has OCD? (photo credit:

OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is an anxiety disorder that can affect people of all ages, even teenagers.  People with OCD experience excessive worry about specific things, called obsessions, which they cannot control and in an effort to manage their anxiety, they feel compelled to perform certain ritualistic behaviors.  Teenagers with OCD may develop obsessions related to normal teenage worries like school or friends but their obsessions can be related to almost anything.  Since it is normal for teenagers to experience anxiety, parents often wonder how to differentiate between normal anxiety and worry and OCD.  The following information can help parents determine if their teen’s behavior is indicative of OCD so that they can seek diagnosis and treatment from a provider.

1.     OCD takes up time and energy.

Normal anxiety may seem to occupy much of your teenagers time but when this anxiety is caused by OCD it takes up a significant amount of time and energy.  Teenagers with OCD may struggle to accomplish normal activities like chores and homework because of the time spent on OCD behaviors.

2.     OCD can leave teens feeling frustrated and embarrassed.

Because teenagers with OCD cannot control the compulsions, these behaviors can cause significant frustration and even embarrassment.  Teens may not want to participate in normal activities because they don’t want others to witness these behaviors.

3.     OCD causes irrational fears.

One of the most important things for parents to understand is that normal teen anxiety is generally related to realistic situations and challenges like doing poorly on a test or not having a date for the prom.  OCD teens often experience obsessions that are not realistic like extreme fear of dirt, germs, contamination, or illness.  Obsessions can center on preoccupations with symmetry, order, numbers, sexual thoughts, household items, and specific words or sounds.

4.     OCD compulsions take many forms.

While the compulsions that accompany OCD develop as a way to ease the anxiety caused by the obsession, the actual behavior may or may not relate to the obsession.  Common compulsions experienced by OCD teens are excessive hand washing, repetitive actions like locking and unlocking doors, counting, and checking rituals like checking homework assignments again and again.

5.     Teens often hide OCD behaviors.

Because of the shame and embarrassment often experienced by OCD teens, they can become very good at hiding these behaviors, even from those closest to them.  This can make it difficult for parents to recognize OCD in their own teens.

6.     Teens may incorporate others into their compulsive behaviors.

Teens may draw parents, friends, or other family members into their OCD behaviors.  This can take the form of a question/answer that is repeated again and again.  For example, a teen with OCD who is struggling with an obsession about being late may ask their parent for reassurance relating to being on time again and again.

If you suspect your teenager is struggling with OCD, seek professional help from a mental health provider.

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