Can teenagers go to counseling without their parents’ permission?

In California: Kids, at age 12, can consent to their own treatment without their parents even knowing they are going to counseling.   Whether I agree or disagree as a clinician, and whether you agree or disagree as a parent, even if you are paying (as the parent) for the counseling sessions, the law is the law.

When a teenager chooses to keep their counseling sessions private, then as a counselor, I cannot share things the teenager has told me with their parent. I can talk to the teen about telling the parent and talk to the teen about all of the reasons I might think it is helpful to tell their parents, but ultimately, it is their choice.    If the teenager is being hurt in some way or is a harm to themselves, then it is the counselor’s responsibility to keep them safe.  This may include calling the Department of Children & Family Services or other options available to the counselor.


Why is this even a law?

I think there are pros and cons to this law.  It’s probably not helpful to tell you the cons because my blog post isn’t going to change the law, so I will focus on the pros, but first:  If I can have all parents understand one thing it would be this:

WE WANT YOUR CHILD TO BE THE HEALTHIEST HUMAN BEING THEY CAN BE.  We may have a strategy that you don’t understand.  Please trust us.   

If you have a chance, do an internet search on “how to get out of a rip current/tide”.

  1. Lifeguards and surfers will tell you NOT to swim towards shore (which is your ultimate goal).
  2. They tell you to swim parallel to the shore until you are safe.

1a. As a counselor, we are aiming for the goal (the “shore”), but we don’t look like we are telling your child to swim towards the shore.  We know that going directly to the goal could spell disaster, so we are telling them another way that might not make sense to you.  But in our training, it is what we have found the most beneficial to end up  at the goal we are trying to accomplish with them.

2a. As a counselor, I will be “swimming” parallel with your child.  They don’t need me sitting by you and talking you through it, they need me out there with them, 100% in with them, helping them and guiding them to the ultimate goal (which is probably close to what your goal is with them).


Here are the pros I mentioned earlier:

Pro #1:

I found in my working therapeutically with kids for the last 23 years that in most cases, the more a parent is told, the less a teenager shares.  If a teenager believes that the counselor is simply a portal for the parent to find out the teenager’s thoughts, then the teenager is not going to share their true thoughts with the counselor and therefore the counselor cannot really help the teenager with their issues.


Pro #2:

When your child is 18 years old, they get full reign on every decision imaginable in their life.   That is a huge step all of the sudden.  BOOM, they now make all decisions.  Some kids never had an opportunity to figure things out on their own because their parents always had the final say.  With the majority of their life (other than counseling), you as the parent still get to make 100% of decisions, so you can still punish them even though you don’t know why the counselor thinks you shouldn’t punish them.  You get to tell them that they can/cannot hang out with friends even though their counselor thinks they should hang out with those friends.

Pro #3:

In counseling, your child gets to explore who they are, how they want to be in life, and learn ways to communicate with others in the healthiest way possible.   The counselor is a trained professional with a minimum of 6 years of schooling, 3000 hours of supervised therapy experience (that doesn’t even count the hours of experience and training they get after they are licensed).   You are not leaving your teenager to a random stranger you met on the street.  You are entrusting your child and their safety to a trained professional.   Have some faith that the counselor wants the best for your child and is guiding your child in ways that they have been trained with the ultimate goal to get your child to become the healthiest person your child can possibly be.



*** If your child wants to change counselors 3-4 times, let them.  Not because YOU don’t feel comfortable with the counselor, let them change because THEY feel uncomfortable with the counselor.  They need to find someone they connect with and trust for the counselor to really be able to help them.  After 4 times, it might be that your child needs to pick their favorite out of the 4 they have tried.  Counseling is often uncomfortable, so it might be that they just need to get used to the counseling process.***

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