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Symptoms of OCD in Teens, and When To See a Therapist

Determining whether or not your teenaged child may have OCD can be tough. Teenagers are known for behavior that, if committed by an adult, would certainly seem arbitrary or even strange. This is mostly due to the still-developing psychology of a teenager, as well as physiological changes that can affect mood and behavior.

That's why a parent's best course of action is to get the advice of a mental health professional - only they have the training and licensure needed to ensure accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Parents are, however, responsible for monitoring their child's behavior and intervening when possible - as well as determining when you should take your teenager to see a professional.

This article should serve as an informational guide for just that: learn the signs and symptoms of OCD in teenagers, as well as management tips for home and a guide for when to see a therapist.

Learn more about OCD in children and teens on this page:

Symptoms of OCD in Teens

What causes OCD?

How To Manage My Child's Symptoms of OCD

Therapy for OCD in Children and Adolescents: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Symptoms of OCD in Teens

If you are concerned that your teenager may have OCD, you should take them to see a professional.

Not sure? Here is a list of some of the symptoms you may expect your teenager to exhibit if they do have OCD. Note that this list is not fully inclusive, so there are some symptoms of OCD that are not shown. OCD is a very widely varied disorder insofar as the symptoms that present. Note as well that some of the symptoms listed here may be due to other mental health concerns outside of OCD.

OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it is characterized by two behavioral facets:

  • Obsessions: Thoughts that often and debilitatingly disrupt your child's typical thought patterns. Examples of this can be thoughts of harm befalling them or a family member, as well as intrusive thoughts of violence and damage.
  • Compulsions: Also called compulsive behaviors, compulsions are acts and behaviors that are very hard to resist. They usually relate loosely to the patient's obsessions (like always checking that the oven is turned off three times out of a fear of housefires), though there is not necessarily a logical causal link.

Within these two concepts there are thousands upon thousands of variations. There are also variations in the severity of each facet: some patients have more obsessions, while others exhibit more comulsive behaviors. But most people with OCD exhibit both to some degree.

The following list specifies some of the more common obsessions and compulsions seen in children and adolescents:

  • Germophobia: A fear of germs and dirtiness that exceeds reason and rationality. Compulsions include excessive hand-washing, irritability at even small amounts of uncleanliness, and consistent and unreasonable disinfection.
  • Order and Symmetry Hyper-Fixation: A debilitating focus on total order or symmetry. Compulsions include constantly rearranging items, focusing for an inordinate amount of time adjusting the precise position of an item, and going out of one's way to ensure symmetry in mundane and irrelevant things.
  • Lucky Numbers: An obsession with a certain number or set of numbers, beyond what is normal. Compulsions include performing reptitive tasks or rituals in the amount of the number and purposefully arranging one's day-to-day life around the number (for example, moving one's toothbrush from one side to another exactly 47 times while brushing one's teeth.)
  • Religious Obsessions: Going further than standard faith-based devotion and practice, which is fine, an obsession with a particular religion's practice or belief, beyond what is normal within said faith, and particularly if extreme or radical. Compulsions include extreme devotion to a faith in a way that alienates important parts of one's life and performing rituals related to the faith that are dangerous or harmful.

Of course, each case of childhood or teenage OCD is different. Your child may exhibit signs of OCD that are not listed here.

In general, if your teenager is unreasonably obsessed with something, and that obsession is leading to concerning behaviors, they may have OCD.

What causes OCD?

There are three main factors thought to be behind the majority of OCD cases: genetics, environment, and brain chemistry.


The science of what causes any mental health concern is advancing rapidly, but we're still not exactly certain which genes or other factors contribute in which ways to which disorders.

What we do know is that if a parent has OCD, their child is - when adjusted for environmental factors - more likely to develop OCD than the population on average. If you have OCD, know that your child will not necessarily have it as well, but that their risk of developing it is elevated.


One's environment certainly has an effect on the development of their psychology during their teenage years.

In the case of OCD, traumatic experiences can sometimes contribute. For example, a child who witnesses a home invasion that occurred due to an unlocked door may develop an obsession with checking locks.

Brain Chemistry

Studies and brain scans show that people with abnormal psychologies - that is, anyone with a mental health condition - have different brain chemistry and activity compared to those who do not have a mental health condition.

People with OCD tend to have larger striatums and smaller prefrontal cortexes, meaning they have an inflated amount of cognition dedicated to repetition and a reduced amount dedicated to emotional regulation.

How To Manage My Child's Symptoms of OCD

If you suspect your child may have OCD, your first step should be talking to a licensed mental health professional.

If the professional, after due testing and analysis, determines that your child does in fact have OCD, they will likely start therapy and may be referred to a psychiatrist. It's important to let the professionals get to work, as early detection and treatment can drastically increase the chances of remission.

In the meantime, you can enact a number of changes in the home to help your child feel more comfortable.

Limit Change Where Possible

Most people with OCD perceive change as scary or threatening. Try to avoid unneccessary changes to routine. While you shouldn't avoid all change, allowing your child to, for example, keep their toothbrush in a plastic baggy when not in use is usually harmless and can ease their distress while the root issue is addressed clinically. Forcing them to change that may do more harm than good.

Create a Support System

You can further help your teenager by being open and honest about how you want to support them. Make sure they know your door is open and that you are an ear for listening and a shoulder to lean on. Tell them that your primary goal is their health and safety, and that you are on their side.

It can also help, if appropriate, to bring siblings into the support network. Teenagers, in a lot of cases, are world-famous for keeping things from their parents. Giving them space to connect and relate more with siblings can help fill the gaps.

Allow Space

It's only natural for a parent to want to spend all of their time helping their child, especially if they have just been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

However, a teenager with OCD is still a teenager; giving them an appropriate amount of independence can both ease tensions and support their continued development.

Therapy for OCD in Children and Adolescents: Williamsburg Therapy Group

If you are worried that your child has or may develop OCD, it's time to talk to a professional.

Williamsburg Therapy Group is proud to have Brooklyn's best pediatric talk therapy program, with highly experienced doctoral-level child therapists on-hand to help your child and, by extension, your family grow and heal.

Give us a call, and our dedicated patient coordinator will help match your child with the right therapist for them.

Book a Therapy Session in Brooklyn Today

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