Is your teen wearing diapers? If so, your initial reaction may be one of confusion or concern. However, this behavior has many possible explanations, each requiring your close attention and care. Before addressing this situation with your teen, try informing yourself so you can be prepared to approach the conversation with kindness, calmness, and love. This way, your teen will feel safe sharing his or her reasons with you and you will be well equipped to offer your understanding and support. So let’s dive in to what some of those reasons might be.
Reasons Some Teens Wear Diapers
1) Depression and Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are medical illnesses that require diagnosis by a trained professional and that, when severe enough, may impact a person’s ability to live out day-to-day tasks. Both depression and anxiety are serious and require treatment and support. The use of diapers is not always related to depression and anxiety; however, it is important to rule out the possibility.
Depression is often misunderstood as just sadness, but it is much more than that, having serious psychological and physiological symptoms and consequences that can include disruptions in both sleeping patterns and eating habits. As such, depression often results in seemingly unexplained fatigue. It is also often associated with a complete loss of interest in activities and hobbies once enjoyed. These symptoms, if left unchecked, can lead to increased feelings of worthlessness and helplessness and, worse, to self-harm behaviors and suicidal thoughts.
Anxiety is a disorder that involves excessive fear and worries to the point that it impacts the quality of life. There are several anxiety disorders, ranging from specific phobias to generalized anxiety. Anxiety can manifest physically in a multitude of ways, including stomach discomfort, muscle tension, heart palpitations, and even full-fledged panic attacks.
For teens still living at home, these symptoms are easy to spot. Changes in regular habits will become apparent, particularly if your usually energetic and talkative teen is suddenly quiet and withdrawn. Approach your teen with care and offer a listening ear. Allow them to unload their feelings while you listen for keywords and behaviors so that you can, if need be, get them the help they need quickly, before symptoms progress.
How You Can Help
If, after speaking with your teen, you suspect depression, anxiety, or both, you should contact a therapist who has experience working with teens who exhibit these symptoms. This is rather easy to do if you have health insurance; but even if you don’t, there are private practices that offer services on a sliding scale, meaning they charge you based on your ability to pay.
If your teen does not fit any of the descriptions for depression or anxiety, the use of diapers may be completely unrelated to a medical illness or disorder. There are other reasons your teen may be opting for diaper use, which are discussed below.
2) Paraphilic Infantilism
Paraphilic infantilism is a little-known sexual fetish in which individuals experience sexual gratification when treated like an infant or small child. If your teenager alludes to having these kinds of feelings as the reason for diaper use, you may want to learn more about paraphilic infantilism (also known as psychosexual infantilism) online. Diapers may not be the only part of their sexual fetish; often, those who are aroused by being treated like a baby will also engage in the use of adult pacifiers and may enjoy being bottle-fed and/or role-playing with partners, often referred to as “caregivers” in these settings.
It is important to note that these practices are not synonymous with pedophilia. The intentions behind these practices are not harmful; they involve open communication and encourage a sense of peace and comfort. Although this fetish is viewed as unusual outside the circles devoted to this lifestyle, it is generally recognized as harmless, with consent being the top priority, along with respectful dialogue between partners.
Although this fetish is heavily associated with sexual gratification, it is also entirely possible that the behaviors do not have a sexual nature or intention. Some people may simply feel compelled and comforted by regressing into the mental state of an infant or child.
How You Can Help
Although paraphilic infantilism is not considered a mental illness, there could be underlying reasons for these regressive behaviors. It is important to consider – and, if necessary, address – any such issues, including depression and anxiety (as discussed above) or a history of trauma or abuse. To better understand why your teen is attracted to this lifestyle, you can ask them to provide literature that can explain their perspective. The more you understand, the easier it will be for you to step in and offer assistance as needed. If your teen shies away from discussing the topic with you, you may benefit from employing a therapist who is well-versed with this specific sexual fetish. With a third party, your teen may be more inclined to share true reasons for their diaper use and you can also learn how to better react to and address the situation.
If your teen is not using diapers due to depression, anxiety, or paraphilic infantilism, the reason could be a difficulty with bladder control. This can be a delicate topic that your teen may feel embarrassed about; it will require a gentle approach to ensure your teen does not feel shame. Although bedwetting (also referred to as enuresis) is not considered a serious health issue, it can have emotional effects that can include guilt, shame, and anxiety. It is possible that bladder control issues develop later in life, despite your teen not experiencing any bedwetting episodes earlier.
Bedwetting has several causes, including going to sleep with a full bladder. It is also possible that the kidneys are making more urine throughout the night, filling the bladder to capacity. While some people do wake up when they have to urinate in the middle of the night, in others, the brain may also fail to wake, causing the loss of bladder control while asleep.
Aside from physiological reasons for bedwetting, there are also psychological reasons that can cause sudden overnight mishaps. If your teen has recently experienced a high-stress situation, like a move to a new school, a recent death, or even divorce, it is possible that the bedwetting is stemming from being overwhelmed by daily life. Whatever the reason, it is likely your teen is feeling embarrassed about bedwetting and may be attempting to rectify the issue on their own, with diapers.
It is important to remember that bedwetting is not the fault of your teen; rather, there are a multitude of possible explanations for the issue that can be addressed by a clinical professional through evaluation and/or treatment.
How You Can Help
After having a gentle conversation to identify the issue of bedwetting, you can take your teen to the doctor to discuss the issue and obtain an evaluation. Your teen’s doctor will likely request a complete medical history, along with urinary symptoms and a summary of recent life events, to understand your teen’s case.
It is important to note that if your teen has identified emotional or sexual gratification for diaper use, the use of a diaper overnight may not be related to bedwetting.
How to Handle the Situation with Understanding
1) Get Your Initial Feelings Out
If you are finding yourself upset or frustrated upon finding out that your teen is wearing diapers, it is important that you first discharge those feelings before speaking with your teen. Taking your time to express frustration or confusion in a way that does not directly impact your teen is crucial to ensure that you do not cause your teen to withdraw or feel ashamed.
You can try writing your initial feelings out in private or discussing the matter with your spouse or a trusted friend. Once you have had a chance to express any negative emotions, take some time out from the situation – watch a favorite movie, go for a long walk, or treat yourself to dinner – to regain a sense of peace and calm.
Only when you have achieved a state of calm should you approach your teen. Remember, the idea is first to understand, and then, if needed, to help. Try to set your agenda aside and allow space for your teen to speak freely and share his or her thoughts with you. No matter how shocking the information you receive may be to you, keep calm and allow your teen to fully express himself. This is an act of love that will inspire trust in your teen.
2) Lead with Your Heart
When you approach the conversation with your teen with love at the forefront, there is no space for snap judgments or unfounded assumptions. While it is natural to have your own feelings about the situation, it is important that you not project those onto your teen. Create space for dialogue and allow your teen to share with you the reasons for diaper use. Although you may not initially understand, particularly if their diaper use is for emotional or sexual gratification, allow yourself to take time after the conversation and sit with the information to gain understanding. If you find yourself becoming upset or frustrated during the conversation, remind yourself that you are there to love your teen and offer support.
A one-time conversation may not be enough; follow-ups may be required, especially if you struggled to remain calm the first time around or are struggling to understand their perspective. Remember that if you react strongly, your teen will likely withdraw and limit expression with you moving forward. The best action you can take to support your teen is to allow full expression in a non-judgmental space.
3) Create a Safe Space
Teenage years are extremely difficult, as hormones surge, peers create pressure, and the transition from childhood to adulthood is imminent. When you approach dialogue with your teen, seek understanding. It is difficult as parents to step out of the authoritarian role. But this is not the time for scolding or lectures; rather, this is a time for understanding. Create a safe space by ensuring your teen recognizes you are not there to judge behavior; you are only there to understand. From this stance, future actions that benefit your teen are facilitated.
Empathy goes a long way when speaking with your teen. While you may never have experienced the desire or need for diaper use in your teen or adult years, you can certainly understand the range of human emotions your teen may be experiencing. Start with empathy and offer compassion and understanding. With those three tools, it’ll be hard to go wrong.