Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, can be a serious issue for children, adolescents, teens, and young adults, as it can lead to poor academic performance, low self-esteem, and problematic relationships with family and friends.

According to the International OCD Foundation, 1 in 200 children and teenagers — roughly 500,000 young people in the United States — are estimated to have the disorder, which affects all genders, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Because of this, knowing the signs of OCD in teens and young people and understanding the obsessive-compulsive treatment options that are available is important.

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What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health condition involving obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that interfere with many areas of life for children, adolescents, teens, and young adults, including school, work, and relationships. Is OCD an anxiety disorder? It’s not, although it used to be classified that way because obsessive thoughts can cause anxiety.

OCD is also not the same as obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, or OCPD. While children, adolescents, teens, and young adults with both disorders can overly focus on details, rules, and rituals, OCPD is driven by certain personality traits, while OCD is driven by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions.

Teen with OCD talks to mother about symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD in Kids, Adolescents, Teens, and Young Adults

Signs of OCD in teens and other young people can appear gradually. There are two main types of obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms: obsessions and compulsions.


Obsessions are unwanted ideas, mental images, or thoughts that cause distress in youths and young adults with OCD or other disorders such as autism. In kids, adolescents, teens, and young adults with OCD, signs and symptoms of obsessions can include:

  • Intrusive thoughts:

    Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts that happen unexpectedly and are difficult to control. This obsessive thinking can focus on violent or immoral thoughts, creating significant distress in youths and young adults. These thoughts can often be related to all-or-nothing thinking in kids, adolescents, teens, and young adults.

  • Fear of losing control:

    When it comes to fear of losing control and OCD, children, adolescents, teens, and young adults can worry about not being able to manage their thoughts or actions.

  • Uncertainty, doubt, and fear:

    Youths and young adults with OCD may not trust themselves or their memories. This could lead to feelings of fear and uncertainty.

  • Symmetry:

    The connection between OCD and symmetry is young people with obsessive-compulsive disorder can fixate on how certain objects are arranged or positioned. If something is improperly aligned, it could create strong feelings of anxiety.


What are compulsions? They’re behaviors that need to be performed repeatedly to relieve anxiety. In kids, adolescents, teens, and young adults, OCD compulsions can include:

  • Checking:

    When it comes to OCD and checking, youths and young adults check and recheck if a certain task is completed. For example, they might repeatedly look to see if an oven is turned off, if a door is locked, or they may engage in frequent body checking.

  • Counting:

    With OCD and counting, children, adolescents, teens, and young adults may repeatedly count to block out intrusive thoughts or provide a sense of control. For instance, they might tally up items in a room or perform actions in sets of a specific number.

  • Ordering:

    The connection between ordering and OCD is that youths and young adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder may order and arrange items in specific ways to provide a sense of comfort and suppress anxiety. Young people might reorder books on a shelf by color or size or position pens to put the same amount of space between them.

  • Cleaning:

    With OCD and cleaning, kids, adolescents, teens, and young adults can have an overwhelming need to clean themselves, their living spaces, their possessions, and other people because they’re worried about being contaminated or getting sick. For example, symptoms might include excessively and repeatedly handwashing or showering for hours every day.

  • Following a strict routine:

     OCD and routine are connected when children, adolescents, teens, and young adults feel that following routines can make obsessive thoughts go away. For instance, they might do homework assignments in a certain order at a specific time of day, always in the same location.

  • Ruminating thoughts:

     Adolescents, teens, and young adults who obsessively think about their repetitive thoughts are experiencing ruminating thoughts. Examples of this compulsion include constantly worrying about what may happen in the future and repeatedly thinking about how to solve a problem.

  • Avoidance:

    Avoidance and OCD can be related because kids, adolescents, teens, and young adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder can avoid people, places, or situations related to their obsessive thoughts. Signs and symptoms may include refusing to use public restrooms due to a fear of germs.

  • Reassurance seeking:

     Children, adolescents, teens, and young adults with OCD may struggle with reassurance seeking. For example, they might repeatedly ask friends and family members if they’re angry at them to reassure themselves that a relationship isn’t in jeopardy.

OCD Treatment in Woodland Hills, CA

Take a look at our specialized OCD treatment program for adolescents and teens in Woodland Hills, CA.

Online Therapy for OCD

If you’re looking for healing and accessible online OCD therapy for you or your child, adolescent, teenager, or young adult ages 12-28, take a look at our virtual IOP program!

Types of OCD

There are several types of OCD that kids, adolescents, teens, and young adults could experience. Below are some of the most common ones.

1. Contamination OCD

Contamination OCD is characterized by a fear of germs or some other form of contamination. Children, adolescents, teens, and young adults with this type of obsessive-compulsive disorder may have intrusive thoughts about people, places, or objects infecting them. This leads them to adopt compulsive behaviors, such as excessive handwashing.

Contamination OCD can also take other forms, such as emotional contamination OCD or mental contamination OCD. In these cases, youths and young adults believe certain people, places, or objects contaminate them with taboo thoughts or beliefs. This can cause them to spend hours in prayer or confession to feel “clean.”

2. Harm OCD

With harm OCD, children, adolescents, teens, and young adults worry they may be a danger to themselves or others. Those experiencing harm OCD symptoms may engage in compulsive behaviors to avoid accidentally hurting anyone, such as removing all sharp objects from their home.

3. Pure OCD

Also known as pure obsessional OCD, pure OCD involves using compulsive mental strategies to deal with intrusive thoughts. For kids, adolescents, teens, and young adults with pure obsessional OCD, compulsions can include repeating silent prayers to themselves or mentally singing a song.

Teen with OCD talking to mom.

Causes and Risk Factors of OCD in Young People

What is the root cause of OCD? While it’s unknown, the following risk factors are believed to contribute to symptoms of OCD in teens and young people.

  • Body chemistry or brain function issues:

    There seems to be a connection between OCD and the brain, as brain function appears to be different in people with the disorder. Body chemistry issues such as insufficient serotonin, which helps regulate mood, has also been suggested as a risk factor.

  • Learned behaviors:

    Learned OCD can occur when kids, adolescents, teens, and young adults watch family members experience obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors and then have their own. Or, they may associate their own compulsive behaviors with relief from anxiety and continue doing them.

  • Gender:

    Males are more likely than females to develop obsessive-compulsive disorder during childhood. Females tend to start experiencing signs of OCD during adolescence or early adulthood.

  • Genetics or family history:

    Having immediate family members with obsessive-compulsive disorder is considered a risk factor, as genetics and OCD are related given the disorder can be inherited.

  • Age:

    Although obsessive-compulsive disorder can occur at any age, signs of OCD in children, teens, and young people tend to start showing up between ages 8-12 and between the late teen years and early adulthood.

  • History of mental health conditions:

    Having a history of mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  • Stressful life events:

    OCD and stressful life events can be linked, as experiencing those events may trigger obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

OCD Treatment Testimonials

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Thomas Wiggin

August 2022

Embark was fantastic for our daughter. The staff and especially the therapist helped our daughter learn DBT skills necessary to help her with her OCD, depression, and anxiety. We highly recommend it!

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Jennifer Lunsford

July 2023

My daughter just finished the Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program and the results are incredible. She connected with people from all over the country during her therapy sessions. The entire staff is amazing and always made sure to keep myself and my husband informed of any changes in our daughter’s behavior. I would highly recommend this program as well as Embark. THANK YOU TO THE ENTIRE TEAM! Our daughter has learned so much because of you.

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Tarran Loveday

May 2023

This program has absolutely changed my life. Being a former client of the VIOP program I would recommend this treatment to anyone who is struggling. Embark is the most welcoming and helpful program I have ever been a part of. They make sure the client's voice is heard, along with the views of Parents/Guardians. I have learned countless DBT skills and have created long lasting relationships with my peers. I owe a huge thanks to the team at Embark for helping me create the life I deserve to live.

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Teen struggling with ruminating thoughts wonders if she has OCD and how to stop her cyclical thinking.

OCD Treatment for Adolescents, Teens, and Young Adults

If your child, adolescent, teen, or young adult needs OCD help, Embark Behavioral Health offers effective obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment at our outpatient clinics, residential treatment centers, and virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP). This treatment can play a critical role in their healing journey.

Treatment settings

Embark offers multiple treatment settings for obsessive-compulsive disorder, making our OCD therapy convenient for kids, adolescents, teens, young adults, and their families. Treatment settings include family, group, and individual therapy sessions.

Family therapy

With family therapy for OCD, parents and caregivers are involved in an adolescent, teen, or young adult’s therapeutic process. By being vulnerable with each other in a safe space during obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment, family members can improve their interactions with each other and establish a healing environment for the child.

Group therapy

Group therapy for OCD allows children, adolescents, teens, and young adults to share their experiences and feelings about obsessive-compulsive disorder in a setting where they find support from a therapist and their peers. They also receive mental health education and help processing their emotions so they can best work through their obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms.

Individual therapy

Treating OCD with individual therapy is helpful because kids, adolescents, teens, and young adults can work one-on-one with a therapist specializing in obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment.


Children, adolescents, teens, and young adults receiving treatment at Embark can benefit from two types of therapy for OCD.

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Attachment-focused therapy

Attachment-focused therapy is a relational treatment approach that promotes establishing safe, secure, nurturing relationships that help youths and young adults regulate their emotions. It sets the foundation for treating OCD because it addresses anxiety, which can cause obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Teen with OCD talking to therapist.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is an evidenced-based therapeutic approach that helps youths and young adults who have OCD by exposing them to situations that trigger their obsessions and teaching them how to avoid using compulsions. Embark uses ERP therapy for severe cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

Treatment programs for OCD

Embark has multiple treatment programs that provide effective OCD treatment for children, adolescents, teens, and young adults across the United States. Options include Embark Virtual IOP, outpatient clinics, and residential treatment centers.

Adolescent and parent celebrate mental health progress in virtual IOP program for issues like OCD.

Virtual IOP

Our virtual IOP provides online OCD therapy for children, adolescents, teens, and young adults through our secure patient portal. Highly trained therapists offer ERP therapy as part of this program, which includes family, group, and individual therapy sessions.

Teen with OCD meeting therapist.

Outpatient treatment

Kids, adolescents, teens, and young adults can receive outpatient treatment for OCD at Embark outpatient clinics. Young people live at home when not attending family, group, and individual therapy sessions.

For adolescents and teens struggling with OCD in the California area, take a look at our specialized OCD outpatient treatment program in Woodland Hills, CA.

Teen and adolescent girls receiving therapy for anxiety and OCD at short term residential treatment center.

Residential treatment

Adolescents, teens, and young adults can receive residential treatment for OCD at our residential treatment centers. These homelike centers provide 24-hour care and offer family, group, and individual therapy sessions.

Your healing journey starts here.

Contact Embark Behavioral Health to learn more about how we treat obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents, teens, and young adults today.

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