Parents of Troubled Teens - Dealing with Tough Situations | At The Crossroads
By Craig Rogers
Parents of Troubled Teens dealing with tough situations can be troublesome. Teenagers sometimes need help and guidance, but it can be difficult for parents to recognize when to intervene in their teenager’s life. You know about the challenges that today’s teenagers face—some of which are different than those you experienced as a teen. Understanding these challenges, and knowing when and how to intervene to help your child overcome them, is an essential role for parents. For more information about StrugglingTeens.co please call 800-948-9066.
At The Crossroads presents this information to parents of troubled teens. At The Crossroads is a young adult transitional living program for men and women between the ages of 18-25. We offer services to help struggling young adults become successful mature adults. For more information about At The Crossroads transitional living program, please call 866-439-4818.
It is also a difficult role. Being able to tell the difference between normal teenage behavior and self-destructive, hurtful behavior is critical. The following examples are designed to help you understand some of the warning signs that your teenager may need help. Read through these examples and see if any sound familiar. Remember, though, that every teenager is different and there is often no clear answer to your specific situation. If you are concerned, talk to your teenage children. At a minimum, let them know how you feel and tell them that you would like to talk. If you are still concerned, or if you think that your teenagers may hurt themselves or others, you should get help immediately. Refer to the sections on “Getting Help for Your Teen” for assistance in finding the right resources.
I was called to my 13-year-old son’s school today because he stole some money from another boy during lunch. This wasn’t the first incident. A few weeks ago, the principal called because Keith made another boy take the blame for graffiti he wrote on the school bus. No matter what we tell him, he constantly seems to get in trouble. What can I do?
You certainly have reason to be concerned about your son’s behavior. He is acting like a bully and needs your help to put on the brakes. The principal was right to call. The school can set a clear standard—no bullying— and make sure that your son understands the consequences for violations of this rule. You, too, need to make clear that you disapprove of bullying. You need to help your son develop empathy—which is the ability to understand how other people feel—and to care about others’ feelings. You will probably want to impose consequences on your son for his unacceptable behavior. Be firm, but do it in a loving way. Right now your son needs your empathy, understanding, and love. By providing this, you can show the power of caring about others in a positive way.
Drug Use and Failure in School
Our 16-year-old daughter, Julia, was caught drinking at a party. We suspect that she has smoked marijuana, too. She has been doing poorly in school— in fact, now she’s neglecting her school-work and failing one subject. We set up required study time, but it hasn’t helped. She misses curfews and hasn’t been doing her chores. We’ve talked with her about alcohol, drugs, and sex, and we’ve been clear about the rules and consequences when she has broken them. Obviously, it hasn’t worked. She says I’m a nag. What else can I do?
Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Julia's drinking and possible drug use may be the tip of the iceberg. Alcohol and other drug use often occur along with other serious problems.
First, you need to talk to Julia and find out what drugs she is using and how often she is using them. Don't confront her when she seems to be under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Wait until she is straight and sober. Then discuss your suspicions with her calmly and objectively, as you begin a dialogue. Bring in other members of the family to help, if necessary.
Second, impose whatever discipline your family has decided on for violating the rules, and stick to it. Don't relent because she promises never to do it again. Make sure that she knows that her use of alcohol and other drugs is a serious problem and that she is harming herself.
If Julia has developed a pattern of drug use or has engaged in heavy use, you should get immediate help. If you do not know about drug treatment programs in your area, call your doctor, local hospital, or county mental health center for a referral. Your school district should have a substance abuse coordinator or a counselor who can refer you to treatment programs, too. Parents whose children have been through treatment programs can also provide information.
Failure in school is another serious issue, but nagging is the wrong approach, and enforcing study times usually doesn’t work, either. Parents often assume that school problems are caused by lack of effort, and that making kids study more will improve their performance.
Usually there is much more to it. For example, children may be having trouble with academic work and need tutoring. They may have a learning disability or they may need help with study skills (understanding how, when and where to study). They may also be upset about something at home, at school, or with peers, that is interfering with their concentration. Even when the amount of effort invested in schoolwork is deficient, usually the underlying cause is discouragement, rather than laziness. The remedy is support, not more pressure. We need strategies to get teens thinking and solving problems for themselves. Dialogue is the most effective way to get them started.
Sadness / Depression
Sarah has never had much confidence. High school is harder than she expected. My husband and I are divorced, and this has been very hard on her. Now, she looks and acts absolutely exhausted, doesn’t sleep, and just sits in her room crying with her door closed. When she goes out, she dresses all in black clothing and wears heavy black eye shadow. I have tried to talk to her, but she acts angry and won’t say a word to me. I can’t tell if Sarah is just “going through a phase” or is truly depressed.
The teen years offer new experiences and challenges that can be exciting, but also stressful. The stress of adolescence is one of many factors that can make young people unhappy. Teenagers are also experiencing hormonal changes which can affect their mood. Some sadness and mood swings are a normal part of life. But when the “blues” last for weeks, or interfere with school, home, or other activities, your teen may be suffering from clinical depression. Depression, a mood disorder that is a real medical illness, is often unrecognized, but can be effectively treated.
When teens, or anyone, are very upset about things, they need to talk with someone who cares and can help. Parents should be concerned and talk with their child about his or her unhappiness, whether it is a temporary state or a case of clinical depression. We should set an example of confronting problems, head on.
It is sometimes hard to tell when teens are depressed, because the symptoms may be hard to read. For example, you may mistake a sleep disturbance, which can be a sign of depression, for a late-night television habit, or your teen may only reveal her sadness in writings that contain morbid themes. Teens may say they are “bored” when, in fact, they are depressed. In addition, signs of depression may vary among cultural groups: Teens in some groups experience sadness or guilt; while others experience more physical symptoms, such as headaches and nervousness.
Clearly, Sarah is unhappy and may be suffering from depression. What is going on in her life to make her feel this way? Think about past and present problems. When did this crying begin? Did it coincide with family tension, or the divorce, or problems in school? How is she getting along with friends? How are things in your family, now? Are there any other problems or symptoms? The answers to these questions provide clues about what is wrong and how to help her.
Depression does increase the risk of suicidal behavior. Many teens think about suicide, and some of them follow through. Parents should be especially concerned and get professional help immediately if additional warning signs are evident, such as when a child has a history of previous suicidal behavior, hints at not being around in the future, expresses a desire to die, gives away prized possessions, has experienced a recent loss, or makes threats of suicide. Sarah needs to talk with someone who cares and can help. Give her an opportunity to discuss her feelings and what is causing them. If she won’t find an adult with whom she can talk, such as a family physician or a mental health professional.