Wednesday, November 12, 2008
How to Understand Troubled Teens
Is it possible for us as adults to understand troubled teens?
We know that as adults we find it helpful to talk about our problems and emotions. This is because most of us have learned to talk about our feelings no matter how complex they might be.
We are also more accepting of the grey areas of life due to our wider range of life experiences. For many troubled teens, this process is not quite as easy. This is because young people may find it harder to put their feelings into words and because they are dealing with many seemingly contradictory and overwhelming feelings at a time when their brain development, emotional and physical development are undergoing some powerful changes.
Unlike most adults, the lives of a teenager are most often linked to those of their parents so they might find it harder to communicate conflicts with family members.
To understand troubled teens therefore requires different techniques to those we employ to help adults with their problems.
Troubled teens need a specialist approach from a counselor, educational consultant or therapist.
Talk therapy may end up not be the most effective form of therapy for a troubled teenager.
In general; more active forms of therapy may work better. This may include outdoor adventure therapy or adventure therapeutic wilderness therapy, or perhaps even a residential emotional growth program.
Some therapists use equine-assisted therapy to counsel teens. This is where troubled teens interact with horses as part of a therapeutic intervention allowing the therapist to observe how the child interacts with the animal and draw important conclusions from that behavior. It is believed that the way in which a teen interacts with the horse provides valuable clues to their relationship with their parents or peers. There are many beneficial residential programs that offer equine assisted therapy a a part of the therapeutic component of the program.
Counseling troubled teens is centered on helping both the child and the parents to better understand some of the ways in which the teen behaves. It teaches a teen to express their needs and wants in a more positive, constructive way. When these issues are better understood and new behaviors implemented, the family relationship as a whole improves as does the well-being of troubled teens.
Family therapy is often used to help troubled teens who have behavioral or emotional issues.
Here a therapist will help make communication between family members and the teen work more efficiently and in so doing help both parties to learn techniques for conflict resolution.
So how do you know that your teenager has a real problem and isn’t just going through a ‘phase’?
Parents might find it very difficult to recognize problem behavior in their teen. How do you know when your teen is at risk for drug/alcohol abuse, quitting school, has an eating disorder, an unplanned pregnancy, violence, depression, or even suicide? Unfortunately troubled teens aren’t always very easy to spot. They have become experts at hiding their behaviors and self-concerns from adults.
Parents may fall into the trap of comparing their troubled teens to other teenagers that they have contact with. Maybe even friends and family members compare their own children to your child. Which means some parents either find their teen ‘worse’ than other teens; or ‘not as bad’ as other children they know - both of which might lead to disastrous consequences.
Of course it’s easy to understand this kind of comparison when a parent is wanting to determine how much of a problem there really is. However making a comparison with other children of the same age, or even those that "made it" unto adult hood is not a reliable indicator of how serious your troubled teens problems are.
Instead, parents need to look at each child individually and assess the situation themselves, using their knowledge of the child’s normal behavior and personality. It is important for parents to use their intuition and gut feelings when dealing with troubled teens because this is often quite correct in assessing the situation. Parents are also encouraged to enlist the help of counselors, educational consultants and support groups to help them through the process. In general, parents are the first to know when their teen is in trouble. The trick is getting them to admit it and not stay in denial!
Unfortunately many troubled teens are not always honest about their real feelings. They often resort to manipulating the situation, becoming secretive or worming their way out of an issue for meths even years at a time.
When parents bury their heads in the sand, turn their back on the situation at hand, talk themselves out of what is really going on, their teen may use that to make the parent feel that there aren’t any problems at all and that they are over reacting. Once a parent starts to deny the clear evidence of a problem he or she may start to ignore the problem or explain it away in their own minds, which is exactly what the teen wants to have happen. This can be dangerous for troubled teens that may need intervention - even life-saving intervention.
The signs that your teen is in crisis are not hard to spot once you know (and really accept) what they are with an open mind. In general troubled teens will show one or more of the following behaviors and/or symptoms:
* Being secretive in a way which is more than just the average need for privacy. Leaving early, coming home late, and not answering their cell phone when you call.
* Sudden outbursts of anger on a regular basis that seem irrational based on the situation. Troubled teens exhibit more than the normal amount of anger and resentment. This is because they are scared and feel out of control.
* When your troubled teens miss curfews, skip engagements or lies about where they have been or who they are with they might be in crisis. More is going on than you know, and your teen is probably engaged in unsafe activities.
* When your teen suddenly changes their group of friends and doesn’t want you to meet or talk to their new inner circle their may be a big problem. When this coincides with a change in appearance and attitude you need to be very concerned.
* Your teen steals from you. Troubled teens might need money for drugs or alcohol or other activities that are unhealthy to their safety.
* Your teen has extreme mood swings or is sleeping more than usual.
* Your child's grades are dropping and they seem to have no interest in their normal activities. Troubled teens may be suffering from depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder or may be drug addicted or engaged in ongoing sexual activity, sometimes with multiple partners.
When you see any of these signs in your child, please don’t ignore them. Seek help from a trained therapist, educational consultant, family coach or support group and learn how to handle the issues at hand before a crisis arises.
Many troubled teens have allowed problems to escalate to the point where they felt suicide was their only option. Don’t let it happen to you or your child. Talk to your child openly and sincerely about what is going on in his or her life. Don’t talk down to troubled teens - they are the first to spot a condescending attitude. And don't threaten them with boarding school or boot camp.
The most important thing is to get a dialogue going with your child and to get help.
Horizon Family Solutions focuses primarily on the families of special needs children, adolescents and young adults and assists those ages 8 to 26. Some of the students I assist have challenges with ADD/ADHD, Asperger's Syndrome, auditory processing disorder, autism, bipolar disorder, OCD, oppositional defiant disorder, PTSD, and Reactive Attachment Disorder. Some are just failing at life and need assistance before a crisis happens. This is usually resulting from loss of self-esteem because of adoption issues or sexual activity that has begun beofre they are emotionally able to handle those feelings. I offer unique services that are tailored to the individual needs of all my clients and provide attentive support to ensure ongoing development towards long term success.
Dore E. Frances, M.A.
Founder, Horizon Family Solutions