Is your teenager acting out, or simply acting out of the norm? Is your teenager showing signs of depression, violent behavior, or substance abuse? Is he or she defying all the rules you’ve set, and/or abandoning school? If you’ve answered “yes,” it is likely that something significant is troubling your teenager, and causing him or her to act out of control.
This article is a guide for parents. Here, we will show you how to help a troubled teenager, reduce the stress at home, and get your teen on a healthier, happier path.
When we think of “troubled teenagers,” we often think of those who are behaving out of control. While this can be a tell-tale sign of a troubled teenager, there is usually more beyond it. Troubled teenagers are often struggling with mental health disorders, behavioral disorders, or learning disorders that cause them to act out in this way. Left unaddressed, these underlying issues can create problems into adulthood.
So, as a parent, it is up you to take steps in helping your troubled teenager. Most teenagers will not actively ask for help, or know they need help at all. Parents need to intervene. No matter how much your teen withdraws from you, how much they resist you, or how troubled they become, they still need your help, your attention, and most of all, your love.
5 Steps to Helping a Troubled Teenager
- Know the signs of troubled teen behavior versus normal adolescent behavior.
As a parent, the first step in helping your teenager is to educate yourself. It’s important for you to know which behaviors are more typical during adolescence, and which can signal more serious problems. Normal teenage behavior can involve bouts of rebellion, withdrawal from family, changing appearances, risk-taking behaviors, and more time spent with friends. It can also involve mood swings, as teenagers are undergoing many changes in their body chemistry. However, troubled teenagers usually exhibit more excessive, repetitive, and sudden behaviors. For example:
- Extreme mood swings
- Constant feelings of sadness and despair
- Sudden changes in personality
- Excessive anger and escalation of arguments
- Violent behaviors or threats towards others (people, pets, and belongings)
- Complete disdain and disrespect of family members
- Open rebellion, without regard for the consequences
- Sudden decline in academic performance
- Truancy and skipping school
- Sudden changes in friend groups
- Illegal activity, such as shoplifting
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Signs of depression, such as isolation and sleeping more than usual
- Self-harm and suicidal thoughts
- Rapid weight loss or gain
- Constant issues with body image
If your teen is displaying any of the behaviors listed above, it is time to intervene.
- Connect with your teenager.
Parents with troubled teens at home must open the lines of communication and attempt to connect with their son or daughter. This is essential for understanding where your teen is at or coming from. As a next step, work on building communication and a relationship with your teenager. Spend time together and let your teenager know that you are there for support. Additionally, remember to be that support system for your teenager when they are in need.
As mentioned above, troubled teen behavior usually stems from underlying issues. Therefore, when approaching conversations with your teenager, try to do so without any judgement, anger, or harshness. In order for your teen to trust you and be honest with you, you must be open and understanding. You must be their advocate. Therefore, start the conversation by letting them know you are concerned, and you are there to talk. Ask them questions, such as how they are feeling or if something is bothering them, and listen to them without judgement. Hold back from telling them what to do or giving advice. Rather, give your teen space to say what they want and listen to them with sincerity.
Part of a productive conversation is approaching your teenager when you both are calm and collected. Do not do so if you are angry, or if you know your teen has been drinking, as an example. Additionally, in order to connect with your teen, encourage them (and you, too!) to disconnect from their devices. This could mean no phones at the dinner table, as an example.
Opening the lines of communication with your teenager can take time. They may push you away at first, but keep persevering and you will have a breakthrough.
- Get to the root of the problem.
It is not uncommon for teenagers to struggle silently with issues like depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), trauma, or learning disorders. They may be unsure and afraid to ask for help. These silent struggles can spiral into defiance and conduct disorders over time. As you are able to connect with your teenager, try to understand what is behind his or her troubles. What is triggering the out of control behavior?
Having open conversations with your teenager is a great way to gain more insight into what is going on. If you are having trouble getting to this point, try reframing the situation—or looking at your teenager’s behavior with new eyes. Think about it from your teen’s point of view. Shifting your perspective can provide more insight into what is triggering your teenager to act out.
In addition to ongoing conversations with your teenager, it is important for you to know the signs of potential mental health disorders. For example, depression often shows itself as changes in sleeping patterns, struggles with school performance, and withdrawal from family, friends, and activities. Teens with anxiety might display excessive worry and fear, refusal to participate in activities, or not wanting to socialize. These are just some examples. You can learn about the common signs of mental health disorders in teens here.
- Recognize if your teen is in danger.
Troubled teen behavior is often an outward expression of something more serious that needs attention. For example, depression could be at the root of your teen’s withdrawal. ADHD might be prompting signs of oppositional defiant disorder. What’s more, is that these untreated issues could lead to dangerous behaviors that put your teenager at risk.
Teenagers with untreated mental health and behavioral disorders are often involved in dangerous activity. For example, troubled teens often take part in excessive risk-taking, like drunk driving, unsafe sex, and criminal acts. Teens may also get into drug and alcohol abuse, which can cause its own dangers like overdose. Additionally, some eating disorders can lead to malnutrition. Depression can lead to self-harm and suicide attempts.
As a parent, it is important to recognize if your teen is putting himself or herself at risk in any way. Further, it’s essential that you intervene and get professional help. Underneath your teen’s behaviors is likely an internal battle and a lot of pain. Getting professional help can ensure your teenager stays safe and gets back on a healthier track.
- Seek professional help.
Seeking professional help can be a difficult steps for parents to take, but it is often essential. When underlying issues exist, professional therapy and treatment can make a world of difference in setting your teen up for a healthier, safer, and more stable life into adulthood.
A professional clinician or therapist can help you determine why your teen is acting out, offer a diagnosis where appropriate, and identify which interventions are going to be most effective. A therapist can also help support you and your family, as well as your teenager, during these difficult times. Finally, a treatment program – such as a residential teen treatment program or a wilderness therapy program – can also help your teen develop coping strategies for their struggles, modify their behaviors, and relearn boundaries and respect.
Like many people will wait for “rock bottom” before going to rehab, many parents might wait until things get really bad before seeking out professional help for their teen. However, you do not want to wait until a crisis situation – such as when your teen is in danger – to seek assistance. While you can call on professional help during a crisis or breaking point, getting help earlier on can be highly beneficial. According to an article from Very Well Family, “Getting help for a troubled teen when they first start having difficulties is usually far more successful than waiting until problems get worse.”
The question now remains, where do you start? Where do you send a troubled teen?
Where to Send a Troubled Teenager
When you feel ready to bring in professional intervention, the next step will be decide where to go for support. There are many different treatment options and programs for troubled teens. These include therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness therapy programs, and residential treatment centers. The right choice for your teen will depend on his or her needs at this time.
Here is a breakdown of options for troubled teens:
- Therapeutic Boarding Schools:
Therapeutic boarding schools are academic facilities in which students also live and receive rehabilitative support. Teenagers go to school, follow a strict scheduling regime, and receive some counseling or tutoring to get them on the right path. These schools are best for teenagers who are facing learning difficulties or conduct disorders and can benefit from personalized learning experiences as well as greater discipline.
- Wilderness Therapy Programs:
Wilderness therapy programs are short-term programs meant for teens with behavioral and mental health issues. They focus on experiential therapies in which teenagers can get outside, develop new skillsets, relearn respect and obedience, build friendships, and engage in physical activity. These programs are right for troubled teenagers who may not be facing serious mental health issues. They can also be a great segue into longer-term therapy and residential treatment programs.
- Residential Treatment Centers:
Residential treatment centers for teenagers are designed to help youth overcome issues with mental health disorders, behavioral disorders, and substance abuse. Teenagers live at the facilities and receive treatment and counseling for their various needs. Each teen receives an individualized treatment plan, based on the issues they are facing. They live away from outside distractions and temptations, in a comfortable, non-hospitalized setting – much like a dormitory. However, they also receive expert clinical treatment, pursue individualized counseling, attend support groups and workshops, as well as participate in healthy, therapeutic activities like exercise, yoga, art, music, hiking, cooking, and more. Residential treatment centers help teens get to the root of their problems, develop coping skills to overcome them, and learn competencies that they can use to establish a productive, meaningful life.
Turnbridge is a residential troubled youth treatment program for teenagers struggling with mental health disorders, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and more. If your teen is facing troubles, or struggling with deep-seated mental health issues, we can help you find the path to recovery. Call us today at 877-581-1793 to learn more about our adolescent treatment programs.