Parenting a teenager can be challenging at times. As teens experience surges of hormones, pressures from friends, changes in their bodies, and identity struggles, their behaviors can become rash and their emotions hard to control. They may (and often) “pull away” from their parents in efforts to establish more independence in their day-to-day lives. All this can lead to occasional defiance, impulsive conduct, and what may seem like endless fights with their parents.
Certain behaviors in adolescence are “normal.” Teenagers’ brains are still in a period of development, and, neurologically, they are not yet able to manage their emotions or make rational decisions fully. However, some teenagers may seem more “troubled” than the average adolescent. There is a fine line between troubled teen behavior and normal teen behavior, and it’s important for parents to understand the two. If you are a parent and feeling overwhelmed by your teen’s actions and emotions, it’s possible that a further assessment (and support) is needed. Your teen may be struggling with a mental health or behavioral health issue, where professional help is needed.
If you lie awake at night thinking, “My teen is out of control,” or, “I need help with my teenager,” you are in the right place. In this guide, we discuss important topics for parents with troubled teens:
- How to know if (and when) your teenager needs professional help
- The types of help available to troubled teens
- How to get help for your teenager
How to Know If (and When) Your Teenager Needs Professional Help
If you’ve noticed changes in your teens behavior and have concerns, this is enough to warrant a next step. Consider reaching out to your family doctor or a therapist for help. It is never too early to seek the guidance of a professional, in efforts to understand what’s going on with your son or daughter. Sometimes, it can be hard for parents to get through to their teens, and getting another adult figure involved can be the ticket you need to move forward. A clinical professional can assess and diagnose your teen, or give you peace of mind in finding that your teenager is okay after all.
Of course, you may be wary about acting too prematurely, and seeking help too soon. You may be asking, “Does my teen need help, or am I overreacting?” While it’s always best to err on the side of caution, here are some things you can look for that indicate a potentially troubled teen:
- Drops in grades and academic performance
- Skipping school
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Sudden changes in social circles or activities
- Frequent mood swings
- Increasing defiance
- Lying and manipulation
- Staying out past curfew
- Lack of empathy
- Drastic changes in sleeping patterns
- Physical ailments, without explicable cause
- Risky behaviors
- Negative outlook and perception
- Low energy and lack of enjoyment
There are also signs that can indicate your teen needs help right away, as these pose more immediate danger to your son or daughter’s health. Concerning red flags include:
- Signs of depression
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Participating in illegal activities
- Failing or dropping out of school
- Self-harm and/or cutting
- Threats or attempts of suicide
- Symptoms of an eating disorder
- Violent or excessively angry behavior
- Running away from home
- Uncontrollable defiance and acting out, without regard for the consequences
When any of the above behaviors are repeated over and over, consider it a sign of underlying trouble and more serious problems. At this point, it is important to find the help that your teen needs and deserves.
Types of Professional Help Available to Troubled Teens
So, you need help with your teenager, but are unsure where to turn. As a parent, the first thing you must do is consider your teen’s symptoms. Why do you feel your teen needs help? Is it because he or she is showing signs of a mental health problem? Is it because he or she is acting defiantly or dangerously? Is it because he or she is failing school? Take note of your concerns and share them with a clinical professional such as your pediatrician, primary care provider, therapist, or a mental health professional. You can then schedule an assessment and find the right treatment for your teen.
Types of treatment programs available to teenagers today include:
- Residential Mental Health Treatment Centers: This is the best option for teens who are struggling with underlying mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and more. Teens live at the facility in which they are receiving treatment, and benefit from 24/7 support, therapy, peer groups, and healthy activities during a several-month-long stay. In many adolescent mental health treatment centers, teens also have access to academic tutoring and counseling, to help keep up with school.
- Therapeutic Boarding Schools: Therapeutic boarding schools are an alternative option for teens who are struggling academically. These schools are more focused on improving academics than restoring mental health. These types of schools offer strict class formats to support students with conduct issues, as well as various learning pathways to encourage student success. Therapeutic boarding schools will offer some rehabilitative services and therapy for teens, but not to the extent of a mental health treatment center. Students also live at these schools.
- Wilderness Therapy Programs: Wilderness therapy programs are a common option for teenagers with behavioral or mental health problems. These experiential, short-term programs promote stronger mental and physical health, by getting teenagers active and outside. Teens learn survival skills, discipline, teamwork, and problem-solving as they engage in wilderness therapy.
- Juvenile Boot Camps: Emerging more recently, juvenile boot camps are military-inspired programs for teenagers with behavioral struggles. These programs require teens to follow a strict schedule and code of conduct, focusing on physical exercise, respect, and obedience. Because these programs are not clinically-based, teen boot camps are not recommended for teens who are struggling with a mental health disorder or substance abuse problem.
No matter the path, treatment for troubled teenagers must be tailored to their individual needs and symptoms. For example, teenagers with mental health struggles should seek support via a mental health treatment center, where they can receive individualized therapy and counseling based on their needs. Teens struggling with academics may benefit from an alternative type of school or recovery program.
Most of the time, when teenagers are exhibiting troubling behaviors, there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. This problem typically has to do with their mental health. They may be acting out because they do not know how to cope with symptoms of depression or anxiety. They may be rebelling or lacking motivation, due to past traumas that are wearing them down. A mental health screening can help to understand these deeper-seated issues, and help your teen back on the right path.
How to Get Help for Your Teenager
As a parent, the first thing you can do to help your teen is to know that signs that your teenager needs help. If you identify any concerning behaviors or emotions in your teenager, as described above, do not hesitate to consult a professional.
The best place to turn is a doctor, therapist, counselor, or other mental health treatment professional. If you do not know who can help, you can always contact Turnbridge for guidance. We are a mental health treatment provider dedicated to helping teens and young adults. A mental health provider will ensure your teen receives a proper evaluation, and can help you develop a treatment plan (or provide you peace of mind).
Getting help for your teenager is just one step in the right direction. After consulting with a professional, you can take steps at home to ensure your teen feels supported and understood. For example, you can:
- Talk to your teen openly about how he or she is doing and feeling.
- Try to understand what’s causing your teen’s outbursts, emotions, and behaviors.
- Help your teen find healthy ways to cope with difficult emotions, such as journaling or running.
- Offer to help them work through any conflicts together. Offer solutions.
- Give your teen the space that he or she needs, but always be available to listen.
- Keep up with your teen’s friend groups, whereabouts, and social media usage.
- Ensure your teen is eating healthy and getting enough sleep.
- Do your best to establish boundaries and rules at home, to keep your teen safe.
For more tips, read our article: “How To Help Your Troubled Teenager: A Guide For Concerned Parents”
At the end of the day, it’s important for parents to know that help is available for their teenager—and that mental health disorders are very treatable and manageable. With the right professional support, recovery is possible for your teen. This will not last forever.
Further, it’s important to remember that your teen’s problems are not anyone’s fault. You are not to blame, and neither is your son or daughter. Mental health disorders are diseases, just like asthma. Anyone can be affected by them. The best thing you can do, as you would for any physical disorder, is to get your teen the help that he or she needs.
For more advice about helping your teen, or to learn about the teen treatment programs available at Turnbridge, please do not hesitate to call 877-581-1793. You may also contact us online here.