It’s normal for teens to be rebellious. They’re forming a sense of who they are as people and testing their boundaries. They want to be independent. But that doesn’t mean you should just stand back and let them engage in self-destructive behavior.
Self-destructive, risky, and dangerous behaviors aren’t normal for teens. Whether it’s substance abuse, violence, self-harm, promiscuous sexual behavior, or academic problems, your teen’s poor decisions now can have a profound impact on the rest of their life. It’s your duty as a parent to step in and do whatever you can to help your teen overcome his or her problems and move forward into a healthy young adulthood. You can do that by identifying the cause of your child’s issues, seeking professional help if necessary, reconnecting emotionally with your teen, letting your child experience the consequences of his or her poor decisions, and enrolling him or her in a residential program.
1. Find the Root of the Problem
You can’t address your child’s problems until you know what’s causing them. Teens can become troubled for a variety of reasons. Many troubled teens are struggling with mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or even more severe conditions like schizophrenia. Some are facing bullying at school or are feeling overwhelmed with academic stress. Still others may be under the influence of a bad crowd.
It may be possible to identify the cause of your teen’s problem by looking at the circumstances of his or her recent life or at recent behavior or mood changes. If your teen seems to be sad most of the time for no reason, is having problems sleeping, or appears much more anxious than usual, it could be a sign of a mental illness. But you may have to look back in your teen’s life to find the cause of the problem. Traumatic events that happen early in your teen’s life, even at ages as young as 2 or 3 years old, can cause emotional pain that lasts into adolescence. Events like divorce, physical or sexual abuse, or a death in the family could be troubling your teen, even if they happened years ago.
2. Address Underlying Medical Issues With a Professional
If your teen is suffering from depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, ADHD, or another mental illness, that’s a medical issue that requires professional help. If your teen is abusing substances regularly, he or she probably needs professional help. Problems like insomnia, overweight or obesity, or even acne could be contributing to emotional problems or issues like bullying. Counseling and perhaps medication could be necessary to help your teen feel more normal again.
Just because your teen is having problems right now doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t need your help and emotional support. Your teen is still your little boy or girl, and he or she still loves and depends on you. You have more control over your teen’s behavior than you probably give yourself credit for.
Learn to communicate effectively with your teen. Give your teen the gift of a sympathetic ear; try not to offer advice or pass judgment on what your teen has to say. Help your teen to feel loved and valued — and protect him or her from the influence of bad seeds — by allowing him or her to feel heard.
4. Let Your Teen Experience the Consequences of Bad Decisions
As a parent, it’s normal to want to protect your child from harm — even when that harm comes as a result of your child’s own bad decisions. But allowing your child to experience the consequences of his or her bad behavior may be just the thing he or she needs to make lasting positive changes. Allow your child to spend a night in jail instead of bailing them out right away. Let your child be held back a year in school. Call the police when your child runs away from home.
5. Consider a Residential Treatment Program
If your teen continues to struggle with behavior problems, emotional issues, or substance abuse despite all your efforts to help him or her, it might be time to consider a residential treatment program. Wilderness therapy programs are very popular and effective for teens. When you enroll your teen in a wilderness therapy program, he or she will spend a few weeks hiking and camping in the company of other teens and receive psychotherapy from licensed counselors.
Wilderness therapy programs are good for teens with substance abuse issues, because teens in these programs don’t have any access to illicit substances. Time spent in the wilderness breaks through the emotional walls teens put up, allowing for profound insights and behavioral changes. Wilderness programs can be combined with longer-term residential treatment programs for teens that need additional care.
If you’re like many parents of a troubled teen, you feel helpless in the face of your teen’s problems. But there’s a lot you can do as a parent to help your child. The most important thing is to be there for your teen, and never give up. Your teen still needs you, even though he or she may not realize it.