I need help with my troubled teenager
Help for Parents of Troubled Teens
Is your teenager violent, depressed, abusing alcohol or drugs, or facing other problems? Here’s how to ease the stress at home and help your teen transition into a happy, successful adult.
Why do teens act the way they do?
Parenting a teenager is never easy. You may feel exhausted from lying awake at night worrying about where your child is, who they’re with, and what they’re doing. You may despair over failed attempts to communicate, the endless fights, and the open defiance—not to mention the moodiness, the intense emotions, and the impulsive and reckless conduct.
Sometimes it may be hard to believe, but no, your teenager is not an alien being from a distant planet. But they are wired differently. A teenager’s brain is still actively developing, therefore processes information differently than a mature adult’s brain. The frontal cortex—the part of the brain used to manage emotions, make decisions, reason, and control inhibitions—is restructured during the teenage years, forming new synapses at an incredible rate, while the whole brain does not reach full maturity until about the mid-20’s.
Your teen may be taller than you and seem mature in some respects, but often they are simply unable to think things through on an adult level. Hormones produced during the physical changes of adolescence can further complicate things. Now, these biological differences don’t excuse teens’ poor behavior or absolve them from accountability for their actions, but they may help explain why teens behave so impulsively or frustrate parents and teachers with their poor decisions, social anxiety, and rebelliousness. Understanding adolescent development can help you find ways to stay connected to your teen and overcome problems together.
It's also important to remember that while teenagers are individuals with unique personalities and their own likes and dislikes, some traits are universal. No matter how much your teen seems to withdraw from you emotionally, no matter how independent your teen appears, or how troubled your teen becomes, they still need your attention and to feel loved by you.
Teens read emotions differently
Teens differ from adults in their ability to read and understand emotions in the faces of others. Adults use the prefrontal cortex to read emotional cues, but teenagers rely on the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotional reactions. Research shows that teens often misread facial expressions; when shown pictures of adult faces expressing different emotions, teens most often interpreted them as being angry.
Source: ACT for Youth
When typical teen behavior becomes troubled teen behavior
As teenagers begin to assert their independence and find their own identity, many experience behavioral changes that can seem bizarre and unpredictable to parents. Your sweet, obedient child who once couldn't bear to be separated from you now won't be seen within 20 yards of you, and greets everything you say with a roll of the eyes or the slam of a door. As difficult as this can be for parents to endure, they are the actions of a normal teenager.
A troubled teen, on the other hand, exhibits behavioral, emotional, or learning problems beyond typical teenage issues. They may repeatedly practice at-risk behaviors including drinking, drug use, sex, violence, skipping school, self-harming, shoplifting, or other criminal acts. Or they may exhibit symptoms of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. While any negative behavior repeated over and over can be a sign of underlying trouble, it's important for parents to understand which behaviors are normal during adolescent development, and which can point to more serious problems.
|Typical Teen vs. Troubled Teen Behavior
|Typical teen behavior: Keeping up with fashion is important to teens. That may mean wearing provocative or attention-seeking clothing or dyeing their hair. Unless your teen wants tattoos, avoid criticizing and save your protests for the bigger issues. Fashions change, and so will your teen.
|Warning signs of a troubled teen: Changing appearance can be a red flag if it's accompanied by problems at school or other negative changes in behavior. Evidence of cutting and self-harm or extreme weight loss or weight gain are also warning signs.
|Increased arguments and rebellious behavior
|Typical teen behavior: As teens begin seeking independence, you will frequently butt heads and argue.
|Warning signs of a troubled teen: Constant escalation of arguments, violence at home, skipping school, getting in fights, and run-ins with the law are all red flag behaviors that go beyond the norm of teenage rebellion.
|Typical teen behavior: Hormones and developmental changes often mean that your teen will experience mood swings, irritable behavior, and struggle to manage their emotions.
|Warning signs of a troubled teen: Rapid changes in personality, falling grades, persistent sadness, anxiety, or sleep problems could indicate depression, bullying, or another emotional health issue. Take any talk about suicide seriously.
|Experimenting with alcohol or drugs
|Typical teen behavior: Most teens will try alcohol, smoke a cigarette, or vape at some point. Many will even try marijuana. Talking to your kids frankly and openly about drugs and alcohol is one way to ensure it doesn't progress further.
|Warning signs of a troubled teen: When alcohol or drug use becomes habitual, especially when it's accompanied by problems at school or home, it may indicate a substance abuse issue or other underlying problems.
|More influenced by friends than parents
|Typical teen behavior: Friends become extremely important to teens and can have a great influence on their choices. As a teens focuses more on their peers, that inevitably means they withdraw from you. It may leave you feeling hurt, but it doesn't mean your teen doesn't still need your love.
|Warning signs of a troubled teen: Red flags include a sudden change in peer group (especially if the new friends encourage negative behavior), refusing to comply with reasonable rules and boundaries, or avoiding the consequences of bad behavior by lying. Similarly, if your teen is spending too much time alone that can also indicate problems.
Seeking professional help for a troubled teen
If you identify red flag behaviors in your teen, consult a doctor, counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional for help finding appropriate treatment.
Even when you seek professional help, though, that doesn't mean that your job is done—it's just begun. As detailed below, there are many actions you can take at home to help your teen and improve the relationship between you. And you don't need to wait for a diagnosis to start putting them into practice.
Keep in mind that whatever problems your teen is experiencing, it is not a sign that you’ve somehow failed as a parent. Instead of trying to assign blame for the situation, focus on your teen’s current needs. The first step is to find a way to connect with what they are experiencing emotionally and socially.
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Tip 1: Connect with your troubled teen
It may seem hard to believe—given your child's anger or indifference towards you—but teens still crave love, approval, and acceptance from their parents. Positive face-to-face connection is the quickest, most efficient way to reduce stress by calming and focusing the nervous system. That means you probably have a lot more influence over your teen than you think.
To open the lines of communication:
Be aware of your own stress levels. If you're angry or upset, now is not the time to try to communicate with your teen. Wait until you're calm and energized before starting a conversation. You're likely to need all the patience and positive energy you can muster.
Be there for your teen. An offer to chat with your teen over coffee will probably be greeted with a sarcastic put-down or dismissive gesture, but it's important to show that you're available. Insist on sitting down for mealtimes together with no TV, phones, or other distractions. Look at your teen when you speak and invite your teen to look at you. Don't get frustrated if your efforts are greeted by nothing more than monosyllabic grunts or shrugs. You may have to eat a lot of dinners in silence, but when your teen does want to open up, they know they'll always have the opportunity to do so.
Find common ground. Trying to discuss your teen's appearance or clothes may be a sure-fire way to trigger a heated argument, but you can still find some areas of common ground. Fathers and sons often connect over sports; mothers and daughters over gossip or movies. The objective is not to be your teen's best friend, but to find common interests that you can discuss peacefully. Once you're talking, your teen may feel more comfortable opening up to you about other topics.
Listen without judging or giving advice. When your teen does talk to you, it's important that you listen without judging, mocking, interrupting, criticizing, or offering advice. Your teen wants to feel understood and valued by you, so maintain eye contact and keep your focus on your child, even when they're not looking at you. If you're checking your email or reading the newspaper, your teen will feel that they're not important to you.
Expect rejection. Your teen may often respond to your attempts to connect with anger, irritation, or other negative reactions. Stay relaxed and allow your teen space to cool off. Try again later when you're both calm. Successfully connecting to your teen will take time and effort. Don't be put off; persevere and the breakthrough will come.
Roadblocks to connection
If your teen is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, their ability to connect emotionally can be compromised. The same may be true of prescription medications. For example, if your teen is taking antidepressants, make sure the dosage is no more than absolutely needed.
Tip 2: Deal with teen anger and violence
If you're a parent of a teenage boy who is angry, aggressive, or violent, you may live in constant fear. Every phone call or knock on the door could bring news that your son has either been harmed, or has seriously harmed others.
Teenage girls get angry as well, of course, but that anger is usually expressed verbally rather than physically. Teen boys are more likely to throw objects, kick doors, or punch the walls when they're angry. Some will even direct their rage towards you. For any parent, especially single mothers, this can be a profoundly disturbing and upsetting experience. But you don't have to live under the threat of violence. Putting up with violence is as harmful for your teen as it is for you.
If you feel threatened by your teen
Everyone has a right to feel physically safe. If your teen is violent towards you, seek help immediately. Call a friend, relative, or the police if necessary. It doesn't mean that you don't love your child, but the safety of you and your family should always come first.
How to cope with teen anger
Anger can be a challenging emotion for many teens as it often masks other underlying emotions such as frustration, embarrassment, sadness, hurt, fear, shame, or vulnerability. When teens can't cope with these feelings, they may lash out, putting themselves and others at risk. In their teens, many boys have difficulty recognizing their feelings, let alone expressing them or asking for help.
The challenge for parents is to help your teen cope with emotions and deal with anger in a more constructive way:
Establish boundaries, rules and consequences. At a time when both you and your teen are calm, explain that there's nothing wrong with feeling anger, but there are unacceptable ways of expressing it. If your teen lashes out, for example, they will have to face the consequences—loss of privileges or even police involvement. Teens need boundaries and rules, now more than ever.
Try to understand what's behind the anger. Is your teen sad or depressed? For example, do they have feelings of inadequacy because their peers have things that they don't? Does your teen just need someone to listen to them without judgment?
Be aware of anger warning signs and triggers. Does your teen get headaches or start to pace before exploding with rage? Or does a certain class at school always trigger anger? When teens can identify the warning signs that their temper is starting to boil, it allows them to take steps to defuse the anger before it gets out of control.
Help your teen find healthy ways to relieve anger. Exercise is especially effective: running, biking, climbing or team sports. Even simply hitting a punch bag or a pillow can help relieve tension and anger. Dancing or playing along to loud, angry music can also provide relief. Some teens also use art or writing to creatively express their anger.
Give your teen space to retreat. When your teen is angry, allow them to retreat to a place where it's safe to cool off. Don't follow your teen and demand apologies or explanations while they are still raging; this will only prolong or escalate the anger, or even provoke a physical response.
Take steps to manage your own anger. You can't help your teen if you lose your temper as well. As difficult as it sounds, you have to remain calm and balanced no matter how much your child provokes you. If you or other members of your family scream, hit each other, or throw things, your teen will naturally assume that these are appropriate ways to express their anger as well.
Red flags for violent behavior in teens
It only takes a glance at the news headlines to know that teen violence is a growing problem. Movies and TV shows glamorize all manner of violence, many web sites promote extremist views that call for violent action, and hour after hour of playing violent video games can desensitize teens to the real world consequences of aggression and violence. Of course, not every teen exposed to violent content will become violent, but for a troubled teen who is emotionally damaged or suffering from mental health problems, the consequences can be tragic.
Warning signs that a teen may become violent include:
- Playing with weapons of any kind.
- Obsessively playing violent video games, watching violent movies, or visiting websites that promote or glorify violence.
- Threatening or bullying others.
- Fantasizing about acts of violence he'd like to commit.
- Being aggressive or cruel to pets or other animals.
Many troubled behaviors in teenagers can be indications of depression. These can include:
Problems at school. Low energy and concentration problems associated with teen depression can lead to a declining attendance and drop in grades.
Running away. Many depressed teens run away or talk about running away from home, often as a cry for help.
Drug and alcohol abuse. Teens may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to self-medicate their depression.
Low self-esteem. Depression can trigger or intensify feelings of shame, failure, and social unease and make teens extremely sensitive to criticism.
Smartphone addiction. Depressed teens may go online to escape their problems, but excessive smartphone and Internet use tends to increase feelings of isolation and worsen depression.
Reckless behavior. Depressed teens may engage in dangerous or high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, binge drinking, or unsafe sex.
Violence. Some teens—usually boys—can become aggressive and violent when they’re depressed.
To learn more about the signs of teen depression…
And how you can help your child overcome the problem and get their life back on track, read our Parent's Guide to Teen Depression.
Tip 4: Add balance to your troubled teen's life
No matter the exact reason behind your teen's problems, you can put balance back in their life by helping them make healthy lifestyle changes.
Create structure. Teens may scream and argue with you about rules and discipline, or rebel against daily structure, but that doesn't mean they need them any less. Structure, such as regular mealtimes and bedtimes, make a teen feel safe and secure. Sitting down to breakfast and dinner together every day can also provide a great opportunity to check in with your teen at the beginning and end of each day.
Reduce screen time. There appears to be a direct relationship between violent TV shows, movies, Internet content, and video games, and violent behavior in teenagers. Even if your teen isn't drawn to violent material, too much screen time can still impact brain development. Limit the time your teen has access to electronic devices—and restrict phone usage after a certain time at night to ensure your child gets enough sleep.
Encourage exercise. Even a little regular exercise can help ease depression, boost energy and mood, relieve stress, regulate sleep patterns, and improve your teen's self-esteem. If you struggle getting your teen to do anything but play video games, encourage them to play activity-based video games or “exergames” that are played standing up and moving around—simulating dancing, skateboarding, soccer, or tennis for example. Once exercise becomes a habit, encourage your teen to try the real sport or to join a club or team.
Eat right. Healthy eating can help stabilize a teenager's energy, sharpen their mind, and even out their mood. Act as a role model for your teen. Cook more meals at home, eat more fruit and vegetables and cut back on junk food and soda.
Ensure your teen gets enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can make a teen stressed, moody, irritable, and lethargic, and cause problems with weight, memory, concentration, decision-making, and immunity from illness. You might be able to get by on six hours a night and still function at work, but your teen needs 8.5 to 10 hours of sleep a night to be mentally sharp and emotionally balanced. Encourage better sleep by setting consistent bedtimes, and removing TVs, computers, and other electronic gadgets from your teen's room—the light from these devices suppresses melatonin production and stimulates the mind, rather than relaxing it. Suggest that your teen try listening to music or audio books at bedtime instead.
Tip 5: Take care of yourself
The stress of dealing with any teenager, especially one who's experiencing behavioral problems, can take a toll on your own health, so it's important to take care of yourself. That means looking after your emotional and physical needs and learning to manage stress.
Take time to relax daily and learn how to regulate yourself and de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed. Learning how to use your senses to quickly relieve stress and regularly practicing relaxation techniques are great places to start.
Talk it over. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, helpless, angry, or frustrated when dealing with a troubled teenager. Talking about how you’re feeling can help defuse the intensity, so share your feelings with a trusted friend or find a therapist.
Don't go it alone, especially if you're a single parent. Find support from family, friends, a school counselor, sports coach, religious leader, or someone else who has a relationship with your teen. Organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, and other youth groups can also help provide structure and guidance.
Remember your other children. Dealing with a troubled teen can unsettle the whole family. It can be especially hard on other children, so make sure they're not ignored. Siblings may need special individual attention or professional help of their own to handle their feelings about the situation.
This won't last forever
It's worth reminding your teen that no matter how much pain or turmoil they are experiencing right now, with your love and support, and professional help when it's needed, the situation can and will get better—for both of you. Your teen can overcome the problems of adolescence and mature into a happy, well-balanced young adult.
Authors: Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
Understanding Teens (PDF) – How to handle common teen problems. (New Mexico State University)
A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Teen Years – What to expect during the teenage years and how to handle typical adolescent behavior problems. (KidsHealth)
Adolescent Brain Development (PDF) – Research about brain development in teens. (ACT for Youth)
Teens and Violence Prevention – Tips for parents about reducing or eliminating teen violence. (Palo Alto Medical Foundation)
That Teenage Feeling – Biological clues to quirky adolescent behavior. (American Psychological Association)
Hotlines and support
In the U.S.: Call the National Parent Helpline at 1-855-427-2736 or find resources for specific teen problems.
UK: Call the Family Lives Helpline at 0808 800 2222.
Australia: In Queensland and Northern Territory call the Parentline at 1300 30 1300 or find a helpline near you.
Canada: Call the Parent Help Line at 1-888-603-9100 or find other parent resources.
In the U.S.: Call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
UK and Ireland: Call Samaritans UK at 116 123.
Australia: Call Lifeline Australia at 13 11 14.
Other countries: Visit IASP or International Suicide Hotlines to find a helpline near you.
Last updated: December 5, 2022
Therapeutic Boarding Schools | MyTroubledTeen.com
The benefits that a therapeutic boarding school can have on the life of a struggling adolescent are unmeasurable. Every year, thousands of struggling teens find restoration and healing through the relationship based treatment found in these therapeutic settings. So, what produces these life-changing results? The best therapeutic boarding schools are operated by first-class clinical teams with a deep commitment to academic excellence and cutting edge therapeutic intervention. This means that many of the top therapeutic boarding schools provide individual treatment plans tailored to address the needs of each teen they serve. As a major part of their enrollment, teens participate in weekly counseling sessions, group therapy sessions, drug and alcohol treatment, as well as family therapy sessions.
Therapeutic boarding schools are designed to help troubled teens get through their most difficult years by learning how to overcome the challenges that are hindering their future. Whether your teenager is suffering from depression, drug abuse, addiction or even eating disorders, a therapeutic boarding school offers top level academic instruction, cobmined with a structured therapeutic intervention that promotes self-discovery and healing.
Kids and teens with mental, behavioral, and/or emotional issues generally require more effort - from themselves as well as their teachers and their parents in order to ensure they are sufficiently learning the lessons that help them mature into adulthood with proper self-reliance skills and emotional intelligence. Regrettably, instructors and teachers within the traditional school system just don't have the time or resources necessary to meet the special needs of troubled teens.
You've probably already figured out that the challenges your defiant and troubled teen are experiencing are hazardous to their growth and hard on your family. If you are stuck in this vicious cycle you may need professional help. It's a hard reality to face, but for different reasons parents aren't always equipped to provide enough attention, encouragement and moral support, for the challenges youth are faced with today. In some cases it is necessary to seek out external help from industry experts, like those who work at therapeutic boarding schools for troubled teens.
If you think your child would benefit from the type of professional help offered at a therapeutic boarding school, give us a call at 800-845-1342 and speak to one of our discreet information specialists about the incredible options that are available. Having worked with thousands of families from all walks of life, we know we can help you find the perfect academic-based therapeutic school for your child.
If your teen is dealing with depression, ADHD, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress or obsessive-compulsive disorder, please understand that your public school system is not set up to deal with these types of issues. These are some of the most difficult years of your child's life, and sadly public schools lack the resources and tools needed to serve your teen and family.
If you believe your child is at risk and you can see that they are fighting emotional, behavioral and/or mental issues, it may be time to consider a private therapeutic boarding school as a necessary step to regaining their mental and emotional health needs.
It is not too late. Whether your son or daughter has turned to drug abuse, is suffering from depression or an eating disorder, or is struggling with another behavioral issue, there are many different options for help with troubled teenagers, including the life changing results often found in therapeutic boarding schools.
A teenager and his new company
- Expert advice
- teen problems
Teenagers often prefer walking in company to family gatherings. Parents are worried - what kind of environment will their child get into, will it have a detrimental effect on him, why is he so far away from the family? About the place that the company occupies in the life of a teenager, "I am a parent" talked with educational psychologists of the GPPTs DOgM (City Psychological and Pedagogical Center of the Department of Education of the City of Moscow) in the direction of "Crossroads" Marina Kasyanova and Anastasia Krysko .
Why does a teenager lose interest in his immediate environment (parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents), reluctantly spend time with them and constantly strive to “run away” to friends?
The teenager is not completely losing interest in the family. It's just that his needs for knowledge of the world begin to go beyond it. This is a necessary condition for growing up.
Children in adolescence tend to try themselves in a new, "adult" role. Often, such a role is perceived by them as a set of imaginary attributes of supposedly adult life (smoking, alcohol, new relationships with money), as freedom and independence, as an opportunity to make their own decisions. And the other side of "adulthood": responsibility, obligations, caring for others, the ability to manage time and resources - is problematic for them due to little life experience.
It is important for a teenager to do everything in his own way, not in the way that adults “present him on a silver platter”. Indeed, otherwise, he returns to the "world of childhood", where he was obedient, comfortable, and from which he is now striving to get out. Therefore, of course, relations with parents become more conflicted. But the family for a teenager is still a necessary and important place where they will feed, cure, listen and always help.
It is also important to say here that such a “reorientation” towards friends is associated with the peculiarities of age. Each age corresponds, as it were, to its own “group of people,” within which a person receives the development necessary at that moment. Adolescence corresponds to a group of his peers. In psychology, communication, experimentation within relationships with other people stands out as the leading activity of this period of growing up of a child. Thanks to such activities, a teenager learns conscious behavior, responsibility, and the ability to make choices.
Why is the company of peers so important for a teenager? What needs can it satisfy?
It is important for teenagers to learn how to live among people - this is how they look for their place in this world. Children at this age want to show themselves, get recognition from their peers, earn respect. Therefore, teenagers are guided by the company.
In general, the need to be in the company or the desire to belong to one group or another (“clan” of players, emo, fans, etc.) is also a stage of growing up. It is important for a person to surround himself with people with similar interests and hobbies. This is a completely normal part of the socialization process.
Why is it important for teenagers to walk together?
Relationships are important, experiments that are not discussed with parents are important. It is very important for teenagers to have their own space. Friends just help create such a space.
How does a teenager choose his company?
When choosing a company, a teenager is guided by such aspects as sympathy and antipathy, similarity of views, the possibility of broadening one's horizons.
Why can he contact a "bad company"?
It is important to be clear about what a "bad" company is. At consultations, parents complain about “bad company” because their child does not come on time, does not pick up the phone. For some parents, the "undesirable" friends of the child may be children with a different social status, different nationality, bad grades. Such parents base their opinion solely on subjective criteria.
But by "bad" company, we mean communication with children from the "risk group", characterized by stable academic failure, absenteeism from classes, the use of psychoactive substances, involvement in criminal stories.
Children who are in a difficult life situation most often find themselves in such a company. Most likely, there are a lot of problems in their family, parents do not care about raising their children, no one controls them. Such teenagers either do not attend circles and sections, or do not stay in them for a long time.
But this does not mean at all that children from prosperous families cannot get into “bad company”.
Let's take an example. Andrei is 14 years old, and he grew up in an absolutely ordinary family. Then he made friends with a group of peers. Together they stole a neighbor's car 3 times, "just to ride." 3 applications were submitted to the police for the children, they were registered with the KDNiZP, PDN and sent to a closed school. When asked by a specialist what made you do this, Andrei replied that he did not want to steal a car, but he was afraid that new friends would poison him if he refused.
Vova is 13 years old, he came to a new class, he was taken “under the wing” of the guys. Now, together with his friends, he disrupts or skips classes, smokes in the school toilet. In the process of work, it turns out that with a good relationship with his mother, who works very hard, the boy has nothing to do after school, and with new friends it’s “cool” and fun. In addition, it is customary in the company to take each other “weakly” - for example, to disrupt a lesson on a bet.
Can a parent influence a teenager's social circle?
Here it is important to negotiate with the teenager. Perhaps even prescribe these agreements about "walking".
Another important point is the "credit of trust" between the child and the parents. After all, a teenager himself can introduce friends to his parents, for example, by inviting them to his home, leave an additional phone for communication, agree on a certain number of calls if a long walk is planned. Parents should tell the teenager that all these measures are necessary so that they do not worry.
Is it possible to organize safe walks for teenagers?
A teenager needs simple and understandable rules in the family about what is allowed and what is not, within which he will feel safe. After all, as you know, a teenager protests not against the rules as such, but against the ways in which their parents introduce them.
Walking safety rules may include agreements to: communicate where and with whom the teen walks; answer calls; set a clear time to return home; determine the territory and routes for walking, perhaps help with the choice of interesting and safe places. It is also important not to punish immediately if the child "spree", but to clarify why it happened, how to make sure that it does not happen again. Finally, you must not forget to be sincerely interested in why your child made friends with these guys, whether he made this choice on his own.
Parents (and this is quite understandable) react very emotionally when the adventures of a teenager become public knowledge. Fear for the child makes one exaggerate, insult, scare that he will work as a janitor, go to jail, etc. When this style of communication becomes the norm, the human psyche, as a rule, puts up a defense, trying to protect itself from unpleasant information. Often, during consultations with a psychologist, adolescents say that at first conflicts with their parents hurt them to the core, but if the scandals become more frequent, they begin to perceive the parent's speech as background noise. Negative emotions do not allow to hear each other, exacerbate hostility in relationships.
Therefore, discussing with a teenager his friends, rules in the family is possible only if the emotions have subsided and no longer aggravate the atmosphere.
There is also such a simple technique as "I-messages". In order for a person to hear and accept the meaning of what was said, it is necessary to say "I'm worried about you", "I'm scared when you don't answer the call." "You-messages" are perceived in the conflict as accusations ("Why didn't you answer the phone?").
It should not be forgotten that teenagers adopt values, hobbies, ways of making friends and communicating from their parents. Therefore, adults can share their friendship stories with children, presenting them as an experience, and not as moralizing.
As far as safe places are concerned, two youth clubs have already been opened in our center (GPPC). The club is a space where any teenager can come. It has only one rule - the rule of sobriety. Here the child himself chooses what to do: he can play board games, communicate, do homework, make something. The club always has an adult on duty with whom you can talk. Now a musical project is working in it - children come to rehearse and record songs.
What should a teenager be reminded of when he goes for a walk with his peers?
About pre-arranged agreements, rules and consequences. Also remind your child that you trust him. True, it is important not only to talk about it, but also to really try to trust. When a trusting relationship is established between a teenager and a parent, the likelihood increases that if something bad happens, the child will not be afraid to tell his parents and ask for help. He will know that he will not be scolded, punished, deprived of some important things for him, but will certainly help to cope with difficulties.
Interviewed by Irina Korneeva
Your relationship with a teenager
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Psychology of a teenager: 7 problems of a modern teenager
Contents of the article
- Psychology of a teenager
- Problems of modern children
- Features of developmental psychology
- Overcoming the psychological crisis
- About modern teenagers and their parents
Psychology of a teenager
Many parents clutch their heads when their children turn 12 years old. Obedient and exemplary boys and girls become rude, impudent, often deny everything that was instilled in them at home. There are, of course, children who, even at a transitional age, only please their parents, but they are a minority. Pyotr Dmitrievsky, a psychologist at the Perekrestok Center for Social and Psychological Adaptation and Development of Adolescents at the Moscow City Psychological and Pedagogical University, told Pravmir about the most typical problems of modern teenagers and the causes of their conflicts with their parents before the start of the school year.
Problems of modern children
Petr Dmitrievsky was born in 1975 in Leningrad. In 1999 he graduated from the Institute of Asian and African countries at Moscow State University. He worked as a translator from Japanese in the Karate Federation. Since 1999, on a voluntary basis, he has been running a teenage parish club at the Church of the Holy Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian in Shubin (Moscow). In 2009 he received his second higher education at the Moscow City Psychological and Pedagogical University and at the Faculty of Gestalt Therapy with Children and Family of MGI. Since 2010, she has been working at the Crossroads Center for Social and Psychological Adaptation and Development of Adolescents at the Moscow State University of Psychology and Education.
— Piotr, what problems do parents most often complain about with their teenagers when they come to your center?
- The most common complaint is that he/she "doesn't want anything". That is, it seems to parents that their child is not interested in anything important, too passive.
We are trying to figure out why a teenager has become less curious about the world. Sometimes, after one or several conversations, it turns out that curiosity remains, it’s just that what the teenager’s soul lies in does not fit into the parent’s value system.
Of course, the Internet has changed the developmental context of a teenager a lot, and many parents are concerned that their child spends too much time on the computer. We find out what exactly the teenager is looking for on the Internet, in computer games - sometimes the situation immediately softens and family members find a common language, and sometimes the problem turns out to be even more serious than the parents imagined. In these cases, long-term and painstaking work with the family is required.
For many of the younger generation, Internet communication almost completely replaces real life; for such children, a computer becomes the only way to relieve stress and cope with difficult experiences.
Another common problem parents come to us with is their child's difficulties in relationships with classmates. Moreover, this happens both in children who are shy, timid, and in impulsive, physically very strong children, who, because of their impulsiveness, find it difficult to regulate their behavior. These teenagers often admit in counseling that they can't keep themselves in line. Their behavior creates discomfort for both peers and teachers, but it also interferes with them.
We have special groups where for two months, moderated by two psychologists, children learn to build relationships with their peers through a series of games and exercises. In the first lessons, many are clamped down, afraid that if they share their experiences, others will reject them. But classes help them become more open, which is very important for communication with peers.
Participation in a group gives a teenager an excellent opportunity to learn how to build trusting relationships, notice manipulations and deal with them, get rid of stereotypes about themselves and others, and negotiate in a conflict situation.
Peculiarities of developmental psychology
— Isn't the teenager's tightness, his unsociableness related to the loneliness he feels in the family? After all, with the current rhythm of life, such inner loneliness is often in outwardly prosperous, wealthy families. Parents send their child to a good school, to clubs, circles, they don’t refuse him anything, but they get so tired at work that even on weekends they don’t find the strength to talk with him, they are not interested in his inner world.
- It happens, and I don't think it's a sign of our time. Close relationships - both between spouses and between parents and children - have always required mental effort, and people instinctively tend to avoid tension. And the more effort it takes to communicate with another, the more often people have a desire to avoid this communication.
It just doesn’t happen with a teenager - he has an age crisis, a period of restructuring relationships with peers, with society, with himself, with parents, and as a human being one can understand parents who, faced with a change in their child, his rudeness, unpredictable behavior, feel powerless and retreat. And the workload seems to be a good reason - they are trying for him.
In fact, running away from problems often makes them worse. It is important for parents to find the strength for dialogue, given such a feature of age as the desire to acquire more independence. The desire is natural - at the age of 12-13-14, most people become more interested in communicating with their peers than with their parents. But while recognizing the adolescent's right to autonomy, to find his own way, his philosophy, his circle of acquaintances, it is important to remember that he, although he may not realize it himself, needs the support of his parents and in a collision with the boundaries built by his parents.
Growing up is impossible without such boundaries, so raising a teenager cannot be reduced to support and gentle words - it is equally important to agree with him what is possible and what is not, who has what responsibilities in the family. Explain that cohabitation in the same territory implies responsibility and the need to reach agreements. Here it is important for parents not to confuse stability and intelligibility with humiliation and cruelty.
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— At the beginning of the year, everyone was shocked by several teenage suicides in a row. The parents of some of these teenagers did not even suspect that their children had serious problems.
- According to the observations of suicidologists known to me, there was no significant surge in suicides, it was just that the media covered such tragic cases more actively for several days. This is really risky, because teenagers tend to imitate.
I cannot say, but I fully admit that one of the teenagers would not have decided on the last fatal step if they had not heard about the suicide of another in the news. But whatever causes suicide, it never happens spontaneously. Any psychiatrist will tell you that time passes from suicidal thoughts to their implementation.
Therefore, if parents and teachers after the tragedy say that they did not notice anything, of course, it is a pity for them (especially the parents!), but certain efforts had to be made in order not to notice any signs of a mental crisis in the child. In a family, this is sometimes difficult, and then it is important that adults at school can insure the teenager.
That is why, among other things, it is necessary to establish psychological services. So far, according to my observations, even in those schools where there are psychologists, they are inundated with diagnostic work. That is, they must conduct many tests to identify various features in the classroom and give recommendations to teachers - these are the requirements for them.
I think that some of these recommendations for working with a certain group can be useful and effective, but with this understanding of the work, the psychologist does not have time at all for individual work with a teenager, helping a particular student to overcome difficulties. Moreover, teachers do not have time for this - curricula become more complicated, and the number of hours allotted for a subject often remains the same. Therefore, teachers are completely focused on the transfer of knowledge, and they do not have time to build relationships with teenagers in which life experiences can be shared and supported.
Of course, I'm not generalizing. There are teachers with a capital letter, who become for their students not just subjects, but also older friends, whose opinion is authoritative for teenagers, and psychologists who delve into the experiences of each student, helping him to find mutual understanding with teachers, parents.
But, of course, we would like to see more such specialists in the modern Russian school. Some educational institutions also turn to the support of external specialists. The Perekrestok Center actively cooperates with many schools, where our psychologists conduct both group classes and individual consultations.
— — Do children often feel the desire to isolate themselves, alienation from adults, with poor school performance? I remember from my childhood that many teachers immediately put an end to those who did not do well in their subject. Sometimes parents stop believing in their child, and this inevitably leads to low self-esteem, complexes, which can take years to overcome.
- You have touched on a very topical issue. In psychology, there is even a term “stigmatization”, which means giving a person a derogatory label, as a result of which he himself can believe in his worthlessness.
Of course, teenagers are especially sensitive to such labels. There are schools that practice an individual approach to each child, but there are still not so many of them. Some teachers do not have enough strength or competence to work with more complex children. And now, instead of figuring out why a child with a intact intellect does not show interest in learning, impotence teachers begin to tell the child how stupid, unlucky he is. They probably do this with the best of intentions - they hope to awaken creative activity in him through shame. This is a deliberately hopeless system of education, but despite its hopelessness, it is widespread in Russian schools.
Parents usually fall into one of two extremes in such situations. Either they unconditionally take the side of the teachers and begin to put pressure on the teenager with them, or, on the contrary, they say that the child is beautiful, and the school is to blame for everything. Both positions are not constructive, but perhaps the lesser of two evils is when parents protect a "good" child from "bad" teachers.
The child needs adult support, so it is better to have such support than none at all. Of course, it would be more adult-like to sit down and sort out the conflict in detail: what is the teacher's complaint, what is the teenager's dissatisfaction with? If the conversation goes in this vein, it will not be far to discover common goals and achieve clear agreements between the conflicting parties.
- And if there is no support, is it likely that the teenager will withdraw or even leave home?
— In any case, a teenager needs a circle in which he is accepted and appreciated. If he does not find it in socially acceptable forms, he will look in virtual reality or in asocial groups. Some really get in touch with yard criminal companies, but today more often teenagers leave loneliness for virtual reality. Outwardly, it looks more safe - they do not sniff glue, do not steal car radios from cars, but for the psyche it is still a risk.
— But even before the advent of the Internet, there were children who preferred solitude to games with their peers. Including many saints, for example, Sergius of Radonezh. It is clear that monasticism is a path for a few, and it is impossible to orient an ordinary child towards it, but, for example, in the Soviet atheistic society, some children spent all their time reading books or mathematical problems. And some of them have been realized in science. Of course, such children are also a minority, but they exist. Is it right to impose stereotypes on them? Are we breaking them like this?
- I fully admit that there are such children, and, of course, it is wrong to break them. In general, psychologists today are trying to move away from the cliche "norm-deviation". But in my practice, so far short, I have come across cases where a teenager has a need for communication, which he could not realize due to negative experience. That is, his isolation was not an organic choice, but the result of failures that gave rise to certain attitudes. Apparently, in the cases you are talking about, parents do not seek our help.
Still, I think that surfing the Internet can be more harmful than hours of reading or fascination with the exact sciences. Naturally, one cannot agree with those who see only evil on the Internet. The Internet provides quick access to information, the ability to communicate regularly with peers from other cities and countries, practice a foreign language, and expand knowledge in other subjects. But using the internet has its risks. It is too early to draw general conclusions - these risks are just beginning to be studied, but there are already some observations.
For example, it is safe to say that when the Internet becomes the main, if not the only means of communication, the user's ability to be in relationships with real people deteriorates. It is very difficult for teenagers who come to our groups (and most of them spend all their free time in networks) to understand the emotions of the interlocutor. They are well versed in the texts, but they cannot learn something new about a person by his look, intonation. Yes, and they hear badly - they are not used to a lively dialogue. In addition, it is difficult for them to keep their attention on one thing - after all, the Internet allows you to be in several windows at the same time: music, video, correspondence, forum. While multitasking they feel like a fish in the water, but it is not easy for them to focus on one task.
The Internet differs significantly from the book in this way. Reading a book is a useful pastime (of course, if the book is good), developing, hardly replaceable, but still monotonous, reduced to receiving and assimilating textual information. There are not so many people for whom this occupation can replace everything else. On the Internet, there are texts, and videos, and music, and pictures, and communication, and the opportunity for creativity. It turns out that many needs for information, communication, entertainment can be satisfied without leaving the monitor.
Therefore, there are many more children who hang out on the Internet than there are book children at home who do not want to communicate. Most of these children have a need for communication, they just prefer virtual communication to real communication. As more research is carried out, we will better understand how to experience this next civilizational shift, comparable to the invention of printing or the use of fire, and what risks to the development of the psyche the spread of the Internet and computer games poses.
Overcoming the psychological crisis
— — The tradition of psychological help in Russia is just emerging. Maybe that's why some parents, faced with certain problems of the child, immediately take him to a psychiatrist?
— Yes, there are such cases. Parents feel their impotence in some moments of raising a teenager and a keen desire to overcome this moment of crisis as quickly as possible. The easiest way in this situation is to attract some external force. For some, this is a psychiatrist, for others, a cadet corps, but the logic is the same: instead of entering into a dialogue, use force in the form of a pill or a paramilitary structure (“They will make a man out of you!”).
I want to be understood correctly - I am not against the cadet corps. There are guys who like it. If a child has an interest in paramilitary games, a strict structure, clear tasks, a desire to be in a team, he will probably be interested in the cadet corps. But I am categorically against the cadet corps as a repressive measure of parents, when the interests and characteristics of the child are not taken into account at all. And such a solution to problems comes to the mind of parents, perhaps, no less than the idea of a visit to a psychiatrist. In desperation, the parents decide to "push" the teenager into a rigid hierarchical system - since he refuses to obey them, let him obey other people's uncles. In adolescence, it is very important to acquire the experience of partnerships, and such an educational measure does not contribute to this.
I have not yet encountered the consequences of such measures - in my memory and in my practice there were several cases when, as a result of conversations with me or my colleagues, parents abandoned the idea of sending their child for re-education to the cadet corps and found a solution to the problem in negotiations and clarifying mutual grievances.
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— — Have you encountered the consequences of treatment by a psychiatrist when it was not necessary?
— It often happens that a child who, at the suggestion of his parents, is seen by a psychiatrist and takes medication, really needs medication at the moment, but in combination with psychotherapeutic work. Such a combination is necessary not only for children, but also for adults, if we are not talking about severe mental pathology and the person’s intellect is preserved. Well, in Russian psychiatry, the emphasis is often on drug treatment.
But, of course, we do not question the doctor's prescription. The last thing is to compete with a specialist in another field, it is much more important to fit into the situation that developed before the family came to us. Still, cases when a doctor mistakenly prescribes psychotropic drugs to a child are rare. It is simply better to start medication and psychotherapeutic help at the same time.
And by the way, if the parents bring the child to us first, it happens. We see that if a child needs not only our help, but also medical help, psychologists are taught this, and without refusing to work with the family, we recommend parents to show him to a psychiatrist. We have acquaintances of child psychiatrists, in whose sensitivity and qualifications we are sure. Therefore, it is more correct, in my opinion, not to drag the child immediately to a psychiatrist, but first to come with him to a psychologist. Except, of course, in cases where mental abnormalities are obvious. But this is a separate issue. The Perekrestok center works with teenagers who do not have severe pathologies.
— Many believers, including priests, said that at adolescence their children began to rebel and stopped going to church. Experienced confessors advise in such cases to accept this rebellion as a fait accompli, not to force the child to go to church, but to pray for him, hoping that with God's help he himself will return to church life after some time. And some do come back. But the majority of Orthodox parents are neophytes, and it is unusual for neophytes to listen to the advice of spiritually more experienced people, but they do want everything to be according to the rules, piously. I don’t know, however, whether people with such problems come to your center - after all, neophytes, to put it mildly, are very suspicious of psychology.
- Nevertheless, this problem is just familiar to me. You are right - in my memory no one came here with such problems, but since 1999 I have been in charge of the teenage parish club at the church of Cosmas and Damian in Shubin. And there I encountered such cases more than once.
We have already discussed with you that at a transitional age a child begins to assert himself, wants to be an adult, independent. And many during this period of self-affirmation reject the values that their parents instilled in them. Accordingly, children from believing Orthodox families begin to rebel against the Church and Christianity as the main value of their parents.
Like any situation that is difficult to control, an anti-church rebellion by children can lead parents into confusion and confusion. And here, too, there are attempts to solve the problem by attracting a rigid external structure, in this case, a religious-ascetic one. The initial goal of such a practice is to promote the spiritual growth of a person, to make his life richer, more interesting, freer, but parents who are zealous beyond reason can use it to “educate” a child who has gotten out of hand.
The human feelings of parents, fear for their children, desire to protect them from tragic mistakes are understandable. But without testing the world for strength and receiving feedback from this world, a child will not be able to become an adult, and mistakes are inevitable along the way. And parents always have a choice: either to provide support and watch how the child sometimes enjoys life, and sometimes receives negative feedback, experiencing pain from his mistakes, or trying to drive him into some kind of cage, where, most likely, there will be no mistakes, but creative growth is also impossible.
Despite the futility of the second option, many parents prefer it because of fear for the future. If we talk about the experience of anti-church rebellion by believing parents, then I remember cases when people tried to forcefully drag a child to confession, or send him to an Orthodox camp with strict discipline in the hope that there he would learn to regulate his command.
As a rule, this does not happen, the teenager still finds a way to bypass the restraining mechanisms, continues his own worldview searches, comprehends his relationship with God. If he does not find an opportunity for such reflection, then, it happens, he severely breaks off relations. Such teenagers either go into open conflict, or, worse, go into hidden opposition, when outwardly all the attributes are in place (handkerchiefs, a humble look, an unctuous voice), but at the first opportunity they go into even more "dressing" than their comrades, rioters openly. Any ignorance by adults of the needs of a teenager, including the need to build their own meanings, their own philosophy, leads to psychological problems.
About today's teenagers and their parents
— Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh said that often people create a project that another person must comply with. For example, parents know in advance what makes their children happy. Is it often the cause of generational conflicts and alienation of children that they do not match the parental script?
- It seems to me that any normal parent has some ideas and ideas about what should come out of his child. It is impossible to raise children without such ideas. It is impossible to demand from parents one hundred percent spontaneity and joy from any self-expression of the child. It's good that there are ideas - they set some kind of family traditions.
But we are all born with different abilities, inclinations, peculiarities of the nervous system, and often what happens to a child does not meet parental expectations. Now, if parents do not want to respond flexibly to this reality, difficulties arise, sometimes leading to serious conflicts.
It is better to immediately understand the reasons for such a discrepancy. It may not be only in the child - it would be good for parents to understand the motives for which they have developed precisely such ideas about education. After all, it is no secret that sometimes it is not love for a child that is primary, but the desire to prove something to mom or girlfriends.
And sometimes a teenager's problematic behavior is a consequence, a reaction to the fact that a crisis occurs in the parental couple. So we must try to understand where the showdown with relatives and friends is, and where is the fate of the child, which, I hope, is more precious than all insults and competition. A visit to a family psychologist, a study of events taking place in the family, can help here.
Maybe not quite a suitable comparison, but I remembered how Kuklachev was asked why he was doing so well. And he replied that he always watches which cat has a predisposition to what, and he follows this, and does not torture the animal for the sake of his ideas. In my opinion, this principle is all the more suitable for educating a person. If parents are sensitive to the interests and abilities of the child, it is more likely that he will develop harmoniously.
- Parents themselves were children, teenagers. Why do they often fail to understand that their children's problems are related to age? Have you forgotten about your childhood or has our information age created new problems?
Both factors play a role. Much of your childhood is really forgotten over the years. Quite often, a mother, complaining about a child, says that there was nothing like this in her childhood, and when we start talking with her, it turns out that she also had conflicts with her parents and got into risky situations. When mom remembers this, she is surprised at herself. Myths about one's past, of course, make it difficult to establish a dialogue with children, to understand their problems.
But the context has also changed. If 200 years ago people from generation to generation lived approximately the same way, in one way, now civilizational shifts occur during the life of one person. In this sense, parents and children literally live in different civilizations - on the same territory, but their ways of organizing life are very different. Nevertheless, there are things that unite people from different civilizations. For example, food or a trip to the sea. Things are quite mundane, but through them you can come to a joint deeper interests.