How To Get Help For Troubled Teenagers: 6 Tips For Parents
Updated August 28, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Tanya Harell
The adolescent years can be challenging for both teenagers and parents. Your child is going through a period of gaining their independence and trying to discover who they are. There is a reason why there are so many jokes about the difficulty of raising a teen. It’s a new stage in both life and parenting that can come with new and sometimes difficult challenges. However, there is a big difference between the normal changes a teenager experiences and more serious struggles. This can leave parents asking how to get help for a troubled teenager.
Here are some signs of troubled teens:
- Change in their friendships
- A drastic change in their appearance or the clothes they’re wearing
- Withdrawing from family
- A drop in grades or school attendance
- Quitting a team or sport
- A drastic change in eating habits
- Loss of self-esteem
- Self-harm behavior
- Issues with body image
- Lying or deceiving
Please remember that this is not an all-inclusive list. If your child shows signs of some of the symptoms that are listed above, it could be an indication that they are struggling in some areas.
It can feel very concerning if you think that your teenager is struggling. However, even if your teen is showing some of the signs included above, don’t assume that there is a problem. Teenagers go through many adjustments as they learn to figure out who they are. This can include changing what group they hang out with or switching up their style. If you see any of these signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a problem, but it does mean that you may want to start having conversations with your teenager to explore the possibility.
Tips for getting help for troubled teens
- Acknowledge that your teenager is struggling
Many people have heard of the 12-step recovery program used by Alcoholics Anonymous. The first step in the program involves admitting that you have a problem. This is an important first step in their program because if you don’t admit there is a problem then you don’t see the problems that need to be addressed.
It’s the same with helping your troubled teen. If you try to act like they aren’t having any problems, it’s going to be difficult for you to help them get the help they need.
But this doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. As a parent, you probably don’t want to admit that your teen is struggling with something like substance abuse or behavior problems. But once you can admit and accept that it’s happening, it can help you take the next step of finding the right help.
- Don’t neglect your own self-care
Dealing with troubled teens can be overwhelming. You may feel that it’s consuming your entire day. If you aren’t sure how to handle them and are worried about the direction that they are headed it can be something that you think about or feel anxious about regularly. This can make it easy to push your own needs to the back burner.
However, maintaining your own mental and emotional wellness is important, even when you’re trying to help another person. It can help you to have more patience in handling difficult situations when you are practicing good self-care habits.
This can include things like:
- Sleep. Feeling rested each day can help you to have more patience during the day. This can make it easier to deal with stressful situations.
- Eating a balanced diet. Providing your body with the right nutrients can help you to have more energy and feel better physically and mentally.
- Exercising. Not only can exercise be an effective way to relieve stress but it can also help you sleep better. There are many ways that physical activity can benefit your mental and physical health.
- It may be helpful to write your thoughts and feelings down. This can help you by getting them out of your head. And, sometimes when writing you may be able to see situations in a new way once you see them written down.
- Do something you enjoy. It can be easy to let stressful situations, like dealing with your troubled teen, take over your life. But it’s important for your self-care that you make time for things that you enjoy as well. This could be going to lunch with a friend, a yoga class, or finding a quiet place to sit and read a book. The activity itself isn’t important as long as it’s something you enjoy.
- Talk to your troubled teen
But it’s not just about talking. It’s also important to make sure you’re giving your teen a chance to talk and actively listening to them while they do.
The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids recommends using active listening skills when talking with your teen. This includes giving them your undivided attention while they talk and focusing on moving past the feeling that you hear to understand the root of what they are saying. The group also recommends that you repeat back to them what you’ve heard them say. This can help your teenager feel like they are being heard.
Another thing that can be helpful to keep in mind when talking to troubled teens is the importance of accepting what they are saying. The Center for Parenting Education explains that acceptance does not mean that you’re agreeing with what the teen is saying. Instead, it means that you aren’t judging what they’re telling you. You’re simply listening to get a better understanding of what they are dealing with from their perspective.
- Don’t enable them
As a parent, your natural inclination is most likely to want to care for and protect your troubled teen. Even if you’re frustrated with their behavior and don’t want to support it, you probably want to make sure you’re not turning your back on them. This can be a natural response.
But this natural response can go too far when it causes you to start enabling your teenager. For example, if they are struggling with a mental health challenge such as substance abuse, their decisions may be leading to negative consequences in their life. They may be missing school and their grades might be suffering. They may have lost a part-time job or gotten kicked off a sports team.
As a parent, it can be heartbreaking to watch this happen to your child. But if you step in to try to keep them from experiencing their consequences, it can make it easier for them to continue on the path they are on. When they start to see the negative consequences of their behavior and decisions then it may awaken them to the reality of the situation.
- Teach your teen the importance of self-care
Earlier we talked about the importance of maintaining your own self-care. But it can also be helpful to teach your teenager how to practice self-care for themselves as well. For the same reasons that it can be important for you to take care of yourself physically and mentally, it’s important for your teenager.
You can help them learn how to create a morning routine that works for them. You can help them learn about the importance of getting enough rest and getting some exercise into each day. And, you can help look for ways to get them involved in activities they enjoy.
- Explore all your options
There are several different types of treatment options you can explore for your troubled teen. These range from options such as individual therapy to residential treatment centers. Here are some more details and options you can explore.
Residential treatment centers
A residential treatment center for troubled teens is a place where your child can go to get 24-hour care. It may be hard to think about sending your child away to be treated at a center. However, there are several benefits to this type of treatment. For example, treatment centers provide your child with care and treatment options around the clock. And, they will be around mental health professionals, such as therapists and psychiatrists, who are trained in handling the types of challenges your team is facing.
Residential treatment centers also provide you with a break so you can also do some healing and recovery before being reunited with your teenager. These centers can also provide your child with the opportunity to be around other teenagers that are facing similar challenges. This can help them to feel like they are not alone in their struggles.
Boot camps for troubled teens are typically a short-term program, such as a weekend or week. During that time, there is typically a military-style program that occurs. These types of programs can be beneficial in addressing behavioral challenges and sometimes outward attitudes, of your teen. However, there typically isn’t enough time or therapy conducted during the boot camp to address the underlying cause of your teen’s challenges.
While boot camps can be successful at changing some behavior, therapy to address the root cause of the challenge is important as well.
Working one-on-one with a therapist can be an effective way to help your troubled teenager work on the underlying issues that they are struggling with. It’s possible that you and your teen aren’t aware of where the challenge is coming from. This is what a therapist is able to help your child discover and address.
Your child could attend therapy sessions at a local office or explore online options for therapy such as that provided by a therapist at BetterHelp. There are also options for family therapy to help you all heal together.
Choosing which treatment option is right for your teenager
Choosing the right options will depend on the situation that you’re facing. If you feel like you have exhausted all options, then you may opt for something like a boot camp or a residential treatment center.
However, if your teen is willing to participate in the treatment, therapy can be an effective way to start. The American Psychological Association has found that family involvement in treatment can be very effective. Setting goals and being involved in therapy together can be just the help needed to turn your teenager on the right path.