The teen years already come with a variety of challenges, including seeing many unexpected changes in your teen’s behavior. Although teens can appear to be unpredictable at times, much of their behavior is entirely normal for adolescence. However, some teens may struggle with emotional, psychological, and behavioral concerns, and they may exhibit behavior that is troubling or concerning. For instance, troubled teens might:
- abuse drugs and alcohol
- engage in risky sexual activity (unprotected sex, promiscuity, etc.)
- harm themselves through cutting or other forms of self-harm
- talk about suicide
- exhibit extreme signs of defiance (frequently skipping school, many fights at home)
- act aggressively toward friends and family
- display a sudden change in peers that also accompanies getting into trouble with the law or at school
- experience rapid mood swings or intense moods such as depression or mania
It’s important to recognize that all teens are going to display behavior that is different than what you’re used to seeing in them. For instance, you might have always known your child to be talkative, engaging, and helpful around the house. Now your teen barely says a word, spends all of their time in their room, and refuses to help out with chores. Your words of wise guidance is received with a shrug of the shoulders or a roll of the eyes. You’re not sure exactly who your teen is anymore.
Despite these changes, this is normal behavior for adolescence. A troubled teen is often going to exhibit extreme forms of behavior, such as those listed above.
How to Help Troubled Teens
If you’re having a hard time with your teen consider the following ways you can help:
- Focus on strengthening the relationship with your teen. You might know the saying about troubled teens and youth: the ones that are the hardest to love are the ones that need it the most. If you can, spend quality time with your teen every day, even if it’s for 15 minutes. The point is that you want to boost the connection you have with your teen, or create one if there’s not one already there. Teens who feel connected to, accepted, and loved by their parents often display less troubling behavior. To strengthen your relationship with your teen:
- Tell your teen you love them.
- Spend some one-on-one time together. Find something you both enjoy doing.
- Praise your teen whenever possible.
- Express empathy whenever you see your teen struggling with emotions.
- Show interest in your teen’s life.
- Encourage your teen to follow healthy lifestyle habits. It might not solve all the problems, but getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising can have a great impact on a teen’s emotional stability. Each of these healthy habits affect both the mind and the body, leading to mental clarity and well-being. Talk to your teen about developing a routine for getting good sleep, exercising, and eating well.
- Create more structure for your teen. Along the lines of developing a routine for healthy lifestyle habits, you may need to create more structure in general. Although your teen might at first fight against it, structure often helps troubled teens to feel safe and secure by your parenting. This too can support the parent-child relationship. Structure may include being more firm about your house rules and enforcing them, having clear expectations of your teen and communicating them, as well as having clear rules around drug/alcohol use, curfews, and other boundaries that support your teen’s safety.
- Listen to your teen openly and honestly. One of the primary needs for teens is to be loved and accepted by their parents. Acting out behavior may stem from not feeling heard or understood. Or worse, feeling rejected by their parents. If you are working on strengthening the relationship with your teen, do your best to hear what your teen has to say. Step into your teen’s shoes and empathize with their feelings and thoughts. This is another way to find connection. And it’s through genuine connection that help relationships grow and develop.
- Educate yourself on teen development. It’s important to know that adolescence is a stage onto itself – it is unlike childhood and adulthood. The needs of a teen are unique. Teens want their independence but require the same security that children do. Meanwhile, teens do their best to walk this tightrope toward adulthood. This is a challenging stage of life, and it demands certain types of parenting. Furthermore, the teen brain is still developing, which can cause teens to be more emotional and impulsive versus logical and rational. A fuller understanding of adolescence can support you in responding to the needs of your teen.
Help Your Teen Manage Their Anger
Many troubled teens exhibit anger and often find themselves in trouble because of it. Because of the consequences that come with expressing anger inappropriately, you can help your teen learn how to manage their anger, in addition to the suggestions provided above. Unfortunately, the consequences to not being able to control anger can include damaging relationships at home, school, and work. In extreme cases, failing to appropriately manage anger can lead to violence, legal problems, suspension/expulsion from school, and other problems. It’s important for parents or caregivers to teach their teens how to manage their anger and use coping tools for facing intense emotions in a healthy way. This is particularly true for parents of troubled teens, who may struggle with anger and may have a hard time expressing this emotion appropriately.
Teens who struggle with anger:
- often simply lack the tools to appropriately express their anger.
- can learn how to acknowledge anger but not respond to it
- can learn how to express their anger in a healthy way
- can learn to redirect their anger towards a positive cause
If you are a parent of a troubled teen who often displays anger or aggression, you might teach your teen to:
- Develop effective coping skills. Talk to your teen about specific choices they can make in the moment. You might come up with a list together so that your teen has options to choose from. These might include breathing, walking away, thinking of the consequences, or talking to someone.
- Develop control over angry responses. You can let your teen know that this will take practice. Anger is a very quick emotion and can come on suddenly. It takes time to learn to have control over anger. However, letting your teen know that it’s possible can be a first step.
- Increase frustration tolerance. Sometimes anger or frustration doesn’t need to be followed up by an action. In other words, slowly your teen can learn to tolerate the anger inside (by learning to express it in a healthy way) versus exploding with an angry response.
- Improve problem-solving strategies. To help avoid triggers, you can teach your teen to strategies that help solve problems. This in turn can help your teen feel empowered. (Often, feeling disempowered is the root cause of anger.)
- Replace aggressive behavior with assertive behavior. Talk to your teen about the differences between passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior. This can also give your teen more choices in terms of how they respond to an anger-provoking moment.
These are suggestions for helping troubled teens with anger, emotional ups-and-downs, and defiance. However, if any of the above suggestions are not entirely effective, it is best to seek the support of a mental health professional.