Adolescence is a difficult time for kids and their parents. This is so widely appreciated that it’s very much a cliché. Of course, under normal circumstances, adolescence can and should be an exciting time of intellectual and emotional growth;sure, it can often be a time fraught with challenge and difficulty, and that is exactly why it’s also considered an important time – a rite of passage, a time to come into one one’s own and experience what it means to be an adult.
For a surprisingly large segment of the teen population, however, adolescence and its pressures can be overwhelming. In some cases, hormonal changes, social inhibitions – other emotional or learning challenges, can – individually or together– become excruciating for a teen – so painful in fact, that serious behavioral dysfunction can result.
Parents or guardians of troubled teens are often troubled themselves. They most likely have witnessed warning signs – perhaps dismissed them at first as being transitory adolescent behavior, before becoming concerned and seeking guidance. But parents are in a tough spot. They might be giving their teen all the love and support they can, but for various reasons it’s just not enough to make a difference for the better.
It’s at this tenuous time – if not sooner – that parents are advised to take action. Sure, the teen in question may simply be going through a rough patch, par for the course in adolescence. Then again, there may be signs of more severe forms of adolescent distress: anti-social or even violent behavior, a precipitous drop in school performance; issues with authority; difficulty in focusing or paying attention; manic or depressive moods (or both); chronic isolation or alienation; talk (even in jest) of suicide…. Any and all of these behaviors is a red flag, a signal that it’s time to intercede and bring in professional help to the extent necessary.
The earlier the warning signs are evident to a parent or guardian, the better. As Turning Winds Academic Institute (an excellent therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens) wisely notes, it’s best to treat a teen’s psychological disorders as soon as possible, before these behaviors become entrenched. TWAI likens troubled teens to young trees. Teens’ “pliability” in their youth and in the early stages of distress (before behaviors become solidly entrenched), means that treatment is likely to take hold sooner and more quickly.
Of course, a parent or guardian confronted with a troubled teen will need some basic information before appropriate action can be taken and/or effective help for the troubled teen can be provided.
The input of a professional counselor or therapist – whether from a community services organization or from the child’s school – is advisable. Usually an evaluation is the first step, which might consist of a series of clinical interviews as well as various psychological and possibly neuropsychological tests.
The main thing to ascertain (via diagnosis) is whether a child’s behavior has become atypical for an adolescent for his/her age and gender. In other words, does the teen’s troubled behavior transcend “normal” teenage difficulty that is likely to be worked through by the teen him or herself eventually (perhaps with the aid of occasional counseling) – or is it indicative of a more serious pattern of maladaptive behavior and emotional instability that’s likely to go unresolved and perhaps worsen without the help of intensive clinical treatment, perhaps within the structured but nurturing environment of a therapeutic boarding school?
Unfortunately, parents often wait until a crisis occurs before taking action. The reasons for this delay are many: uncertainty about the severity of a teen’s troubles; unwillingness to admit that “better” or more intense parenting isn’t the answer; a misguided notion that things will improve on their own eventually. Sometimes it comes down to parents’ mistaken belief that intervention isn’t necessary unless a child is in physical danger.
Even if a parent’s concern about a teens psychological well being proves unfounded, it is best to be sure on this score, to get a professional assessment or diagnosis and to take any necessary steps to help a troubled teen. The risk of long-term dysfunction and/or unhappiness is just too great to not intervene if the warning signs are there.