Dealing With a Troubled Teen

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Being a parent isn’t easy. Being the parent of a teen? Well, that’s even tougher. Parents of teens have to deal with the “emotional whiplash” of caring for a kid who is experiencing the confusing and scary beginnings of their own adulthood, and whose moods and personality may seem to change in a flash. And all of this gets even tougher when your teen is troubled.

The teenage years are a difficult time for just about everyone, but they’re tougher for some of us than they are for others. It’s not uncommon to see real behavior problems begin to emerge during these years, and parents may not know what to do. Here’s what you need to know about handling a troubled teen, starting with the most important thing you need to do: Get help.

Don’t go it alone

Being a parent is a vocation. It’s a labor of love. It feels, in many ways, like a job — a job that we love, but one that wears us down. But for all of its difficulties, parenting isn’t a profession. It’s a relationship, an act of love. You don’t have to be an expert in teen psychology to be a great parent, and you shouldn’t have to.

But teen psychology matters when you’re dealing with a troubled tween. That’s why you should reach out to the folks who have made teen psychology the focus of their careers. Through therapy and other professionally endorsed solutions, you and your teen can find new ways to cope with the difficulties of this moment in your lives.

Talk therapy is a great place to start. A psychiatrist can help, too. A licensed psychiatrist will be able to prescribe medications and give you and your child a more concrete understanding of what is going on. You can also consider residential programs for troubled youths, which combine professional care with a secure setting away from some of the things that may be triggering your child’s troubling behaviors.

Set clear boundaries

Setting boundaries is a goal that all parents should have. But boundaries are particularly important when you’re dealing with a difficult or troubled teen.

Letting your child break boundaries (or, worse yet, not establishing boundaries for them at all) is a bad idea even in the best of circumstances. It’s bad for your mental health and for your child’s respect and behavior. With a troubled child, letting boundaries fall can be even more destructive to your mental health and can put your child in danger. Enabling serious issues like anger problems or substance abuse can worsen the situation.

Protect yourself and your child. Establish rules and boundaries, and don’t go back on them. To strike the right balance with your boundaries, work with mental health professionals.

Communication is key

Communication is important yet difficult with nearly all teenagers. These things are only more true when it comes to troubled teens.

It can be tough, but don’t give up, because communication is important to your relationship with your child and important to their mental health and future. Deploy your best strategies for talking to teens: use “the 50 percent rule” to cut out the excess when you talk, making yourself clear in half as much time. Use the leftover time to really listen to your teen and invite them to share. Respect their opinions and don’t jump to judgment, but do maintain those boundaries.

All of this is easier said than done when it comes to troubled teens, but that’s part of why you’re not going it alone. Employ your mental health experts and consider going to therapy with your child. Therapy sessions can be a great way to open up and communicate.

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