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Providing Family Support to Troubled Teenagers

September 7, 2014

Troubled teens in crisis

The best way to provide support for troubled teens is to take supportive action as soon as signs indicating that your teen may be in a crisis appear. Use the following action plan to assess the situation and get help for the teen. This plan is suitable for teenagers in danger of committing violence or a crime or who may be self-harming or abusing alcohol or drugs.

Step 1: Assess the crisis

Assess the situation to determine whether the crisis is serious. Many teens may be involved in a period of self-discovery, risk taking and experimentation. If warning signs of misbehavior becomes evident and there is a risk of such behavior affecting school life (e.g. falling school grades), then action is required.

Step 2: Assess the cause

Is the cause of the crisis due to family events or problems at home? Could it be due to a learning disorder or mental health disorder such as depression or an eating disorder? Could the cause of the depression be due to bullying at school? Could it be peer pressure and influence from friends, wanting to “just be like them”?

Select a quiet time to talk to your teen about possible factors and causes influencing the teen’s behavior. When you talk to your teen:

  • listen to what your teen has to say first.
  • do not make judgments or interrupt or criticize.
  • refrain from making hurtful comments to the teen.
  • reassure your teen that he/she is loved and valued by the family and will always be a part of the family.
  • state your views firmly that there is a limit to taking risks and to the consumption of alcohol or drugs. Many teens are receptive and open to listening in a discussion where views are shared on a neutral basis.
  • if your teen denies that there is a problem, express your worries to your teen.
  • always end your discussion with an express plan for the way forward.

The teen’s misbehavior may mask deeper problems and issues within the family and in many cases, focusing only on the teen’s behavior may result in the deeper family issues being left unresolved.

Step 3: Follow the plan

The plan must have been negotiated on and agreed by the teen. It ideally should include agreed terms on the following:

  • the teen’s future behavior
  • the teen’s studies and school
  • the teen’s relationship with the family
  • limits on the teen’s risk taking behavior
  • a set time for the next discussion (which may be a family meeting or which may just be a discussion between you and your teen)
  • a plan for professional help if necessary.

It is important to not back out from the plan you and your teen made as you may be seen as being untrustworthy to the teen. Give your teen time to change and to improve on his or her behavior. If your teen appears to continue misbehaving and to not fulfill his or her part or the plan, you may need to bring forward the next discussion time, explaining to your teen the reason for doing so.

If risky behavior or misbehavior continues, professional help must be sought immediately.

Step 4: Keeping the family strong

Keep up with the family routine and involve your teen in all plans for family events and celebrations. Do not allow your teen to become isolated but maintain your expectations for your teen’s behavior during such events.

Teens need a strong sense of identity and they should find it within their own families, not within a gang.