Parents can, and do survive the teen years.
Many websites provide checklists that purport to help parents identify problems in their children. These checklists appear on referral sites, residential program sites, educational consultant sites and transport company sites. The checklists have been developed to guide parents to decide whether they have a "troubled teen" that needs help, that is, needs residential treatment.The answers are often supposed to be "yes" or "no." Questions such as: Does your teen…
Parent should keep in mind that there are several important issues in answering questions about your child's behavior. A checklist is, at best, just a preliminary tool, just a rough idea of where there may be problems. If the child has significant problems, then the checklist must be followed-up with more discussion about the behaviors and what they really mean.
A checklist does not tell the whole story—it may give some clues or in fact, it may tell a distorted story. Here's why:
The items on the checklist that describe the behavior cannot determine if this is "normal" teen behavior or something more serious. All of the behaviors that may signal problems may also be examples of normal teen behavior. If your child has made a suicide attempt or is using hard drugs, then it is vital to seek immediate medical attention from a highly trained mental health practitioner in your community or within driving distance of your home.
As for other troubling behaviors, remember that teenagers are puzzling and different, and they change as they grow and develop. The sweet child of yesterday may not be so sweet today! To determine if these behaviors are bigger problems than "normal" teen behavior, let's look at what is missing on the checklists, using "a temper tantrum" as the behavior:
If you are very worried, frustrated, angry, confused, or emotional in other ways, you may see behaviors as more extreme than they really are. In other words, are you over-reacting and considering the behaviors as more serious than they are? Have you "reached the end of your rope?" Will things look better in a day or so?
You may decide that, despite the problems with checklists that you want to use this approach as a starting point. Remember that a checklist is a starting point.
You may decide that using a checklist has more problems than gains. If this is so, you should address your worries in a different way. Don't push the worries aside and do nothing.
With or without a checklist in hand, it's important to look further for answers, both for your child's wellbeing and for your own. First of all, it's important to find out if others see changes in your child the same way as you do.
Whom to ask? Don't rely on your own description of the problem alone. Talk to someone who sees your child in action, preferably someone who has experience with other youth of the same age—a teacher, guidance counselor, activities leader, pediatrician, child psychologist, or child psychiatrist. Do not rush into a residential program, such as a residential treatment program, a therapeutic school, or a wilderness program, but look for answers in outpatient, community-based services. Recognize that sending your child away in order to get help may build up strong resentments in your child. Rather than helping, this may be harmful to your child's wellbeing and to your relationship with him/her.
Residential programs may be helpful for some kinds of problems but you should be sure first that this is the best and only option because these may also have serious problems and you should be aware of these.
There is currently a strong effort to bring about improvements in residential programs, by professionals, former residents of the programs where they believe they were abused, parents who have had bad experiences, and by members of the residential program industry who would like to see better quality programming. Additionally, the Government Accountability Office has published three reports about programs in which youth have died and the US House Committee on Education and Labor has held two hearings on abuses in residential programs and has proposed legislation to address the serious problems of poorly run programs. The biggest problem for parents is understanding how to tell a good program from a bad program.
The serious problems that these groups are trying to address are:
If you strongly believe that a residential program is necessary to help your child, and you believe that you have exhausted all local options, and a person who knows your child well concurs, then it is very important that you investigate the program thoroughly. Any program that will not answer your questions on the above topics may be questionable.
Last updated 10/24/12