Emotional Health Help for Struggling Youth

1. The school principal, his teachers, parents, brothers and sisters, and friends kept telling Eugene he needed to slow down and not drive so recklessly. As his principal, I had him in my office way too many times, warning him I would have to revoke his school parking permit. On several instances, he almost hit other students while parking his car. His teachers saw him around town racing his car and told him he needed to tone it down or someone was going to get hurt. His parents threatened to take his car away, telling him they could no longer afford insurance. His friends told him they would not ride with him anymore if he didn’t settle down.

One week after graduating from high school, Eugene was killed in a car accident. Thankfully, no one else was hurt.

2. Tony was a more than a promising athlete. He could do it all, hit for distance, throw a football a country mile, and shoot the lights out on the court. Even better, he could punt a football 80 yards. College coaches and pro scouts were already looking at him in high school. But Tony had one big problem. He thought he was immortal, larger than life, and impervious to anything that could harm the flesh. And because he saw himself as a literal legend in his own mind, he thought he could do no wrong, no matter what. He didn’t listen to anyone but Tony. On the side, Tony smoked a little pot now and then. He drank a little beer with friends from time to time. But nothing really bad. One night he decided he wanted to try something really powerful…something he had never tried before.

After accepting a sports scholarship to go to a prestigious college, Tony died celebrating by snorting his first line of cocaine.

3. Few knew just how smart Diana was. She didn’t want anyone to know. She hid it by being disrespectful and defiant at school. She chose to disobey her parents in just about every possible regard. She hid innate intelligence from friends at parties by getting drunk and sleeping with whoever wanted to join her. Her parents knew what she was capable of. Some of her teachers saw through the facade. A handful of her friends knew the truth. But she thought that school stuff was not cool. She thought her parents were idiots. Her reputation as a wild girl was so much more important.

One Saturday morning, a jogger found her battered body just off the trail and near the railroad tracks. She had been viciously sodomized. She was 14 years old.

From Where Can Help Come From

“Parenting is never easy, but when your teen is violent, depressed, abusing drugs or alcohol, or engages in reckless behaviors, it can seem overwhelming.”

Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, “Help for Parents with Troubled Teens,” 2018.

Teenage Boys are Susceptible to Suicidal Ideation Being a “normal” teenager is not easy either. Adolescence typically involves most kids going through a phase of wanting to have nothing to do with parents, greeting the warnings of any and all authority with drama-filled eye rolls, talking back with a more than disrespectful tone of voice, acting as if they didn’t hear or couldn’t be bothered to even try, and even slamming doors behind them with a flourish when leaving a room.

It’s a whole different thing when teens repeatedly engage in risky behaviors, respond with hair-trigger violence to even innocuous circumstance, chronically skip school and school-related events, engage in criminal activity, openly defy authority as if to make a public spectacle, and use drugs and alcohol as if they were “no big thang.”

One in four people (across all ethnic, racial, religious, economic, age and gender groups) will experience a mental or emotional disorder in their lifetime. With children and youth, it is one in five.1

Constant chaos at home, sleepless nights, endless fights, open defiance, failed attempts to communicate, severe mood swings, sneaking out at night, explosive and accusatory without cause? Sound familiar? 

And what about bouts of deep depression, and off-the-charts anxiety too? These are extreme versions of a teen’s natural journey to independence and self-expression. These behaviors are not “normal.”

“Teenagers are individuals with unique personalities and have their own likes and dislikes…and no matter how much yours withdraw from you…no matter how disruptive your teen becomes, they still need your attention, and to feel loved by you.”

Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal

Helping At Home

Mental or emotional problems are, while certainly not welcome, are relatively common, but are imminently treatable, and full recovery is possible with education, and family, peer, school and community support. Just remember and believe that prevention begins at home, and some levels of intervention too.2

  • At home, parents can help foster both emotional and mental health by doing the following:
  • Setting clear boundaries, rules, and expectations…and enforcing them consistently
  • Trying to understand what’s behind the behavior
  • Being aware that such behaviors are warning signs
  • Engaging in, showing, practicing positive ways of communicating and interacting
  • Providing a safe space to retreat when needed
  • Not taking teen misbehavior personally
  • Listening without judging
  • Expecting rejection
  • Remembering this won’t last forever

“It is easier to cope with problems when they are small.”

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Professional Help

There could come a time when you’ve done everything you know to turn your teen around, and you realize you can’t do it on your own. That’s where the professionals can come in to help. Do not hesitate to turn to the professionals if things go from bad to worse, or, of course, in any state of emergency.3

Is your teen talking about suicide? Call 9-1-1. You can also call the national suicide prevention hotline. And for extra referrals for professional help, you call the national treatment referral helpline too.

Is your teen engaging in self-harm? Call your family doctor or head to the nearest emergency room. Medical personnel will make a referral for counseling if they feel it necessary. Medication may be necessary to stabilize.

Is your teen harming others, or even being cruel to animals? Is your teen threatening to or harming you? Call your local law enforcement. Eliminating the immediate risk of harm is priority one in this case.

If none of the above is happening, but you realize your teen’s problems are out of the reach of your helping hand, start thinking and looking for social workers, counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, or even psychoanalysts that help. Take advantage of any free screening opportunities on the internet as you explore the nuances of your teens possible mental or emotional issues. Educate yourself as much as you can. And don’t forget about taking care of yourself. Your teen needs you to keep your head and heart in the game more than ever now.

1 “Mental Illness: It’s Not Always What You Think,” Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services.
2 “Help for Parents of Troubled Teens,” Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal.
3 “America’s Youth in Crisis–Here’s How You Can Help,” Theresa Nguyen.

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