In the past few weeks, I overheard talk about a teenager (let's call him Jonathan), who used to be friendly and "normal", besides being very talented, but who recently started to miss classes, show up late, fail various subjects and behave indifferently. One speculation was that he might have started using drugs.
I thought this was serious enough to report to his school through a friend of ours, who is his teacher. "Speculation or not, the school should look into it", I said.
"No, it doesn't", said everyone else, "It's none of our business and if we bring up drugs as an option, he might get labeled as a user and suffer.
"Isn't it clear he's suffering already?" I pointed out.
"Yes, but maybe it's something different and we shouldn't butt in", came the answer and that was that.
This got me thinking about the issue of "troubled teens". When I was looking online for keywords related to Ronit's book, "Be Special, Be Yourself for Teenagers", the phrase "troubled teens" featured prominently as something many people (parents?) were searching for and that many websites were offering solutions to.
What is a troubled teen?
"Is Jonathan a 'troubled teen'? How would I know? If he is, what could be troubling him?" I wondered.
So I got online and searched for what defines troubled teens. Here is a (partial) list:
- Out of control
- New social circle
- Problems at school
- Drugs and/or alcohol
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Negative body image
- Nervous breakdown
(More on the excellent free site, Troubled Teens Help)
Our young friend Jonathan qualifies under several categories: isolation, concealment, school problems, eccentricity, moodiness, perhaps depression and possibly drugs.
Now, the list above is only one of symptoms, so what might be troubling young adults and cause them to display one or more of the symptoms listed?
Last week, I got a call from a couple of parents, whose teenage son was running away from home and school on a regular basis. They felt very helpless and did not know what they could do for their son. While I was talking to them, I did not hear a single word about what their son wanted, what might have been bothering him or what he has told them in conversation. I also heard nothing from these parents about any plans to take charge of the situation. It was all helpless desperation.
How troubled teens are made
My theory on this is simple. Troubled teens' parents have incorrect priorities in life and personal space issues.
Well, think of most (not all, but most) of the parents around you who have a teenager in the house. Do they work late? Do they spend little time with their teen children? Do they fight with them a lot? Do they insist on academic performance, manners and helping around the house? Do they try to limit their teen kids' time in front of the TV, the video games and the computer?
Think about it. If your teenager is moody, stops sharing exciting news with you, shuts their room door when you walk by, hangs out with kids you do not know, looks tired and even unhealthy and you worry about grades, do you have your priorities straight? If you spend a few more hours at work to keep the boss happy and possibly make more money, while your teenage child spends his or her time with other people doing God knows what, do you have your priorities in the right order?
Is there anything more important to you than your kids?
If anything serious should happen to your troubled teen, will it be any consolation to you that your boss was happy with your work?
Are we in agreement about the priorities issue yet?
Do not get me wrong here. In too many families today, the situation dictates longer work hours and longer commutes than were ever required just to make a living. Still, if your child owns and operates a latest model video game and hardly spends any time with his parents, something here stinks.
Quality time with a relaxed, accessible parent or two is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
Parenting and personal space for teens
Most of western society is based on ideas like human rights, personal freedom and personal choice. Unfortunately, too many people apply these ideas in situations where they are not applicable. Parenting, for instance.
By now, I am sick of seeing the following scene in movies and on TV: parent says something to teen, teen refuses, parent shouts at teen, teen shouts back, goes to room and slams the door in parent's face.
If this happened in my house and I thought the situation was serious enough, I would have no problem whatsoever entering my teen's room and doing whatever it took to sort things out. Sure, my kids might think I am nosy, bossy or obnoxious, but they always know I care and they are certain beyond a doubt that I will never leave them alone in a pinch.
The whole personal space issue with kids is based on the misconception that they can take care of themselves. What utter nonsense! Even legally adult kids nowadays know very little about taking GOOD care of themselves. Most of them still have not figures out important things in life, like their choice of career, their choice of life partner, their choice of lifestyle and so on. They are confused and afraid, and if their parents do not provide some order and structure in their life, they may very well fall to pieces.
By giving teens personal space to sort things out for themselves, we are actually standing by and witnessing their decline, while letting them down all the time.
If we love our kids, we must show it with our rules and our uncompromising values. We must bear the short-term struggles for the long-term safety and strong relationships with our dear children. If we do not do it, who will?!
What can you do as a parent?
So if it looks like your teen is no longer the cute and lovable creature he or she used to be and he or she is turning into an uncommunicative, moody, sloppy, indifferent, ill-mannered mess, get up and do something about it, even if it hurts at first. Open up your heart to your troubled teens, tell them how much you love them, tell them you will NEVER give up on them, tell them you will always be there to help them and force them to obey the rules in your house.
This blog is full of posts about communicating with your kids. There is even a video that will bring tears to your eyes and give you perspective. Arm yourself with good knowledge and win your troubled teen back, whatever it takes!
Oh, and if you know anyone who might need to read this post, why not send it to them? It may be easier for them to "hear" it from me.