Adolescence is the stage of development in which a teen seeks to find their identity and shape who they want to be. It is a time in which teens start looking less at their parents for guidance and more towards their peers to define how they should act. With this, parents can feel anxious and overwhelmed when they start to see changes in their teen’s behavior and attitude. Especially, when their child may be getting in trouble at school or in the community that could lead to serious legal consequences. So, what should you do?
One myth parents may think is that teens who have risk-taking behaviors are just going through a phase. This is true in the sense that adolescence is all about trial and error and experimentation. Teens are seeking to understand appropriate boundaries and social norms. However, if a teen is experiencing risk-taking behaviors that can lead to serious consequences, it is important for them to have a strong support system for guidance. If psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or trauma are a root cause for these behaviors, it is important for a teen to have an outlet to process these feelings.
Another myth that parents may think is that teens just need space. Maybe they need to go live with a relative? Maybe it’s time to look into placements to help change their behavior? In reality, the core issue in delinquency could be right in the home. The level of attachment a teen has to their primary caregiver is the number one core protective factor to prevent further juvenile delinquency. Giving a teen distance (whether it be emotional or physical distance) will only put a pause on the core issues going on.
It is very possible that negative peer influences can be a factor in poor decision making. Teens can feel pressured by their peers to experiment with drugs/alcohol or participate in other behaviors that can lead to serious consequences. However, there is one strong protective factor in whether or not a teen will give in to this pressure. And again, the answer is an attachment. Strengthening the family unit and creating stronger parent-child bonds can aid in making better decisions.
Some great first steps in creating a stronger bond can include:
Therapy can be a great avenue to give your teen a space free of judgment to address the core issues in their behaviors. Your teen could be feeling anxious, depressed, or maybe a past experience is clouding their mind. The important thing to keep in mind that just individual therapy for a child is not enough - this only addresses half the issue. Family therapy is essential in processing unhealthy thinking patterns that are leading to risk-taking behaviors.
Through family therapy, here are some key issues that can be addressed:
The likelihood that a teen who is in trouble with the law, will stay in trouble with the law is 70-80%! It is important to get teens the help they need so they do not continue to make decisions that could compromise their futures.
Pinkerton, J., & Dolan, P. (2007). Family support, social capital, resilience and adolescent coping. Child & Family Social Work, 12(3), 219-228. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2007.00497.x
Robinson, P. A. (1978). Parents of 'beyond control' adolescents. Adolescence, 13(49), 109-119.