An out-of-control teenager can wreak havoc in a home. If what began as talking back or sneaking cigarettes has turned into crime, family discord, or substance abuse, you may be wondering what options you have to save your family and your child. The outlook can be dire, from as short-term as your child having to repeat a grade to as long-term as a prison sentence. If you’ve tried setting boundaries and following through on consequences for bad behavior, it may be time to seek more comprehensive professional help.
What causes teenagers to become out of control?
Several factors contribute to out-of-control teenage behaviors. Some are a little more easily addressed with medicine and therapy, while others might need longer-term care.
Environmental factors including in-school difficulties, changes in family dynamics, or neighborhood can contribute to out-of-control teen behavior. Your child might also be acting out in response to traumatic incidents, including grief, sexual assault, or bullying for example.
It may be helpful to try to talk to your child about what is going on for them in their life. You may not get an answer, but making a kind, compassionate, thoughtful effort may help build trust with your child.
Mental Health Disorders
If your child is experiencing ongoing emotional distress, it may become clinically significant. Depression and anxiety are common and frequently ignored mental health disorders among teenagers. The adjustment to adolescence and young adulthood can be difficult for many teens, especially as they change schools during the transition from middle school to high school. As these social settings change, your child may begin to see social ostracization for childhood behaviors that were previously accepted by peers, particularly if your child is neurodivergent (ADHD, autism, etc.) This can cause inner turmoil as well as increased susceptibility to peer pressure. Supporting your child’s mental health as they navigate young adulthood and adolescence can have a huge impact on your relationship and their overall behavior.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder (CD) are two diagnoses frequently given to teens who end up in correctional facilities and juvenile courts. Both of these disorders are behavioral and emotional problems characterized by anger, irritability, and defiance toward parents and authority figures. The disorders are similar in that those who have gotten either diagnosis have shown a clear issue with authority. However, despite their similarities, there are a few important and distinct differences.
First, ODD can be diagnosed earlier than CD, but many kids with early ODD diagnoses go on to be re-assessed and given Conduct Disorder diagnoses. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is usually anger-prompted and a response to a perceived injustice. Talking back, throwing things, and bad attitudes are common with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Conversely, conduct disorder is a marked escalation in inappropriate behaviors. Conduct disorder is associated with physical violence, aggression, destruction, and deceitfulness. Typically with Conduct disorder, there is also a lack of empathy and basic respect for the rights of others. Both can be helped with the help of a therapist, but one may result in more serious consequences.
If your teen falls in with the wrong crowd, they may be more frequently exposed to risky behaviors, including sex, drug and alcohol use, and petty crime. One bad friend influence can be a risk, but the poor behavior may be reinforced more seriously when it is the entire friend group is a bad influence. Teens and adolescents are especially susceptible to peer pressure and a desire to fit in. The wrong role models promoting the wrong behaviors might set your teen on the wrong path.
Symptoms of an Out-of-Control or Troubled Teen
Your troubled teen may exhibit several behaviors that indicate a much larger problem is at play. Even one of these symptoms may be enough for you to consider outside help:
- Behavioral issues, including legal troubles, violence, risk-seeking behaviors, and aggression
- Substance use, especially illicit substances and use impacting daily life
- Emotional problems, including rage, depressive withdrawal, functioning problems, mania, or erratic affect
- Self-harm, through cutting, hitting, burning, bulimia, over-exercising and starvation, or suicide attempts
How can I help my troubled teenager at home?
If your child is only showing early signs of out-of-control behavior or outbursts, adjusting your home life can stop the problem from becoming worse. Be willing to make changes on your part to help correct your child’s behavior, as their behaviors are often an indicator of larger issues within the family. Some strategies include:
Setting boundaries for your child does not mean that you are a mean or strict parent. Rather, it means that you love your child enough to give them the structure they need to not make life-changing mistakes. Clear boundaries prevent misunderstanding and set everyone up for success by making consequences evident. Boundary-setting is only effective, however, when there is follow-through on the stated consequences. Boundaries should look like this:
- Create an agreeable contract of rules and expectations that when broken, will require certain consequences
- Ask that your child communicate their whereabouts at all times
- Set a curfew that is not to be missed unless you allow it to be
- Require that all school work and other responsibilities must be taken care of before they hang out with friends
Notice how you present a behavior that your child might do and the action that you will take in return. You are not telling the child what they need to do or trying to control them, but instead, explaining what the course of action will be if they decide to make that choice.
Therapy & Outpatient Treatment
Individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy can be beneficial for your teen in giving them a safe, non-judgmental space to process their feelings. Individual therapy sessions for your child can help them gain introspection into what is causing their behavior and offer coaching to change it. Outpatient group therapy provides a safe space where teens participate with one another and learn how to exhibit normal teenage behavior as a group. Family therapy and family recovery programs will help troubled youth and family members address how they may be contributing to the overall family issue and create an environment for better communication and family teamwork.
Fostering a Healthy Environment
If your child feels unsafe in the home or that they can only do wrong in your eyes, the difference between behaving or misbehaving can seem negligible. Make an effort to create a supportive, safe home for your child where they can be honest about their thoughts and who they are without repercussion.
Where can I send my out-of-control teenager?
When attempting to deal with your troubled teen at home fails, several types of treatment programs can be effective. The type of program that would benefit your teen the most largely depends on their specific behaviors and needs. Educating yourself on the treatment options out there can help guide you in the right direction.
Residential Treatment Centers
Residential treatment is an umbrella term for any stay for the purpose of health. This includes medical detox centers, rehabs, and inpatient mental health residential stays. Medical centers and rehabs are most often targeted toward addressing substance abuse issues along with any associated mental illness. Other residential treatment programs may specifically focus on ADHD and autism, personality disorders, grief, or reducing self-harm. The length of stay at a residential center may vary, but typically there is around-the-clock supervision and a culture of discipline and healing. While these types of programs are a great first step, the overall success rate of rehab programs alone is lower than that of a treatment plan that includes an aftercare program.
Wilderness therapy programs are therapeutic wellness programs where a troubled child ventures into the wilderness and remote areas with a guide, a therapist, and a group of other troubled teens. The idea is that removing the convenience of society and negative influences will promote introspection and self-reliance. While there are a variety of types of programs under the “wilderness program” banner, this type of treatment has been recently recognized as controversial, with no conclusive results for its effectiveness.
Therapeutic Boarding School
Therapeutic boarding schools are long-term treatment programs designed for troubled teens. Typically, the length of stay is a year or more, which can give troubled teenagers the time and space needed to adjust their negative behavior, overcome drug abuse, and learn effective coping skills for mental health problems. Another positive aspect of sending troubled teens to a boarding school is that during treatment, they can continue their education. That being said, there are some pitfalls to therapeutic boarding schools. When troubled teens complete the program, they often leave without a clear plan moving forward. Also, if for some reason, an individual turns 18 before the program is complete, there is a good chance they abandon the treatment process.
Sober living is an effective step-down environment for teens and young adults who have graduated or left residential treatment, but still need some support. Oftentimes, troubled teen behavior does not change overnight. Residential treatment and other teen programs can be a good start, however, following up with an aftercare program can yield better treatment outcomes. Sober living is an excellent balance between practicing independence in everyday life and being held accountable for pursuing sobriety.
At New Life House in Los Angeles, California, we help our young residents adjust to a sober life and uncover the underlying issues behind troubled teen behaviors. Through outpatient treatment, peer support, life skills training, and family involvement, we teach teens how to change and move past their troubled behavior.
When to Seek Help
Deciding when it’s time to seek help is a personal decision that only you can make. Note that these are guidelines. If you are considering help before your child’s behavior escalates to a crisis point, that is also completely acceptable. Here are some general indicators that it may be time to seek serious professional help for your child:
- Their poor behavior continues despite therapy
- Consequences aren’t sincerely felt or enough to adjust or correct the behavior
- Substance use escalates from experimentation or recreational use to dependent and frequent use
- Legal troubles
- Mental health disorders become too severe to manage at home
At New Life House, we look at the whole self and help you and your child commit to health and sobriety. Our young adult sober living in Los Angeles is the perfect place where troubled youth can begin the healing process and build a foundation for long-term sobriety. Give us a call today.
Last Updated on September 18, 2023