Interventions for Troubled Teens

Different organizations have different definitions for the term “troubled teen.” Even within a specific definition, such as Abundant Life Academy’s depiction of a teenager who shows no respect for authority, the reasons for each teenager’s troubles are highly individualized. Some teens have mental health disorders. Some were raised in violent homes. Some are intentionally rebellious, while others struggle to follow the rules. To select the right intervention for your teenager, it is important to first understand what is causing her difficulties.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient mental health therapy is often the best first step for managing teen behaviors. Your child might see a therapist as infrequently as once a month, or as frequently as three times a week. Therapists are trained in a variety of treatments that focus on changing the child’s thoughts and behaviors in response to stress and other stimuli. Your teen might also be referred to a psychiatrist for medications to curb anxiety, depression and other negative feelings.

Alternative High Schools

Although some public schools are equipped to manage students with a range of emotional and behavioral disorders, some teens’ behavior is too extreme to handle in a regular school. Alternative high schools are specially equipped to meet the needs of kids who are struggling socially, academically or behaviorally. Small classes, student advisers, individualized behavior management plans and creative outlets are among the benefits provided by these schools. Check with your local school district for information on alternative schools in your area.

Residential Treatment Programs

Residential treatment programs run the gamut from psychiatric facilities to live-in drug treatment programs 2. Depending on your child’s needs, he could stay for a few days, several weeks or even a year or more. Look for an accredited facility that provides individual treatment programs for each resident. Group and individual counseling sessions are generally provided daily. Ask how academics are handled, because some facilities conduct large group classes with a range of ages, while others have small classrooms with individual instruction. Tour several locations because each program will have its own quirks and strengths.

Boot Camps and Wilderness Training

Boot camps and wilderness training programs are a specialized subset of residential treatment programs 23. Boot camps focus on tough, military-style training with a highly regimented daily schedule and strict rules with strong, immediate consequences. Wilderness training programs take teens out in the woods for a primitive, back-to-nature experience where natural consequences teach kids the importance of following rules. For example, if your teenager chooses not to build a shelter, then he'll sleep in the rain. These programs can be effective, especially when structured with a cognitive-behavioral therapy approach, but they are not right for everyone. If your teen has suffered abuse or bullying, these programs could trigger feelings of fear and hopelessness. Talk to your child’s mental health provider before choosing a tough-love approach.