Skills for Teens in Trouble

Teens who are in trouble with school, parents or the law often need to develop a new skill set in order to get back on an appropriate path. At first, teens may be resistant to learning new skills like impulse control, personal boundaries, appropriate socialization and how to ask for help. Learning pro-social skills and appropriate boundaries can help teens learn to resolve conflicts in constructive ways, which will help teens be more apt to comply with authority figures' requests and give teens a clearer understanding of why rules are important. To reinforce the importance of these skills, parents should strive to establish clear goals collaboratively with the teenager. This is an effective motivational approach, explain child and family therapists Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott.

Impulse Control

Teens who engage in problematic behaviors may have poor impulse control. Poor impulse control involves thinking before acting and giving into negative urges, without exploring the potential consequences of such choices. Teens with poor impulse control may have difficulty resisting appealing (but poor) choices like lying, stealing, joy riding or leaving school without permission. For example, a teenager with poor impulse control might not be able to resist the temptation to skip school and hang out with his friends, instead of waiting until later in the day. These actions often occur because teens make choices before evaluating the possible ramifications of their decisions and give in to their short-term urges. Thus, to develop better impulse control, teens may first need to evaluate their wants, and then to identify their obligations and responsibilities. In short, learning impulse control involves learning more about one's own thought processes.Thus, teens in trouble can often benefit from learning how to identify their impulses and from developing the ability to weigh the possible consequences of their actions before making a decision on how to act.

Appropriate Social Skills

Teens in trouble may struggle to understand appropriate social skills and may have poor understandings of how to manage conflicts 2. For instance, teens with inadequate conflict resolution skills might resort to cursing, fighting or destroying property when they disagree with a friend, parent or auditory figure. Additionally, teens with poor social skills may struggle respond to peer pressure or behave in the presence of authority figures. For example, a teen with such skill deficits may curse at his teacher when she provides constructive feedback on his work. Likewise, such teens may choose to fight a peer with whom they disagree, instead of talking through the situation. Learning these new social skills takes practice. Thus, teens who struggle with these behaviors may benefit from learning how to verbalize strong emotions and disagreements in assertive, but non-aggressive ways.

Personal Boundaries

Adolescents who lack an appropriate understanding of personal boundaries may unintentionally violate the rights of others. For example, a teenager with boundary issues may walk away when others are talking to him, involve himself in conflicts that do not involve him or take property from parents or siblings without permission. Without a proper understanding of how to respect others’ rights, personal space and wishes, teens can exacerbate existing conflicts. The concept of personal boundaries can be too abstract for some young teens to understand. However, by modeling appropriate behavior and exposing teens to structured activities and pro-social peers, they may begin to develop a better sense of personal boundaries. For example, a mother might model appropriate boundaries by knocking on the door before entering her teen's room or by asking her spouse for permission to use his computer. This mother can further reinforce her boundaries by explaining why she made these particular decisions.

Help-Seeking Behavior

Teens who get in trouble at home, school or in the community may be struggling with issues such as depression, anxiety, bullying or other serious mental health concerns. Thus, it is important for teens who are in trouble to have trusted adults to whom they can turn. This support group may include parents, teachers, therapists, school counselors or other persons who can connect the teen to the resources he or she needs to succeed. For the teen to be able to utilize his personal resource fully, he must understand that his support system is a safe place to turn and be able to ask for help when he needs it. This type of help-seeking behavior can be difficult, but a teen can learn this via professional therapy and ongoing parental encouragement.