Problematic Teenagers: What To Do?

How to deal with problematic teens? What techniques and tools can we use to help them?
Problematic teenagers: what to do?

When can children be considered problematic? What does it mean? How to deal with problematic teens? If we refer to rebellion (defying or disobeying parents, rules, etc), we can group the different types into two categories.

The first forms of rebellion appear as early as preschool and gradually increase during the developmental phase. The latter, on the other hand, emerge after the age of ten and are generally linked to the beginning of school.

In the latter case, environmental variables and hormonal imbalances can largely explain the attitudes of problematic adolescents.

What to know about problem teens

In this article we present some guidelines for dealing with relationships with children or adolescent patients. Finally, we will talk about a specific therapy that offers promising results in this age group.

Mother trying to talk to her teenage daughter.

Problems of conduct

Before going into the merits of the guidelines for dealing with problematic adolescents, let us try to answer the following question: what attitude do they show? They can show aggression, a tendency to lie, disrespect, etc.

We must remember that adolescence is an emotionally complicated phase. It is a new stage in which hormones are altered, and to this are added important changes and a strong identity crisis.

The best thing is therefore to try to be cautious and empathetic, even if sometimes it is not easy. In severe cases, it may be necessary to seek help from a specialist. In the following lines we will try to briefly explain how these behaviors are recognized.

How to notice problem behaviors?

Parents often notice that their children’s behavior has changed. They begin to reject activities or goals that previously motivated them, for example. Other times, the conflict results in strong, easily recognizable opposition.

In more extreme cases, the adolescent causes problems inside and outside the home, gets into trouble, feels lost or experiences a profound identity crisis.

We can also recognize problematic attitudes through the tendency to lie, the loss of enthusiasm for everything, sadness, etc. It is important to be clear about this, as aggression or rebellion often conceals different feelings such as fear, insecurity, loneliness or sadness.

How to deal with problematic teens?

What to do with problematic teens? It depends a lot on our role in their life: father and mother have different roles, as well as brothers or sisters, or the psychologist, professors, etc. These are some general guidelines:

  • promote communication spaces,
  • work on the link (the relationship),
  • find out what’s going on (sometimes aggression hides sadness),
  • devote time to them,
  • negotiate with them,
  • avoid judgment,
  • set limits, but be flexible,
  • use techniques to modify behavior (important to reinforce correct behaviors),
  • strengthen self-esteem, enhance them,
  • talk to them with empathy (put yourself in their place!),
  • consult a specialist (especially in severe cases),
  • be consistent with them,
  • be an example.

The Guide to the care of adolescents (2015) of the Sociedad Andaluza de Medicina Familiar y Comunitaria , proposes a series of strategies aimed at offering complete attention to adolescents following a path of psychotherapy :

  • Respect confidentiality : everything discussed during the session is confidential (except in cases where there is a risk to the adolescent, to others or to society in general).
  • Provide adolescents with an intimate and safe space where they can freely express their doubts.
  • Provide information on the health resources and services available to them.
  • Show attention, interest and respect for everything he says in order to promote the therapeutic alliance.
  • Explain progress and achievements, both to teens and parents, encouraging teens to take responsibility for their own health
  • Encourage teamwork with family and educators to ensure multidisciplinary care.

Family psychodramatic therapy based on staging

This type of therapy ( SB-PFT in English ) is an innovative intervention that gives positive results with problematic adolescents. In particular, it is used to improve relationships between problematic teens and their parents. It integrates the principles of systemic family therapy and psychodrama through a multi-family group methodology.

A study published in the journal Family Process,  with first author B├írbara Lorence, a researcher at the University of Huelva (UHU), describes the first evidence on the effectiveness of this intervention.

One of the key points of this methodology is that the adolescent’s voice is very important. In addition, several families also participate during the sessions. What are you working on? Especially on two main aspects:

  • The conflict between parents and problematic teens.
  • The search for possible solutions to conflicts.
Parents talking to their teenage son.

Final reflections

We’ve presented some ideas on how to deal with problem teens, starting with empathy and understanding, but it’s actually a much more complex issue than it sounds. As we all know, adolescence is a complicated stage in life, which is difficult for many to manage.

As a result of this (and other factors) behavioral alterations or disturbances, substance use disorders (e.g. drugs), mood disturbances, etc. can occur. Every ailment or problem requires targeted treatment.

As parents or educators, accompanying these children is both a challenge and a need. It means acting as a guide, a support and a little push. After all, many aspects of their identity are defined during this phase.

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