Programs For Troubled Teens

Troubled teenage girl leans on a graffiti-painted wall.

The teenage years are a pivotal time. Their bodies are changing, their moods are shifting, and they’re learning to feel comfortable in their own skin. Rebellious teen behavior is common as teens begin to establish more independence. However, it’s important to understand the difference between what is considered normal teen behavior and signs of a troubled teen.

Being greeted with an eye roll, avoiding being caught in public with a parent, and slamming doors are standard teen behaviors. It’s when minor teen behavior issues begin to escalate into things like missing curfew, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, shoplifting, fighting at school, and punching walls that it begins to raise warning flags. Troubled teens are grappling with something greater than insubordination of rules; they are experiencing significant behavioral problems caused by mental health conditions affecting the judgment and functionality of their brain. This can be due to substance use, learning difficulties, depression, or the inability to find a social circle to which they belong. 

Teen Substance Abuse Crisis

As the National Institute of Drug Abuse followed statistics for high schoolers and illicit drug use, they found a steady incline for 2017–2020. In 2017, 18.2 % of eighth-graders reported they had used drugs or alcohol in their lifetime. In comparison, by 2020, that number for eighth-graders rose to 21.3%. For high school sophomores, drug use increased from 34.3% in 2017 to 37.3% in 2020. Though seniors in high school decreased in percentages, they are the highest percentage of students of all the grades. In 2017, 48.9% of high school seniors reported using drugs or alcohol in their lifetime, while in 2020 the percentage decreased to 46.6%, which is still concerning. That’s almost half of seniors using drugs and alcohol, despite having “D.A.R.E.” programs. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, addiction and mental illness have risen to an all-time high. 

In March of 2021, the Biden Administration is reported to have provided nearly $2.5 billion in funding to address the nation’s mental health and addiction crisis. With our teens embarking in uncharted waters and navigating through the frightening experiences of COVID-19, many have resorted to coping strategies involving drug use and alcohol use, vaping, or lashing out. This underscores the need to provide support to struggling teens while teaching them healthier coping strategies.

Signs of Being a Troubled Teen

Serious troubled teen boy thinking and daydreaming while sitting at home
Troubled teens may suffer from depression

Teenagers ages 13 to 18 years of age are at the most challenging stage of their lives. Hormones are changing, while they are simultaneously developing their identity, going through puberty, and enduring social changes. This is often the time when issues will begin to emerge. Common signs of being a troubled teen are:

  • Low self-esteem and body image
  • Stress 
  • Depression
  • Screen addiction
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Underage sex 
  • Defiance behaviors 
  • Peer pressure and competition
  • Problems at school

How do I talk to my teenager about their behavior?

Opening up a conversation with a teen can be challenging—the hormones are in full swing, or maybe they always seem to be in a bad mood—whatever the case, it’s time to have that talk. Start by providing a safe, non-confrontational environment. Preface the conversation with “I’m not going to be mad with you, but we do need to talk about this.” Now, there are consequences for actions, especially for troubled teens, but let’s talk about them for a moment. Grounding does not always work for teens; it can actually lead to more defiance. Curfews do not always keep teens out of trouble; they may disregard them all together or show up late. 

As parents, we want a guaranteed way to keep our children safe and out of troublesome situations; setting a curfew isn’t going to fix everything. Curfews have no significant effects on drug or alcohol abuse and can harm the parent-child kinship by reducing the teenager’s autonomy within the house. At this stage in teenager development, stricter punishments like schools for troubled teens or boot camps for troubled teens may not be the right approach because teens will often resort to defiance and even more extreme behavior after parents take these steps. 

Our treatment team recommends knowing where your teen is going and who they are with as a compromise to the behavior. This will allow you to know your teen is safe and give you some insight into what they are doing for the day while building trust with your teen. In the event that is not working, we recommend that a family member drop off and pick your teen up from each destination. This will mean they must stay at one place and not travel to unexpected locations without your permission or knowledge. 

Tips for parents on how to deal with a troubled teen:

  1. Teen anger and violence should be addressed

For teens, anger can often mask other emotions such as embarrassment, sadness, hurt, fear, vulnerability, or frustration. When these feelings build up, teens may begin to cope with them by lashing out or putting themselves or others at risk. Many teen boys have trouble comprehending or identifying their feelings, or expressing them verbally, which can result in acts of physical aggression like hitting walls, doors, or another person. 

The challenge for parents is to help teens cope with emotions by addressing anger or violence more advantageously: 

  • Be aware of warning signs and triggers
  • Establish boundaries and consequences
  • Try to understand what is behind the anger
  • Give your teen space to retreat

2. Reconnect with your teen

Over the years, your teen may have drifted away, pushing a parent farther and farther away. It’s time to rekindle that relationship and bond again. Your teen may not realize it, but they might miss the connection with their parents very much, which can lead to more sadness or acting out. However, a positive face-to-face connection is one way to reduce stress and calm the nervous system. 

  • Be there for your teen
  • Find common ground
  • Listen without judging or giving advice

3. Create balance for both you and your teen’s life

By having a balanced life, one knows what to expect each day, making it easier to cope with feelings—having a schedule or routine one sticks to becomes an easy way to instill good coping strategies into your teen’s life. 

  • Structure your time 
  • Reduce screen time
  • Eat right
  • Get a good night’s rest

4. Activities for Troubled Teens

When a teen is grappling with substance abuse or addiction, it’s important to understand why they felt the need to use substances and alcohol. Once the root cause is identified, it’s easier to address and overcome specific issues. Activities to try prior to troubled teen treatment include: 

  • Journaling
  • Poems for troubled teens
  • Volunteering
  • Painting or drawing
  • Exercising
  • Playing with an animal
  • Outdoor recreational activities
  • If you are religious, bible verses for troubled teens

Troubled Teen Programs

If your teenager’s behavioral issues are dangerous to themselves or others despite your best efforts to help them, you should consider residential treatment for troubled teens. In a safe environment with 24/7 professional support, your teen may be better able to isolate and address issues without distraction, judgment, or interference. Drug and alcohol rehab is also a good option if your teen cannot stop by themselves from using; this is an indicator they may have an addiction. At Safe Landing Recovery, your teen is in a safe and comfortable environment where they can have the support they need to overcome their addiction, anger, and possible underlying mental health illnesses. By tailoring a program to meet your teen’s specific needs, we can help them develop coping skills, build self-confidence and get on the path to a better future free from drugs and alcohol.

To learn more about our programs for troubled teens, call 844-486-7205.


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