The Last Straw: How to Reach Your Teen When You Feel You've Tried Everything

There are many reasons why teenagers choose to rebel and defy their parents, and even break the law. Teens are often searching for their identities and are questioning their individual roles in society and in life. The attitudes and actions of some teens reflect a negative school environment. Too many adolescents succumb to the influences of their peers and make choices under pressure that they wouldn't make otherwise.

The key to helping struggling teens is early intervention. Early intervention requires taking action and getting to the root of your teen's problem. If you feel like the situation is at an impasse, help from an outside source, such as a therapist, may be necessary.

Therapists are trained in communicating with adolescents and can give your teen the opportunity to be heard and feel understood by someone they perceive as objective. A licensed mental health professional may need to evaluate your teenager in order to rule out such conditions as clinical depression, mood disorder, or problems with attention and concentration.

A mental health professional can also recommend options for family or individual counseling, medication if needed, or, in some cases, placement for the teen in a more structured treatment program outside the home.

Residential treatment programs offer 24-hour, seven-day-a-week treatment for teens who have problems that cannot be easily dealt with in a home environment. Therapeutic programs rely on natural resources and outdoor activities to teach positive thinking and life skills.
Many programs place teens in a small group that simulates a family. The groups offer social interaction with communication, participation, discipline and counseling. They encourage personal responsibility while promoting emotional healing and growth. The teens benefit from this because they see how their behaviors and actions affect others. They soon learn that their actions can affect the group in a positive or negative way and what the group can accomplish by working together. Each teen is placed in a group that best fits his or her personality and needs. This is determined after a thorough review of the teen’s personal history and issues.

When researching a treatment program, take into account the following tips:

· Have a clear understanding of the program’s ability to meet the basic needs of your teenager such as nutrition, shelter, showers and overall safety.

· Consider the different options programs provide. Some programs offer short-term and long-term treatment and offer counseling and/or assistance after the program is completed. Your teen's therapist and a staff member from the program will assist in deciding the length of stay at the program and its intensity.

· Review staff credentials. Many programs require staff members to have earned at least a college degree. Verify licensure and accreditation of the program and staff.

· Ask about the availability of staff members to your teen. It is important that someone be available for your teen when the need to discuss emotions or problems arises.

· Choose a program that not only offers behavioral and emotional treatment, but also provides educational programs. Many programs meet state education requirements for licensure and accreditation, which allows your teen to continue the requirements needed to graduate with a high school diploma.

· Evaluate the healing approach taken by the program. Consider whether the program is in harmony with your spiritual or religious beliefs.

· Seek a program that incorporates the entire family, and one that offers treatment once the residential program is complete. It is important to keep the entire family informed of behavioral changes and how things will be different when your teen moves home. It is also important to continue a form of treatment after the program is complete to ensure your teen's success.

Not all residential treatment programs are alike, and they are not for every troubled teen, but you, your teen and a licensed mental health professional can work together to decide if such a program is right for your teen.

Even when the situation feels hopeless, there are often unexplored options available to you. The important part is continuing to work to improve your relationship with your teen. Don't write the situation off as unchangeable. The sooner you intervene, the more likely you and your teen are to learn to live together in a comfortable home environment that is loving and nurturing.

Darin Geiger is a group administrator for Three Springs, Inc., a Huntsville, Ala.-based provider of adolescent treatment programs in eight states. Geiger holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and sociology and a master's degree in counseling psychology. He works with troubled adolescents on a daily basis, and oversees the day-to-day activities of therapeutic programs in Madison and Trenton, Ala.