How to Understand a Troubled Teenager
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How to Understand a Troubled Teenager

troubled teens, understanding your teenager, teenage problems.

How to understand your troubled teen.

There are two things never to forget when dealing with a teenager. One, they are people just like you, they have stress, they have moods, they have insecurities just like you do. Two, YOU were a teenager once too. Remember how you felt at that age and it will help you understand them better.

It is vital that your teen is aware that they can tell you anything and not be afraid of judgement. Without trust in you there is nothing you can do for them because they won’t confide in you.

Teenagers will complain constantly about rules and restrictions on their behaviour but deep down inside them they need those rules and restrictions to feel cared about and loved. So when your teen complains about your rules understand that it is just for show, to assert their individuality, but they need those rules to feel secure.

Issues I have dealt with and how I handled them are listed below. I hope my experiences can give you some ideas on how to handle your teenager.

Bed wetting

For the first six months after we fostered my son he used to regularly wet his bed. We handled it by not making a fuss about it. We would put his mattress in the sun to dry and give him clean sheets. We never shouted at him or punished him for it. We just treated it as a natural thing and did not make him feel guilty or self conscious about it. After about six months his new found security sank in and he stopped doing it. The assurance he had of our love and the stability of being able to sleep in the same bed every night and a set routine and rules gave him the security he needed.

Alcohol and drugs

Being able to talk honestly and openly with my children about this helped. All teenagers experiment with this kind of thing. – I am sure you did too. What I am going to say will probably sound radical and crazy but it worked. When it came to alcohol and drugs they had what I call ‘controlled freedom’. The rule was they were allowed to drink at home while I was there to watch them. That way they got to experiment in a safe environment. The same applied to weed. I feel that because I allowed them to do this they never felt the need to try harder drugs because they were doing it at home and not in public situations where they could be exposed / pressured into harder drugs. Also a lot of the thrill of drugs and alcohol is its forbiddenness, take that away and you take away a lot of the thrill. Both my kids went through the drug stage but they both came out of it and now they are not interested in it anymore. A case of been there, done that, got over it. Both my kids do still drink but socially, not as a way of life and they know when enough is enough and they don’t go overboard.


Both my kids went through a phase of cutting themselves. My foster son had done it before he came to us and my daughter started doing it because of stress in the family at the time. In my experience there are two reasons for cutting. One they feel so incredibly hopeless about a situation that their feelings shut down, they go emotionally numb. They cut because feeling that pain makes them not feel numb for a little while. Two they blame themselves for problems in the family that they can’t fix and it is a form of self punishment for not being able to fix the situation. The cutter needs reassurance that the situation is not their fault. They need comforting that everything will be ok and they need to know that cutting is not the solution that in fact that it makes things worse for the people they care about.

Wanting to commit suicide.

Most teenagers – in fact most people, - have times when they want to just end it all and kill themselves. What I have found works is to make them aware that they have family and friends that love and need them and that their death would hurt the ones they love. They also need assurance that they are more valuable alive as they have talents and abilities that make them unique and special. Make them realise that the family would suffer without them. You need to find out what issue has driven them to the point of contemplating suicide. If you can fix the issue then their reason for doing it is removed. It is vital that your child be able to talk to you about how they feel. Suicide is an emotional response to a problem that seems overwhelming. Teens can’t always handle problems we adults take in our stride, ( sometimes the thing they are so upset about might seem silly or minor to an adult, but remember to your child it is the end of the world, so be patient and understanding.)Be aware that due to hormonal changes etc they are more emotional than rational and are prone to feeling helpless in a situation so the only way out they see is suicide. Your job is to convince them that suicide is not the answer.


My son due to his previous background had a violent temper and when angry would throw things or punch doors etc. We taught him that violence was not the answer by being patient with him and showing him other ways to handle his aggression. One of the things we did was to buy him a boxing bag. When he started getting aggro we would tell him to go outside and take it out on the punching bag. We also found that if he channelled that anger into doing gym exercises he was a lot calmer. By talking to him and explaining to him that the way to resolve issues is by talking not hitting we finally got through to him, please note it took a while and a lot of patience. If you are dealing with an aggressive child first find out what is causing the aggression and second find another outlet for it. Something physical and strenuous, that will interest them, for example, boxing, karate, kick boxing, bicycle riding. Whatever physical thing they like to do that will calm them down.

I have learnt over the years that the way to handle a teen is to be there for them no matter what and to make sure that they understand that. Communication is the key to understanding and helping them with what they are going through. Always remember that they are people too.

These are strategies and methods I have used on my children and I am proud to say they have grown up into decent, respectable, hard working and sensible adults. I don’t think that we as parents can expect more than that.

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