Their Teenage Years by chenboying


									H   elping Your Children Navigate
    Their Teenage Years:

                          A Guide for Parents

White House Council on Youth Violence
                December 2000
H   elping Your Children Navigate
    Their Teenage Years:

                           A Guide for Parents

White House Council on Youth Violence
                December 2000
F   oreword
           t the beginning of the 21st century
           we have much to celebrate about our
    nation’s young people. Teens of all ethnic-
    ities are completing high school and
                                                  Responsible and Resourceful Teenagers.”
                                                  At this conference we heard from parents,
                                                  researchers, professionals who work with
                                                  teenagers, and from teenagers themselves.
    enrolling in college at record rates, and     The message we heard, loud and clear, and
    more teenagers than ever before are volun-    that has been confirmed by recent studies,
    teering for community service. In addi-       is that teens view their parents as the best
    tion, many harmful behaviors are on the       source of information and guidance on
    decline, including youth violence and         serious life issues, and that teenagers rate
    gun-related crime, homicide, suicide, teen    not having enough time with their parents
    pregnancy and, in the last few years, drug    as their top concern.
    use. Nonetheless, the rates of youth vio-         That is why I directed my White
    lence, smoking, alcohol and other drug        House Council on Youth Violence to
    use, and unintended pregnancy are still       develop information resources for parents.
    far too high. And despite a marked            This guide provides parents with some
    decline in teen homicide over the past        useful communication tips for talking to
    several years, far too many communities       their teenagers. It suggests ways to discuss
    are still scarred by violence.                difficult issues—such as violence, guns,
        We know that the best approach to         tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs—and
    the problem of youth violence is a com-       helps parents identify the warning signs of
    prehensive one, requiring the collaborative   harmful behaviors. In some instances, par-
    efforts of students and parents, teachers,    ents may need professional guidance to
    health care providers, law enforcement,       assist them in dealing with the challenges
    judges, counselors, and religious leaders.    of raising a teenager, and this guide pro-
    That is why, among other initiatives,         vides helpful resources.
    my Administration created the Safe                The great American author and cham-
    Schools/Healthy Students Initiative to        pion of human rights, Pearl Buck, once
    support effective, collaborative responses    said, “If our American way of life fails the
    to youth violence.                            child, it fails us all.” In our national strug-
        Most importantly, we know that young      gle against youth violence, we must not
    people continue to need support and guid-     fail our children. All of us, especially par-
    ance from their parents as they grow into     ents, share responsibility to keep our chil-
    adulthood. In May 2000, the First Lady        dren safe. We’ve all got to do our part,
    and I hosted a conference on “Raising         and this guide should help.

                                                        — President William Jefferson Clinton

     White House Council on Youth Violence
     The White House Council on Youth Violence was established by President Clinton in
     October, 1999, to coordinate the federal government’s efforts in the research and preven-
     tion of youth violence. The Council is chaired by the Assistant to the President for
     Domestic Policy, and the Council members are the Attorney General and the Secretaries
     of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor,
     and Treasury.

     Sonia G. Chessen

     Marie E. Burke
     Deputy Director

     Nicholas J. Lewin
     Associate Director

     RADM Susan Blumenthal, M.D.
     U.S. Assistant Surgeon General
     Senior Public Health Advisor
     Scientific Editor

     Many individuals contributed to the development of this document.
     The White House Council on Youth Violence wishes to thank
     Dr. Robert Schwebel, the primary author of this guide, and Teddi Fine,
     Charlotte Gillespie, Anne Mathews-Younes, Carole Skog McGeehan,
     Bill Modzeleski, Carolyn O’Connor, Louise Peloquin, and Farris Tuma,
     for their assistance.

I   ntroduction
          his is an exciting time to be a teenag-
          er in America. Young people today
    are growing up in a rapidly changing soci-
    ety with hopes for a very promising
                                                    and other drug use. Even the best-
                                                    informed young people are constantly
                                                    tested by social pressures, emotional
                                                    needs, and their peers. The push and pull
    future. Survey results show that 84% of         between right and wrong can become a
    high-school students plan to attend a           tug of war between adolescent and parent.
    four-year college. Teens overwhelmingly             Being a parent, grandparent, foster
    share their parents’ values of honesty and      parent, or caregiver of a teen is both
    hard work, and are engaged in positive          rewarding and challenging. Caring adults
    activities. More than half of all teenagers     can make all the difference in a child’s life.
    volunteer with a community organization,            This guide provides some useful tools
    attend a house of worship weekly, read the      to improve your communication with your
    newspaper twice a week or more, and             teenager to help him or her get through
    attend cultural events or visit museums.        adolescence successfully. Read it all or
        In spite of this positive outlook, how-     select the sections that help you the most.
    ever, adolescence—the transition between        s   Getting the Conversation Started—
    childhood and adulthood—is still one of             tips for opening up the dialogue, even
    the most difficult times for children and           after it has been shut down. (Page 2.)
    parents alike. Growing up is more than          s   Increasing Responsibility and
    the physical changes that occur, such as            Freedom—ideas for how to set the lim-
    getting taller or more muscular. This pas-          its that protect your teens while still
    sage is a time for establishing independ-           giving them room to grow and develop.
                    ence, testing limits, trying        (Page 6.)
                    on different roles, exploring
                                                    s   Managing Anger: Theirs and Yours—
                    new feelings, and fostering
                                                        anger-management skills that you can
                    intellectual growth. Above
                                                        use, and that you can share with your
                    all, adolescence is a process
                                                        adolescent. (Page 8.)
                    that takes time to happen.
                                                    s   Handling Tough Situations—examples
                                                        of difficult situations, identification
                                                        of warning signs of trouble, and advice
                                                        on how to handle certain problems.
                                                        (Page 10.)
                                                    s   When Parents Need Help First—help-
                                                        ing your spouse, or yourself, deal with
                                                        issues that are affecting your ability to
                                                        parent. (Page 18.)
                                                    s   Getting Help for Your Teen—
       We have all heard the frightening and            suggestions about how to get help
    heart-breaking statistics about youth vio-          for your teen and your family.               1
    lence, depression, tobacco, and alcohol             (Page 22.)
G   etting the Conversation Started
              any parents worry when their
              teenagers don’t want to spend as
      much time with the family as they did
      when they were younger. This can be
                                                       opportunity for that kind of exchange.
                                                       Talk about your day. Ask your teen about
                                                       his or her day. Be sure the television is
                                                       turned off and you and your teen are
      both hurtful and frightening. You worry          tuned in.
      about their safety and about their future.           Most teens agree that they want to
      It is normal for children to want to spend       spend more time with their parents. You
      more time with their friends during the          may be surprised to learn that a recent
      teen years, but it shouldn’t mean that           study indicated that most teenagers rate
      teens ignore their families. Parents and         “not having enough time together” with
      teens need to take action to stay connect-       parents as their top concern. Many will be
      ed or to reconnect.                              glad that their parents care enough to
                                                       make the effort to spend time with them.
         I used to be close with my daughter. She
         would talk with me about everything.
         Now she’s 14 and avoids me. She is
         quiet at dinner, and then goes to her
                                                         How Do You Get Your Teenager
         room or talks with friends on the phone
                                                         to Start Talking to You Again?
         all evening. Sometimes she gets moody
                                                         The best way to help teens open up—and
         and angry. I want to reach her the way
                                                         stay open—with parents and other adults in
         I used to, but I don’t know how to start.
                                                         their lives, is by showing your acceptance of
      Sometimes the solution is easy. Spend              them. When they make a mistake or misbe-
      more time together. Suggest doing                                        have, you can lovingly
      things that you both enjoy. Talk                                         help them learn from
      more. Dinnertime is an excellent                                         their experience. Make
                                                                               sure they know that
    Why Do Teens Stop Talking?                                                 you love them, even
    Sometimes they’re trying to be inde-                                       when you may be trou-
    pendent. Sometimes they’re embar-                                          bled by their behavior.
    rassed about their own thoughts and
    feelings, such as anger, or their sexual
    desires. Sometimes, teens shut down
    because of pressures they feel at home,
    at school, or in the community. One of
    the most important reasons teens stop talking to you is that
    they’re afraid to speak honestly with their parents. They believe
    if they talk openly about things they have done that might be
    wrong, they’ll be given a lecture, punished, or criticized.


    Some teens have a hard time expressing
anger and upset feelings. They keep their
feelings bottled inside. Parents need to
draw such children out. Try to start a con-
versation by saying “I can see you’ve been
upset. Let’s talk about what’s happening.”
    Some teens, however, may give
parents the cold shoulder. If that hap-
pens, be patient, and be persistent until
you break through. If you can’t break
through, there could be a more serious
                                                                 TODAY’S TEENS
                                                  PRESSURES ON
problem than embarrassment or a
difficulty communicating.
                                                                 The pressures you felt as an ado-
                                                                 lescent have been magnified for
Listening to Your Teen                                           teens today. You will recognize
                                                                 some of these as issues that con-
Let teens know you will listen and try to                        cerned you during your youth.
understand their point of view, without                          Others are unique to today’s teens.
putting them down or trying to control
them. Being open-minded sometimes can                            s   Wanting to be part of a group
be difficult for adults. But to communicate                      s   HIV/AIDS
with teens, parents need to do more than                         s   Changing family structures
just talk; they need to listen, and really hear                  s   Gangs and violence
what their teens are saying. They also need                      s   Insecurity about the future
to notice which issues are not being dis-                        s   Money pressures
cussed and have the courage to start a dia-
                                                                 s   Teen sexuality and pregnancy
logue about those issues.
    When disagreements arise, listening does
                                                                 s   Media influences
not mean that you give up your authority                         s   Concern about body image
as a parent. It does mean giving teens a                         s   School pressures
voice in matters that concern them.                              s   Easy access to alcohol, tobacco,
Through family dialogue, parents get to                              illegal drugs, and guns
know what their teens are thinking and
feeling, and teens get to know where their
parents stand. Sometimes parents and teens
can reach agreements when none seemed

                                   possible. Even when agreement cannot                     Sometimes, you can simply begin a
                                   be reached, teens are more likely to do              dialogue about these issues as part of
                                   what their parents wish if they feel that            normal conversation. Often, “teachable
                                   their parents listened to them with an               moments” happen during day-to-day

                                   open mind.                                           activities. For example, you could discuss
                                                                                        underage drinking when someone gets
                                                                                        intoxicated in the presence of your family,
                                   Tough Topics                                         or in a movie, or when you see a newspa-

                                   Parents can become frustrated when they              per story about an accident caused by
                                   try to start a conversation with their               teenage drinking. You could discuss
                                   teenager and he or she just isn’t interested.        violence, and better ways of solving
                                   There are tough topics, however, that                problems, after watching a TV show or
                                   need to be discussed. Teenagers face pres-           movie that portrays violence as a solution
                                   sures and temptations about                                       to a disagreement.
                                   alcohol and other drugs, sex,                                         If your teen doesn’t want to
                                   tobacco, guns, and violence.                                      talk, try to be clear that your
                                   They need and deserve adult                                       purpose is to build under-
                                   support. Don’t wait for a cri-                                    standing and to be supportive,
                                   sis. Ideally, parents should                                      certainly not to find fault or
                                   find times and                                                    to punish. If you can’t nudge
                                   ways to talk                                                      your child into a dialogue,
                                   with their teens                                                  back off for awhile. This strat-
                                   before serious                                                    egy can be disarming. Then,
                                   problems occur,                                                   give your son or daughter
                                   preferably early                                                  some time to think it over.
                                   in the lives of                                                   A few days later, you can try
                                   their children.                                                   again to start the discussion.
                                   But it is never                                                   Parents can be flexible in get-
                                   too late to start.                                                ting the dialogue going, but
                                                                                                     should not give up on the
                                                                                                     need for this discussion to
                                         Being Sensitive to Cultural                                 eventually begin. Although it
                                         Differences                                                 may be harder to get boys to
                                         Teens in minority ethnic and racial                         open up, parents should
                                         groups may face particular pressures                        engage in dialogue with their
                                         related to their status as minorities.                      sons and daughters alike.
                                         Parents of these teens should be espe-
                                         cially sensitive to these pressures, as well
                                         as cultural and language differences that
                                         may affect your teen’s interactions at
                                         school, with peers, and with others.

   Today’s teens, more than ever before,
need to connect with adults—if not

a parent, then a coach or teacher, grand-
parent or foster parent, clergy member,               YOUR TEENS
or other trusted adult in their lives. Teens          CAN TALK TO
need an adult with whom they can talk
openly. They should not be left to rely               Try to establish strong commu-
solely on other teens for important infor-            nication with your teen, but
mation, conversation, and help with prob-             remember that some teens may
lem solving about how to grow up wisely.              talk more openly about sensi-
                                                      tive topics with someone who
                                                      is not their parent or guardian.
                                                      If you are a parent, try not to
                                                      let this hurt your feelings;
                                                      remember that your child will
                                                      respect you more in the long
                                                      run if you encourage him or
                                                      her to talk with someone else,
                                                      if that is what works best.
                                                      Single parents, and other par-
                                                      ents, may want to find a men-
                                                      toring program that can be a
                                                      source of support, and can pro-
                                                      vide someone with whom your
                                                      teen can talk. Your teen's
                                                      school guidance counselor may
                                                      know about such programs.

      I       ncreasing Responsibility and Freedom
                You don’t trust me . . .
                But they’re my friends . . .
                Everyone else is doing it . . .
                                                                   need to agree to behave in responsible
                                                                   ways and show that they can handle the
                                                                   freedom. They also need to keep their par-

                         eens need their independence, but         ents informed. That way, parents know
                         how do you make sure they are safe?       when to lend guidance and supervision,
                  It’s tough to decide when to give your teen      and how to support their teen’s progress.
                  more freedom. Do you hang on to the                 That’s where respect, responsibility
                                 kite string for as long as you    and reliability come in.
                                 possibly can, or give the kite    Respect: Respect is a two-way street, but
The Challenge:
                                 free air? The decision isn’t      it starts with you. Give your teens the
To help teens learn              easy. One parent’s decision       respect that you would like to be given.
about the world and              for his or her teen may not       Give them credit for their knowledge and
accept new challenges            be right for other parents        abilities; pay attention and listen to them.
with the least amount            and their teens.                  That means showing confidence in your
of danger and harm.                  Although every adolescent     teens, and being supportive.
Parents must walk a              is different, there are many      Responsibility: Teens are learning to take
fine line between con-           experiences common to the         care of themselves as they prepare for
trolling too much and            teenage years. The most com-      adulthood. That’s what growing up is all
being too relaxed about          mon may be the pull and           about. Give them an appropriate amount
rules. When parents are          push between dependence           of freedom and independence. Encourage
too restrictive, they can        and independence.                 and promote responsibility and good deci-
push teens toward                    Teens, at younger and         sion-making, offering support and gentle
rebellion. When they             younger ages, are putting         help with difficult decisions. Let your
are too permissive, teens        themselves at risk for sexually   teens know they can gain more freedom
may get out of control.          transmitted diseases—includ-      as they demonstrate increasingly respon-
It’s a balancing act.            ing AIDS—and for pregnan-         sible behavior.
                                 cy. And some teens, and even      Reliability: Part of growing up is learning
                  younger children, smoke tobacco, drink           and adapting to rules—rules about driving
                  alcohol, use other drugs, or commit acts of      and work, rules about drinking and dating,
                  violence and other crimes. No wonder so          social rules and family rules. Teens will test
                  many parents are concerned, even fright-         the rules, but over time most will make
                  ened; no wonder so many try to control           these rules part of their lives. This kind of
                  the behavior of their teenage children.          reliability is worthy of recognition and
                       It is important for parents to make         praise. When you can rely on your teens
                  rules for their young children. As children      behaving responsibly, it may be time to
                  get older, however, they need to learn to        give them more freedom.
                  make some of their own decisions and life            Parents should believe in their teens; set
                  choices. Teens need the chance to practice       high standards for them, encourage them,
                  good decision-making skills, and to man-         expect them to achieve their goals, and
                  age new life experiences. Parents need to        provide consistent love and support—
  6               give teens the freedom to do just that. But      including practical help—so they can
                  there is a catch: teens must be ready. They      achieve the promise that lies within them.

Clothing and hair . . . where do I                  likely to want to join a gang. These facts argue
draw the line?                                      for giving him more freedom. When it comes
                                                    to his friends and his preferences in clothing,
  Jason is doing well in middle school. He’s
                                                    you need to gather more information if you’re
  great with his younger brothers and helps
                                                    going to make a smart decision. You need to
  around the house, but I’m concerned about
                                                    know more about your son’s friends: What are
  some of his new friends. Some have dyed
                                                    they like? Do they use alcohol or other drugs?
  their hair odd colors; they wear baggy jeans
                                                    Are they in gangs? How does your son feel
  with their boxer shorts showing. A few have
                                                    about these kids? How does he feel about drug
  pierced tongues and tattoos. A while ago,
                                                    use? How does he feel about gangs?
  Jason asked about getting those baggy jeans.
  I said no, because the gang kids wear them. I     Get to Know Your Son’s Friends
  hoped he’d forget about them, but he has
                                                    Ask your son to invite his friends to your
  asked again. Between the drugs in our
                                                    home so you can meet them. You’ll show that
  neighborhood, baggy jeans, and new friends,
                                                    you have an open mind. If his friends behave
  I’m worried. I want to steer him away from
                                                    poorly in your presence, your son will notice.
  problem kids. Should I let him buy the
                                                        You also need to understand what the
  jeans? What should I do about his friends?
                                                    baggy jeans mean to Jason. Are they just a
Adolescents are striving for independence. As       style he likes? Or is wearing them a way to
teens prepare for adulthood, parents should         identify with a gang? Sometimes teens
encourage independence, while making sure           dress differently just to harmlessly show
their teens don’t drift too far from a positive     some independence from the family.
course. How should parents react to the choices     Think back to your own adolescence,
of their teenage children? In general, extend       and remember the fashion changes.
trust and give children as much freedom of          There may be some similarities.
choice as they can handle. Be sure to set limits,       Have a discussion with your son
too. Your decisions about the baggy jeans and       about his friends and about the cloth-
about your son’s friends require careful evalua-    ing he likes to wear. Sometimes discus-
tion of all the details. You need to think about    sions can bridge differences. Maybe
your own values, look realistically at where        your son will be swayed by what you
Jason seems to be headed, understand what he        say about the jeans and gangs, or maybe he
is doing or wants to do, and determine how          will convince you that baggy jeans have
best to promote his safety and growth.              become a style that has little to do with
    Jason is doing well in school and not get-      belonging to a gang.
ting into trouble. Success in school gives chil-        A conversation with your teen can help
dren a sense of accomplishment. They can see        you decide whether there is a real problem
a positive future for themselves and are less       or it is just a question of fashion.
M   anaging Anger: Theirs and Yours
           arm family relationships can help
           protect children from acting
    violently, abusing alcohol and other drugs,
    or engaging in other high-risk behaviors.
                                                    their own independent identities as they
                                                    prepare for adulthood. Sometimes anger is
                                                    their way of asserting independence. This
                                                    can wear thin on parents, who may fight
    But family members—even in the most             back with their own anger, creating a
    loving families—get angry at one another        vicious circle of escalating resentment.
    from time to time. When families com-               The best solution to out-of-control
    municate well and work cooperatively,           anger—whether from a parent or from a
    anger can be resolved without a problem.        teen—is to step back, and identify more
    Handled poorly, however, anger gets in          positive, healthy ways to deal with strong
    the way of good communication between           feelings. We do this when we can calm
    parent and child. Anger without control         down and respond in a disciplined and
    can sometimes be dangerous and may              thoughtful way. By maintaining compo-
    even become violent.                            sure, parents can be good role models and
        Many adults are not good at managing        open the door to constructive communi-
    anger, and expressing this emotion in a         cation with their children.
    healthy way. Some adults see anger as an            But how do you keep calm when
    emotion that should be suppressed,              you feel pushed to the limit? Here are
    because it leads to trouble. Some grew up       some suggestions:
    in families in which anger generally led to
    explosive behavior and even violence.
    Others were taught that it is not “nice”
                                                    Tips for Calming
    to be angry. It’s important that parents
    know how to manage anger successfully           s   Pick your battles. Sometimes the issue
    in family life, at work, and in the com-            is not worth the anger, or worth argu-
    munity. And that same knowledge needs               ing about.
    to be shared with children, so that they        s   Take a deep breath; count to ten.
    learn this important skill.                         Think about the issue before a single
                                                        word comes out of your mouth.
      My teenage son doesn’t know how to
      handle his intense feelings. He talks back
                                                                        s   Go for a walk.
      to us and even swears at us. He doesn’t
      do what we ask him to do. He seems to
      be trying to aggravate us. I get so angry I
      blow up. We end up screaming at each
      other and saying things we regret. I feel
      like things are out of control.
    With the many changes that occur during
    adolescence, it’s not unusual for teenagers
8   to feel anger and resentment toward par-
    ents. Adolescents struggle to establish

s   Use “self-talk” to calm down. That is,        s   Give your point of
    say something soothing to yourself such           view. State the
    as: “I need to relax and stay calm. I can’t       problem as you see it;
    afford to blow up.”                               speak clearly and calm-
s   Reframe the issue. For example, when              ly—don’t yell.
    your son says something rude to you, it       s   Ask to hear your teen’s
    may be less a matter of him disrespecting         point of view.
    you than a sign that he has a problem         s   Pay attention, listen,
    with his anger. “Framing” it this way, you        and carefully consider
    focus on the fact that he needs your help         what your teen is saying.
    in overcoming this problem.
                                                  s   Discuss ways to solve the dis-
s   Use humor. Humor can sometimes be                 pute without a battle.
    a good way to calm anger, but be sure
                                                  s   Practice the art of compromise.
    not to use sarcasm, which can sometimes
                                                      Find the middle ground you
    be hurtful.
                                                      can both live with comfortably.
   Sometimes the hardest part of helping
                                                  s   Assert your authority, when
children learn to manage their anger is that
                                                      appropriate, but in a calm, yet firm
parents have to look at their own practices.
Parents need to ask:
s   Do I express anger in positive and
    constructive ways?                            What If the Anger
                                                  Doesn’t Stop?
s   Do I resolve conflict well?
                                                  When anger becomes a chronic problem for
s   Have I taught my children to accept
                                                  someone in the family, the underlying issue
    and express their anger?
                                                  may be larger than you or your teen can
                                                  manage. If you even think your family is at
Resolving Conflict                                this crisis point, or if you even think you or
                                                  any member of your family has a serious
Resolving conflict constructively may be
                                                  problem with anger management, it’s time
a huge challenge, but it’s an absolute
                                                  to seek help from a mental health profes-
necessity for the sake of every member of
                                                  sional. Recognize that this situation necessi-
your family.
                                                  tates counseling, and sometimes that means
   Once you are calm, you are in a better
                                                  the entire family will need help. Refer to
position to address the issues that caused
                                                  the sections on “Getting Help for Your
the conflict. Here are some tips:
                                                  Teen” (page 22).
  H              andling Tough Situations
                          eenagers, like all of us, sometimes
                          need help and guidance, but it can
                   sometimes be difficult for parents to rec-
                   ognize when to intervene in their teenag-
                                                                    intervene to help your child overcome
                                                                    them, is an essential role for parents.
                                                                        It is also a difficult role. Being able to
                                                                    tell the difference between normal teenage
                   er’s life. You know about the challenges         behavior and self-destructive, hurtful
                   that today’s teenagers face—some of              behavior is critical. The following exam-
                   which are different than those you experi-       ples are designed to help you
                   enced as a teen. Understanding these chal-       understand some of the
                   lenges, and knowing when and how to              warning signs that your

What If Your Teen Is Being Bullied?
Bullying is a serious problem, affecting many children.      s   Practice “verbal self-
A recent study indicated that nearly 1 in 10 students in         defense,” using any-
grades 6 through 12 have been bullied in the past year.          thing from humor to
    Victims of bullies need help and support in                  clever comments to de-
responding to this aggressive behavior. Many parents             escalate tension.
give their children conflicting messages about how to        s   Proudly walk away
respond to physical aggression. Should you encourage             from provocation, and
your teenager to “fight back” or not? We do not want             ignore taunting.
to resort to violence, but we also do not want our chil-
                                                                 Young people are entitled to a safe learning environ-
dren to be victims and to feel powerless. Most experts
                                                             ment in their school. Another way to empower your
agree that children should not hit back, other than for
                                                             teenagers can be to encourage them to speak with
self-defense and survival. Retaliation perpetuates a cycle
                                                             school administrators about the problem. In part they
of violence. It may also lead to escalating physical con-
                                                             may want to raise the issue of their own situation, and
frontation, which can be very dangerous, especially
                                                             their own safety fears. Sometimes, it is most empower-
considering the possibility that weapons might be used.
                                                             ing to discuss the situation as a school-wide problem,
    Parents can help their children who have been
                                                             without focus on particular perpetrators. Parents
teased or bullied learn to be powerful, without
                                                             should back up their children by also voicing the same
resorting to violence. You could start by letting your
                                                             concern. School/community partnerships can lead to
teenager know that you seriously disapprove of taunt-
                                                             effective programs that reduce bullying behavior.
ing and other types of bullying behavior, and that you
                                                                 If teenage children have been picked on for a long
think no one should have to put up with this. You can
                                                             time, they probably have some intense emotions from
empower teens by asking them if they have any ideas
                                                             that experience, and could benefit from talking about
about what might end the bullying.
                                                             them. Victims of bullies may experience anger, anxi-
    Parents can teach teens some powerful, non-violent
                                                             ety and even depression. Being the victim of a bully
ways of responding when they are bullied:
                                                             can also be a risk factor for engaging in violent
             s   Demonstrate strength by using eye           behavior. Your teens need and deserve help coping
                 contact and positive, self-assured body     with these feelings. You or a mental health profession-
   10            language, with head held high and           al can give them opportunities to express themselves,
                 shoulders back.                             and resolve these feelings.

teenager may need help. Read through these       ability to understand how other peo-
examples and see if any sound familiar.          ple feel—and to care about others’
    Remember, though, that every teenager        feelings. You will probably want to
is different and there is often no clear         impose consequences on your son
answer to your specific situation. If you are    for his unacceptable behavior. Be
concerned, talk to your teenage children. At     firm, but do it in a loving way. Right
a minimum, let them know how you feel            now your son needs your
and tell them that you would like to talk. If    empathy, understanding, and
you are still concerned, or if you think that    love. By providing this, you
your teenagers may hurt themselves or oth-       can show the power of caring
ers, you should get help immediately. Refer      about others in a positive way.
to the sections on “Getting Help for Your            This still leaves the bigger
Teen” (page 22) for assistance in finding the    part of the problem—getting
right resources.                                 to the reasons for your son’s
                                                 behavior. You have to talk with him to deter-
                                                 mine why he is being a bully. What leads
Bullying                                         your son to behave in such hurtful ways?
  I was called to my 13-year-old son’s school        With your help, or with the assistance of
  today because he stole some money from         a professional, your son can understand his
  another boy during lunch. This wasn’t the      own motives for bullying. Some young peo-
  first incident. A few weeks ago, the prin-     ple are bullies because they are bored and
  cipal called because Keith made another        crave excitement; some do it to feel power-
  boy take the blame for graffiti he wrote       ful; some engage in this behavior as a
  on the school bus. No matter what we tell      response to family problems; some do it for
  him, he constantly seems to get in trouble.    attention and to be popular with their peers.
  What can I do?                                 You need to ask him very detailed questions:
You certainly have reason to be concerned        s   Did you plan to take the other boy’s
about your son’s behavior. He is acting like a       lunch money beforehand, or was it a
bully and needs your help to put on the              sudden urge?
brakes. The principal was right to call. The     s   Why did you pick on that particluar
school can set a clear standard—no bully-            person?
ing—and make sure that your son under-
                                                 s   What were you thinking when you did it?
stands the consequences for violations of this
                                                     (Ex: I need the money; I’ll look cool.)
rule. You, too, need to make clear that you
disapprove of bullying. You need to help         s   How did you feel when you did it? (Ex:
your son develop empathy—which is the                Excited, thrilled, frightened, powerful).

                            s   How do you think the other boy felt?
                            s   What’s happening in your life or in our
                                family that may be upsetting you?

                                When you understand the details of
                            what happened, you can determine how to
                            help your child. For example, if your son
                            stole money because he saw it sitting on a

                            lunch tray and had a sudden urge to grab        drug use often occur along
                            it, he will need to learn to recognize his      with other serious problems.
                            impulses, and to stop them. If he planned           First, you need to talk to Julia and
                            to steal money, pre-selected a victim and       find out what drugs she is using and
                            stole because he wanted to look impor-          how often she is using them. Don't con-
                            tant, he will need to learn positive ways to    front her when she seems to be under
                            make friends and gain peer acceptance.          the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
                                We have to help our children learn          Wait until she is straight and sober. Then
                            healthy and socially acceptable ways to         discuss your suspicions with her calmly
                            cope with urges and anger, and to satisfy       and objectively, as you begin a dialogue.
                            their emotional needs appropriately. A big      Bring in other members of the family
                            challenge? Yes. But it’s part of growing up     to help, if necessary.
                            and becoming a good citizen.                        Second, impose whatever discipline
                                                                            your family has decided on for violating
                                                                            the rules, and stick to it. Don't relent
                            Drug Use and Failure                            because she promises never to do it again.
                            in School                                       Make sure that she knows that her use of
                                Our 16-year-old daughter, Julia, was        alcohol and other drugs is a serious prob-
                                caught drinking at a party. We suspect      lem and that she is harming herself.
                                that she has smoked marijuana, too.             If Julia has developed a pattern of drug
                                She has been doing poorly in school—        use or has engaged in heavy use, you
                                in fact, now she’s neglecting her school-   should get immediate help. If you do not
                                work and failing one subject. We set        know about drug treatment programs in
                                up required study time, but it hasn’t       your area, call your doctor, local hospital,
                                helped. She misses curfews and hasn’t       or county mental health center for a refer-
                                been doing her chores. We’ve talked with    ral. Your school district should have a sub-
                                her about alcohol, drugs, and sex, and      stance abuse coordinator or a counselor
                                we’ve been clear about the rules and        who can refer you to treatment programs,
                                consequences when she has broken them.      too. Parents whose children have been
                                Obviously, it hasn’t worked. She says       through treatment programs can also pro-
                                I’m a nag. What else can I do?              vide information.
                                                                                Many young people lie about their
                            Alcohol and Substance Abuse                     alcohol and drug use. If you think Julia is
12                          Julia's drinking and possible drug use may      not being truthful and the evidence is
                            be the tip of the iceberg. Alcohol and other    pretty strong, you may wish to have her

evaluated by a health professional
experienced in diagnosing adolescents                POSSIBLE ALCOHOL OR

                                          SIGNS OF
with alcohol- and drug-related prob-                 OTHER DRUG ABUSE
lems. Refer to the sections on “Getting
                                                     Research has shown that there are a number of fac-
Help for Your Teen” (page 22) for
                                                     tors that make individuals more likely to initiate
information about how to find some-
                                                     drug use and to progress to drug abuse and or
one who can help.
                                                     addiction. Many of these can be identified early by
   Listed in the box at right are signs
                                                     family members and friends. It is important to note
that may indicate problems with alco-
                                                     that many people may exhibit one or more of these
hol or other drugs. They could also
                                                     signs, but not necessarily use drugs. These signs
indicate other problems, not related to
                                                     may occur in the following areas:
drugs. In either case, if you observe
significant changes in your teen's                   s   Family: deteriorating relationships with family;
behavior, something is wrong. Start a                    behavior changes, such as withdrawal or hostility
dialogue with your teen about the                    s   School: truancy; drop in grades; behavior
problems. If you are still confused                      problems
about whether alcohol or other drugs                 s   Social life: deteriorating relationships with old
are part of the prob-                                    friends; developing a network of friends who are
lem, or if you recog-                                    using alcohol or other drugs; loss of interest in
nize that a substance                                    sports or other favorite activities
abuse problem exists,                                s   Emotional life: basic personality changes; inex-
get professional help.                                   plicable and sudden mood changes; apathy
                                                     s   Physical: memory problems, fatigue or hyper
School Failure                                           behavior; difficulty walking; sleep disturbances;
Failure in school is                                     red, blood-shot eyes; carelessness with grooming
another serious issue,                               s   Physical evidence: disappearance of beer or
but nagging is the                                       liquor supply; money or valuables missing; use
wrong approach, and                                      of cigarettes; signs of drug paraphernalia; use of
                                                         incense; excess money or missing money
enforcing study times
usually doesn’t work,                                Source: Adapted from National Instititute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes
                                                             of Health
either. Parents often
assume that school
problems are caused by
lack of effort, and that
making kids study more
will improve their performance.

                            Usually there is much more to it. For             Sadness/Depression
                            example, children may be having trouble             Sarah has never had much confidence.
                            with academic work and need tutoring.               High school is harder than she expected.
                            They may have a learning disability or they         My husband and I are divorced, and

                            may need help with study skills (under-             this has been very hard on her. Now,
                            standing how, when and where to study).             she looks and acts absolutely exhausted,
                            They may also be upset about something              doesn’t sleep, and just sits in her room
                            at home, at school, or with peers, that is          crying with her door closed. When she

                            interfering with their concentration. Even          goes out, she dresses all in black cloth-
                            when the amount of effort invested in               ing and wears heavy black eye shadow.
                            schoolwork is deficient, usually the under-         I have tried to talk to her, but she acts
                            lying cause is discouragement, rather than          angry and won’t say a word to me. I
                            laziness. The remedy is support, not more           can’t tell if Sarah is just “going through
                            pressure. We need strategies to get teens           a phase” or is truly depressed.
                            thinking and solving problems for them-
                            selves. Dialogue is the most effective way        The teen years offer new experiences and
                            to get them started.                              challenges that can be exciting, but also
                                                           How long ago       stressful. The stress of adolescence is one
                                                       did Julia start        of many factors that can make young peo-
                                                       slacking off in        ple unhappy. Teenagers are also experienc-
                                                       school? What do        ing hormonal changes which can affect
                                                       you think has been     their mood. Some sadness and mood
                                                       holding her back?      swings are a normal part of life. But when
                                                       You need answers       the “blues” last for weeks, or interfere with
                                                       to these questions     school, home, or other activities, your
                                                       to determine how       teen may be suffering from clinical depres-
                                                       to correct the prob-   sion. Depression, a mood disorder that is
                                                       lem. Encourage         a real medical illness, is often unrecog-
                                            Julia to consult with her         nized, but can be effectively treated.
                                            teachers or the school coun-          When teens, or anyone, are very upset
                                            selor, and offer to partici-      about things, they need to talk with some-
                                            pate in these meetings. If        one who cares and can help. Parents
                                            need be, you can consult          should be concerned and talk with their
                                            with the school or get other      child about his or her unhappiness,
                                            professional help. Using all      whether it is a temporary state or a case
                                            available resources, you and      of clinical depression. We should set an
                            your daughter should be able to determine         example of confronting problems, head on.
                            the causes of the problem. Once you know              It is sometimes hard to tell when teens
                            the causes, the solutions should become           are depressed, because the symptoms may
                            clearer. Your daughter will still have some       be hard to read. For example, you may
                            obstacles to overcome, but at least she will      mistake a sleep disturbance, which can be
14                          be headed in the right direction.                 a sign of depression, for a late-night televi-
                                                                              sion habit, or your teen may only reveal

     her sadness in writings that contain morbid                             ly tension, or the divorce, or problems in
     themes. Teens may say they are “bored”                                  school? How is she getting along with
     when, in fact, they are depressed. In addi-                             friends? How are things in your family, now?
     tion, signs of depression may vary among                                Are there any other problems or symptoms?
     cultural groups: Teens in some groups expe-                             The answers to these questions provide clues
     rience sadness or guilt; while others experi-                           about what is wrong and how to help her.
     ence more physical symptoms, such as                                        Depression does increase the risk of
     headaches and nervousness.                                              suicidal behavior. Many teens think about
         Clearly, Sarah is unhappy and may be                                suicide, and some of them follow through.
     suffering from depression. What is going on                             Parents should be especially concerned and
     in her life to make her feel this way? Think                            get professional help immediately if addi-
     about past and present problems. When did                               tional warning signs are evident, such as
     this crying begin? Did it coincide with fami-                           when a child has a history of previous


              If a number of these symptoms persist for two weeks or
              more, a person may be diagnosed as clinically depressed.
              Parents should talk with children if any of these symptoms

              s   Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
              s   Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
              s   Restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying
              s   Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness,
              s   Sleeping too much or too little
              s   Appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
              s   Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
              s   Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
              s   Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
              s   Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treat-
                  ment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain
              Source: National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health

                                 suicidal behavior, hints at not being        won’t open up with you, find an adult
                                 around in the future, expresses a desire     with whom she can talk, such as a family
                                 to die, gives away prized possessions, has   physician or a mental health professional.
                                 experienced a recent loss, or makes

                                 threats of suicide. Sarah needs to talk
                                 with someone who cares and can help.
                                                                              Anger and Violence
                                 Give her an opportunity to discuss her         My 16-year-old son, James, is failing in
                                 feelings and what is causing them. If she      school. He is often angry, has no inter-

                                                                                est in our family, and sometimes doesn’t
                                                                                come home until 4 a.m. I have no idea
                            Risk Factors for Suicide                            what he’s doing and worry he might get
                            People most at-risk for committing                  into trouble. At home, he spends most
                            suicide are those who have several of               of the time in his room playing violent
                            the following characteristics. It is                video games and listening to music with
                            important to note that many people                  violent lyrics. I’ve heard him plotting
                            experience one or more of these risk                “revenge” with friends, and he seems to
                            factors but are not suicidal.                       always be talking about different
                                                                                weapons. This worries me, but I don’t
                            s   Previous suicide attempt
                                                                                really believe he would hurt anyone.
                            s   Depression                                      What can I do?
                            s   A family history of suicide                   You are right to be worried. Although it
                            s   Easy access to lethal methods                 is difficult to predict who will become
                                (especially guns)                             violent, there are certain risk factors that
                            s   Abuse of alcohol or other drugs               may warn of possible danger. It is impor-
                                                                              tant to keep in mind that the presence of
                            s   Loss of a relationship, or a
                                                                              these signs does not necessarily mean that
                                social humiliation
                                                                              a person will become violent. These risk
                            s   A serious physical illness                    factors include: a history of violent or
                            s   Social isolation                                  aggressive behavior, carrying weapons
                            s   Hopelessness                                      or access to weapons, the use of alco-
                                                                                  hol and other drugs, isolation from
                            s   Impulsive or aggressive
                                                                                  family and/or peers, poor grades, and
                                                                                  trouble controlling anger. The more of
                            s   Being a runaway                                   these warning signs we see, the more
                            Source: Adapted from the Surgeon                           we believe that children are “at
                                    General's Call to Action to
                                    Prevent Suicide (1999)
                                                                                       risk” for violent behavior. No sin-
                                                                                       gle factor indicates a problem, but
                                                                                       if we see a pattern of several risk
                                                                                       factors, it’s time to take precau-
                                                                                       tions. James exhibits many of these
                                                                                       warning signs. He is isolated from
16                                                                                     his family, failing in school and

staying out much too late at night.
He has discussed weapons, has a
problem with anger, and you heard
him plotting revenge. Has James
been bullied, or excluded, or teased
by peers or family members?
Children who have been bullied,
mistreated by others, or feel they
have been mistreated, are also at
                                                 with adolescents
higher risk for being violent than those who
                                                 and their fami-
have not. The same is true for children who
                                                 lies. When a
feel rejected or alone.
                                                 teen exhibits a
    As you consider various risk factors, bear
                                                 number of warn-
in mind that these are “red flags,” not pre-
                                                 ing signs for vio-
dictors of violence. They are warning signs
                                                 lence, as James
of possible trouble. After some of the recent
                                                 does, parents
high profile shootings in schools, the media
                                                 should act
has publicized lists of warning signs. These
lists can be used to unfairly label nonviolent
                                                 safety’s sake. As a precaution, they should
youth as dangerous, because many adoles-
                                                 make sure their children do not have access
cents who will never become violent will
                                                 to firearms, and remove other dangerous
show some of the red flag behaviors.
                                                 materials or objects from the home. Refer
    Still, parents should recognize these
                                                 to the sections on “Getting Help for Your
warning signs and use them as a cue that
                                                 Teen” (page 22) for guidance.
something is wrong and a child needs help.
    When parents see a serious problem
affecting their child and can't seem to
resolve it, they should connect with some-
one who can. To help James, you should
look for a child/family mental health
professional who is well-respected in your
community and experienced in working

W    hen Parents Need Help First
            arents can do much to help their
            teenage sons or daughters through a
     variety of difficult situations. Depression,
     violence, substance abuse, and bullying are
                                                      Parental Alcohol or
                                                      Substance Abuse
                                                        I was called to school by my daughter’s
                                                        principal. Apparently, when her math
     all serious issues that parents and teens can      teacher corrected her in class, Deirdre
     work together to help resolve. Sometimes,          threw a book at him and stormed out of
     however, parents need to confront their            the classroom. Deirdre’s explanation was
     own problems before they can help their            that “no one else cares, so why should I?”
     teenager. Children who live in violent             Today was a wake-up call. I have to
     households, or homes where one of the              admit it: My wife has a serious problem
     caretakers uses drugs or abuses alcohol,           with alcohol. I’m not home much. I’m
     often sustain severe emotional trauma that         always avoiding the chaos. I know this
     can last a lifetime. Even if a parent’s vio-       is serious. What can I do now?
     lent behavior or substance abuse occurred
     when a child was small, the child may still      It sounds as though you recognize that
     suffer during his or her adolescent years.       your wife’s alcohol abuse is affecting
                    Domestic violence and             Deirdre. This is the first step. Parents with
                parental alcohol or other drug        serious alcohol and other drug problems
                abuse adversely affect children.      are often overly absorbed in their own
                Research shows that approximate-      needs and problems. They may not pre-
                ly 90 percent of children who live    pare meals, or be present at them. They
                in homes where there is intimate      may not carry their share of the house-
                partner violence see or hear the      hold responsibilities. They may not prop-
                abuse. Further, children who are      erly supervise their children’s homework
                         exposed to family vio-       and other aspects of their lives. Often
                         lence are much more          their moods dominate the family. Their
                         likely to become violent     anger leaves other family members fearful
                         than are children from       and anxious. Roles may be confused and
                         nonviolent families.         children end up taking care of the par-
                         Studies also show that if    ents. Communication is often muddled.
                         a parent uses alcohol or         Teens in such families feel isolated and
                         drugs, his or her children   alone, with no one to talk to. Their hurt
     are more likely to drink or use drugs.           and angry feelings may lead to depression,
         Below are examples of situations where       their own abuse of drugs, or may even
     children have been affected by current,          erupt in violent behavior, as in your situa-
     or even prior, parental behavior. If these       tion with your daughter. Children also
     situations sound familiar and if you need        sometimes seek attention and/or act out
     some help deciding what to do, read the          their feelings by shoplifting or commit-
     resources listed at the end of this section      ting other crimes.
18   and reach out for help for yourself or               So what can you do? First, children
     your partner.                                    should not feel alone and abandoned, nor

should they be caretakers for their parents.                    the consequences of his or her behavior
Deirdre needs a parent who will take respon-                    by making excuses and by getting him
sibility and act as a parent should. Make it                    or her out of difficult situations caused
clear that you are assuming this responsibili-                  by the alcohol or other drug abuse. It is
ty and let her know that you love her. She                      important to stop all such rescue attempts
also should know that you are aware that her                    immediately, so that the person with the
mother has a problem, and that it is affect-                    problem will fully experience the harmful
ing the whole family. Take time to talk with                    effects of his or her
Deirdre about what happened in school and                       drinking or drug use—
about how she is feeling about things at                        and thereby become
home. Finally, you should encourage your                        more motivated to stop.
wife to get help immediately.                                   Time your intervention.
                                                                Plan to talk with the per-
If a family member with an
                                                                son shortly after an inci-
alcohol or substance abuse
                                                                dent related to the alco-
problem is unwilling to seek
                                                                hol or other drug abuse
help . . . Is there any way to get
                                                                has occurred—for example,
him or her into treatment?
                                                                a serious family argument in
This can be a challenging situation. A per-                     which drinking or drug use
son with an alcohol or substance abuse                          played a part. Also choose a
problem cannot be forced to get help                            time when he or she is
except under certain circumstances, such as                     straight and sober, when
when a violent incident results in police                       both of you are in a calm frame of mind,
being called, or when it is a medical emer-                     and when you can speak privately.
gency. This doesn’t mean, however, that you                     Be specific. Tell the family member that
have to wait for a crisis to make an impact.                    you are concerned about his or her drinking
Based on clinical experience, many alcohol                      or drug use, and want to be supportive in
and substance abuse treatment specialists                       getting help. Back up your concern with
recommend the following steps* to help a                        examples of the ways in which his or her
person with an alcohol or substance abuse                       drinking or drug use has caused problems
problem accept treatment:                                       for you or your teenagers, including the
Stop all “rescue missions.” Family mem-                         most recent incident. If the family member
bers often try to protect a person with an                      is not responsive, let him or her know
alcohol or substance abuse problem from                         that you may have to take strong action to

*Source: Adapted from National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
         Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health
                               protect your children and yourself. Do
                               not make any ultimatums you are not
                               prepared to carry out.
                               Be ready to help. Gather information

                               in advance about local treatment options.
                               If the person is willing to seek help, call
                               immediately for an appointment with a
                               treatment program counselor. Offer to

                               go with the family member on the first
                               visit to a treatment program and/or
                                                                                 significant adults in the life
                               Alcoholics Anonymous ( or
                                                                                 of a person with any sort of
                               Narcotics Anonymous (
                                                                                 drug problem. These groups
                               meeting. (Consult your telephone directo-
                                                                                 help family members under-
                               ry for local phone numbers.)
                                                                                 stand that they are not
                               Call on a friend. If the family member            responsible for another family member’s
                               still refuses to get help, ask a friend to talk   drug abuse, and that they need to take
                               with him or her, using the steps described        steps to take care of themselves, regard-
                               above. A friend who is recovering from            less of whether the family member who
                               an alcohol or other drug problem may be           is abusing drugs chooses to get help.
                               particularly persuasive, but any caring,
                               nonjudgmental friend may be able to               Support Groups
                               make a difference. The intervention of            s   Al-Anon: 1-888-425-2666
                               more than one person, more than one                   For family members of a person with
                               time, is often necessary to persuade a per-           an alcohol or other drug problem.
                               son with a drug problem to seek help.
                                                                                 s   Alateen: 1-888-425-2666
                               Find strength in numbers. With the                    For children of a person with an alco-
                               help of a professional therapist, some                hol or other drug problem.
                               families join with other relatives and
                               friends to confront a person with an alco-
                                                                                 s   Families Anonymous: 1-800-736-9805
                               hol or substance abuse problem as a                   For family members of a person with a
                               group. While this approach may be effec-              substance abuse problem.
                               tive, it should only be attempted under           Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,
                               the guidance of a therapist who is experi-                National Institutes of Health

                               enced in this kind of group intervention.
                               Get support. Whether or not the family
                               member with an alcohol or other drug
                               problem seeks help, you may benefit from
                               the encouragement and support of other
                               people in your situation. The support
                               groups listed on this page, offered in
20                             most communities, hold regular meetings
                               for spouses, family members, and other

Domestic Violence
                                                             EXPOSED TO VIOLENCE

  After too many years of accepting my hus-
  band’s abuse, I finally stood up to him                    OR ABUSE
  about three years ago. He used to hit me,                  Young people exposed to violence, abuse, or
  yell, and pound on walls. I lived in terror.               neglect, may be traumatized by their experi-
  He would always be very sorry after-                       ences, and are more likely to be at risk for men-
  wards, apologizing to me and promising                     tal health problems, for drug abuse, and for
  things would change. He never abused the                   committing acts of violence.
  children, but I’m afraid they saw too                          Experiencing or witnessing traumatic events is
  much of this. Finally, one day I packed,                   painful and can hurt your teen as much as a
  took the kids, and left for a women’s shel-                physical injury. But your teen can recover
  ter. But now my 15-year-old daughter,                      successfully from trauma. Effective treatment
  Emily, has nightmares about her Dad,                       is available.
  and gets very nervous and jumpy at times.
  My 17-year-old son, Eric, has been getting
  loud and aggressive, just as his father used     easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irri-
  to get. I think he may even be abusing his       tability, muscle tension, and disturbed sleep.
  girlfriend. I feel as though I’m reliving the        Have you been in family therapy? This
  nightmare through Eric. Is there any hope?       treatment could help everyone. It gives
                                                   children an opportunity to identify
You were wise to get the protection of a           and express feelings honestly. Emily
women’s shelter for yourself and your fami-        could get help dealing with her anxiety
ly. There is likely a connection between           and working out her feelings toward
your husband’s past behavior, and the pres-        her father. Eric could get help for his
ent situation. Children who witness vio-           own aggressive tendencies, learn anger
lence are more at risk for a variety of mental     management skills, and find healthy
health problems, including depression and          ways of expressing his feelings. If he is
anxiety, and are more likely to become vio-        abusing his girlfriend, it is even more
lent themselves. Your husband was the male         essential that he gets help immediately. The
role model for Eric, who saw aggressive            tragedy of violence between adult family
behavior patterns that he may be copying.          members is that children who witness such
    Many children who witness violence in          violence are more at risk of becoming violent
the home suffer from anxiety problems.             themselves, and the cycle may continue from
Emily surely has issues with anxiety and may       one generation to the next. If you are still in
well be feeling the impact of the trauma of        a violent relationship, but need help, you can
what she witnessed. Some of the symptoms           call the National Domestic Violence Hotline
of anxiety disorder include restlessness, being    at 1-800-799-7233.
G            etting Help for Your Teen
                      etting help for your teen is a major
                      step in bringing him or her back
               from the edge of harm’s way, and promot-
               ing a healthy future. You should also know
                                                               worker, or school psychologist, you can
                                                               contact this person. The school principal
                                                               is also a good resource and may be able to
                                                               pull together appropriate staff members to
               that sometimes when a child is having seri-     talk with you about your child. If you
               ous difficulties, it may be a sign that there   have concerns about contacting school
               are family issues that should be addressed.     personnel, most school districts have des-
               When seeking help for your teen, consider       ignated a parent advocate or have a parent
               whether the rest of the family could also       resource center to help parents navigate
               benefit from counseling.                        the school system.
                                                                   School personnel are also a good source
                                                               of referrals for mental health services.
               If There are
               Problems at School
               If your teen is having difficulty at school,    If Your Teen Appears
               such as poor grades, behavior problems,         Depressed or
               or being bullied, it is important to reach      Anxious
               out to school officials. They can provide       Depression is more than the blues; it
               support, and also may be able to give you       is more than the normal, everyday ups
               additional information about what has           and downs. When that “down” mood,
               been going on with your child.                  combined with other symptoms (see
                   You can start with your child’s teacher.    “Symptoms of Depression,” page 15),
               If the school has a counselor, social           lasts for more than a couple of weeks,
                                                               the condition may be clinical depression.
Connect with Your Child’s School                               This is a serious health problem that
                                                               affects the total person.
Research has shown that students whose
                                                                   Anxiety disorders are illnesses that fill
parents are involved and connected with
                                                               people’s lives with overwhelming anxiety
them and their schools are more likely to
                                                                and fear that doesn’t go away, and often
succeed in school. It can be difficult to
                                                                gets worse. These disorders can change
find the time to volunteer, but just build-
                                                                your teen’s behavior by diminishing physi-
ing a relationship with your child’s teach-
                                                                cal health and appearance, school per-
ers, and the school itself,
                                                                formance, social activity, and the ability to
can go a long way in pre-
                                                                handle everyday decisions and pressures.
venting your child from
                                                                   If you think your child has an emo-
feeling the isolation that
                                                               tional problem (even if it is not serious
can lead to problems.
                                                               enough to be called a mental illness) that
                                                               requires more help than you can give, the
                                                               sooner he or she gets the needed help, the
22                                                             sooner he or she may feel better.

    Mental disorders are real illnesses,
                                                       GET HELP

                                            WHERE TO
just like diabetes or other physical ail-
ments. Having a mental illness does                    If unsure where to go for help, check the Yellow
not mean a person is weak, or a fail-                  Pages under "mental health," "health," "suicide
ure, or is not really trying. It means he              prevention," "crisis intervention services," "hot-
or she needs treatment. Untreated,                     lines," "hospitals," or "physicians" for phone
mental disorders can result in damage                  numbers and addresses.
to self-esteem, poor school perform-
                                                       In times of crisis, the emergency room doctor at a
ance, problems with relationships and
                                                       hospital may be able to provide temporary help
even suicide. Mental health treatment
                                                       for an emotional problem, and will be able to tell
works; most people can be helped.
                                                       you where and how to get further help.
Treatment helps reduce the symptoms
of the mental disorder, improve rela-                  Listed below are the types of people and places
tionships, strengthen coping skills and                that will make a referral, or provide diagnostic and
promote behaviors that make a per-                     treatment services:
son’s life better.                                     s   Family doctors
    Neither parent nor teen                            s   Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists,
should be afraid of what peo-
                                                           psychologists, social workers, or mental health
ple might say or think about
seeking treatment. You should
draw upon many available
                                                       s   Health maintenance organizations
resources and may even be                              s   Community mental health centers
surprised by the support you                           s   Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient
receive from your friends and                              clinics
your teen’s friends.                                   s   University or medical school-affiliated programs
I want to get help                                     s   State hospital outpatient clinics
for my teen, but I                                     s   Family service or community agencies
don’t know how to                                      s   Clergy
find someone good.
                                                       s   Private clinics and facilities
In picking a mental health
                                                       s   Employee assistance programs
professional, it’s important
to identify a person who is                            s   Local medical, psychological, or psychiatric
experienced in working with youth                          associations
and families, and highly respected in
the community. School administra-
tors, counselors and teachers often know
                             mental health providers with this expertise,    There are so many different
                             and can usually make recommendations.           kinds of mental health
                             Family doctors or your local mental health      providers . . . what’s the
                             association can also point you in the right     difference? How do I know

                             direction. Ask other parents as well—they       what is right for my child?
                             are among the best referral sources.
                                                                             Social workers, mental health counselors,
                                 Skilled mental health professionals
                                                                             psychiatric nurses, psychologists and psy-
                             understand that adolescents may be slow

                                                                             chiatrists, among others, all have different
                             to embrace professional help, and perhaps
                                                                             kinds of training and skills, and provide
                             were brought for help against their will.
                                                                             different types of treatment. In therapy
                             These professionals will carefully build
                                                                             sessions, all of these mental health profes-
                             trust with your teen, important for an
                                                                             sionals help people talk about their expe-
                             effective therapeutic relationship. They
                                                                             riences, thoughts and feelings, in order to
                             help young people understand that much
                                                                             solve personal and family problems and
                             of their conversation is kept confiden-
                                                                             treat mental illness.
                             tial—and also spell out the limits of con-
                                                                                 Psychiatrists and other medical
                                                                             doctors can determine if there are
                                 Language and other cultural issues may
                                                                             other physical illnesses that may be
                             exist as barriers to accessing quality mental
                                                                             contributing to the problem and can
                             health services. Parents should expect that
                                                                             prescribe medicine when this is deter-
                             mental health professionals are sensitive to
                                                                             mined to be an important part of the
                             cultural and ethnic differences, and can
                                                                             treatment. Medications are available
                             address issues affecting diverse populations.
                                                                             that effectively treat mental illnesses
                                 If you haven’t found a good referral
                                                                             that are severe or disabling. They are
                             in your community, the Substance
                                                                             often used in combination with therapy.
                             Abuse and Mental Health Service
                                                                                 Your family physician or school guid-
                             Administration runs a Knowledge
                                                                             ance counselor can help you assess what
                             Exchange Network (KEN) which
                                                                             type of professional help you need.
                             can provide help in finding a
                             mental health professional.                               I know this is all going
                             You can visit their website at                            to be expensive . . .
                    or call                              how will I afford it?
                             their toll-free number at 1-800-
                                                                                       You may have some mental
                             789-2647 (Monday–Friday,
                                                                                       health coverage in your health
                             8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., EST).
                                                                                       insurance plan. But if your abil-
                                 For more information about
                                                                                                     ity to pay is limit-
                             culturally sensitive services, you
                                                                                                     ed, you should be
                             can call the Office of Minority
                                                                                                     able to access
                             Health Resource Center at
                                                                                                     services. Your
24                                                                                                   state department
                                                                                                     of mental health

or local community mental health center           cies, school coun-
can direct you to these resources. City and       selors, or community
county mental health services are often           mental health cen-
offered on a sliding-fee scale, based on your     ters. You can also
financial resources, and some health centers      contact national
and mental health professionals in the com-       or local substance
munity may also provide for a sliding scale       abuse treatment
fee to those who cannot afford the full fee.      helplines, such as
                                                  the Substance Abuse
What about help for substance                     and Mental Health
abuse?                                            Services Administration’s
Parents are usually the first line of defense     Center for Substance
against substance abuse. Set a good example       Abuse Treatment
by not using illicit drugs, and if you drink      National Helpline
alcohol, do so responsibly and only in            at 1-800-662-HELP.
moderation. Know your family’s history
of alcohol and drug abuse and talk to your
children about it. If you have a drug prob-
                                                  General Tips When
lem (alcohol, prescription drug abuse,
                                                  Getting Help for Your
or illicit drugs), get help for yourself. Teach
                                                  Teen and Your Family
your child or teenager that it is okay to         Here are general tips on getting help for
get help. Learn the signs of alcohol and          you and your teen:
other drug abuse and take action to help          s   Get the whole family involved. Family
your children if they have a problem.                 stress and turmoil contribute to the prob-
(See "Signs of Possible Alcohol or Other              lems of teenagers. Teens’ problems add to
Drug Abuse," page 13.)                                family stress. The whole family must
    Teachers, doctors, sports coaches, clergy         work together to solve those problems.
members and others involved with youth                Ideally, the entire family should partici-
have important roles to play in helping to            pate in counseling. The priority, however,
recognize and get help for teens who are              is to ensure that your teen gets help. He
                                                      or she might first want to meet privately
using alcohol or other drugs.
                                                      with a counselor and may agree to family
    To find the right help, you should start
                                                      involvement later.
by getting information about substance
abuse and mental health services in your
                                                  s   Be patient. Understand that experienced
                                                      counselors take their time with young
community. Ask your health care profes-
                                                      people who enter counseling against
sional for a referral, or contact local hospi-
                                                      their will. It may take a while to develop
tals, state and local substance abuse agen-
                                 rapport and a while longer for teens           progress is not being made, parents
                                 to be ready to make changes. Parents           should ask how the counseling
                                 should ask counselors to keep them             approach might be modified. If
                                 informed on what to expect and                 the modified approaches don’t work,

                                 to discuss progress as it is made.             parents should consider getting a
                                 Counselors also can help parents               second opinion or transferring to
                                 understand what to look for in terms           another professional.
                                 of changes and approximately when          s   Be your child’s advocate. Whether you

                                 these changes might occur. If your             have private health coverage or you rely
                                 child is prescribed medication by a            on public programs for health care,
                                 physician, be informed about the side          find out what treatment services are
                                 effects and possible adverse reations,         covered and for how long. Let your
                                 and understand that medications may            health care professional, insurance com-
                                 take several weeks to work.                    pany, social worker, case manager and
                             s   Evaluate your counselor as you would           anyone else involved in your child’s
                                 any other professional you work with:          treatment, know what you think your
                                 You should feel good about the person,         child and family need. Make sure you
                                 and you should also get results.               are involved in decisions about your
                             s   Monitor progress. When you are                 child’s treatment.
                                 unhappy with progress, talk it over
                                 with the counselor. Sometimes parents      Conclusion
                                 are impatient and expect immediate         Parents matter when it comes to helping
                                 results. Counselors should explain their   their children successfully navigate the
                                 timetable and perhaps point out            teenage years to ensure a safe and healthy
                                 progress that may not be so obvious. If    passage from childhood into adulthood.
                                                                            Being knowledgeable and keeping com-
                                                                            munication open, recognizing warning
                                                                            signs of problems and seeking help
                                                                            when you think it’s needed, are impor-
                                                                            tant contributions that support your
                                                                            teen’s development.

                                                                                Above All . . .
                                                                                s   Never give up on your teen.
                                                                                s   Never relinquish your love and
                                                                                    your hope.
                                                                                s   Keep the conversations going—
                                                                                    raising children is a lifetime
                                                                                    of learning.

            Youth Violence                                Mental Health Services

            s   National Youth Violence Prevention        s   National Institute of Mental Health
                Resource Center (Federal Clearinghouse)
                1-800-968-8484                                childmenu.cfm
                               s   Substance Abuse and Mental Health
            s   SafeUSA (Centers for Disease Control          Services Administration
                 and Prevention)                              1-800-789-2647
                1-888-252-7751                                (Mon.–Fri. 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m., EST)

            Domestic Violence                             General Information for Parents
            s   National Domestic Violence Hotline        s   U.S. Department of Justice
                1-800-799-SAFE (7233)               
                                    s   U.S. Department of Health and Human
            Alcohol and Other Substance
                                                          s   U.S. President's Management Council
            s   Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
                Toll-free Helpline
                1-800-662-4357                            General Information for Teens
            s   National Institute on Alcohol Abuse       s
                and Alcoholism                      
            s   National Institute on Drug Abuse          s   Access America
            s   Office of National Drug Control Policy
            s   Substance Abuse and Mental Health
                Services Administration

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