Born to Be Wild: Why Teens Take Risk, and How We Can Help Keep Them Safe
By Jess Shatkin
A groundbreaking, research-based guide that sheds new light on why young people make dangerous choices–and offers solutions that work
Texting while driving. Binge-drinking. Unprotected sex. There are plenty of reasons for parents to worry about getting a late-night call about their teen. But most of the advice parents and educators hear about teens is outdated and unscientific–and simply doesn’t work.
Acclaimed adolescent psychiatrist and educator Jess Shatkin brings more than two decades’ worth of research and clinical experience to the subject, along with cutting-edge findings from brain science, evolutionary psychology, game theory, and other disciplines — plus a widely curious mind and the perspective of a concerned dad himself.
Using science and stories, fresh analogies, clinical anecdotes, and research-based observations, Shatkin explains:
* Why “scared straight,” adult logic, and draconian punishment don’t work
* Why the teen brain is “born to be wild”–shaped by evolution to explore and take risks
* The surprising role of brain development, hormones, peer pressure, screen time, and other key factors
* What parents and teachers can do–in everyday interactions, teachable moments, and specially chosen activities and outings–to work with teens’ need for risk, rewards and social acceptance, not against it.
The myths of teen boot camps and scared straight programs for troubled and defiant teens
Years ago parents would threaten to send their children, especially defiant and belligerent teens to military school or boot camp.
Then some sheriff’s departments developed Scared Straight programs through their jails.
Inmates would speak to the youth about their experiences, both inside and on the outside, hopefully giving them enough of a jolt to realize they don’t want to be in their shoes.
If you are interested in scared straight programs, sometimes they can be effective with certain teenagers. Check with your local sheriff’s department to see if they offer them. They are becoming more and more scarce – likely because they are non-effective.
In regards to military schools, parents are making false threats since they will be quick to learn that these type of boarding schools are typically a privilege and honor to attend.
Your child will need a good GPA to be accepted as well as be willing to attend. Not to mention, if they are struggling with any type of experimentation of substance use, military campuses are not immune to students bringing in drugs or alcohol.
They will be reprimanded, and like a traditional school – will be expelled within their school policy. However, you will forfeit your tuition with that that typically starts at $25,000.
Boot camps are what parents think about initially. They believe it’s a quick way to teach their teen a lesson – which typically can backfire on them.
They are very difficult to locate at this point. With a lot of negative press as well as very poor results, most have been closed and no longer in operation.
Boot camps were usually a weekend where teens were placed in a military-style environment with rigorous physical exercise in an effort to break your child down.
It is an in-your-face type of discipline that isn’t resolving any of their emotional issues that is causing their negative behavior at home or school.
Many of these teens are already broken – emotionally. They are usually depressed and struggle with low self-esteem, placing them in an environment that only degrades them will likely build more anger and resentment – especially towards the people that put them there – the parents.
We challenge parents to switch places. If you are going through a rough time in your life, whether it be a divorce or a friend that is not treating you well, how would you feel if no one was speaking with you and you had people screaming at you constantly and degrading you as you are struggling just to get by?
Healthy Teen Help Choices
Art therapy helps inspire teens.
Residential therapy, which includes emotional growth programs helps your teen work through their issues. Having conversations with counselors, peers and also participating in activities that can help build their confidence to make better choices is what can help start the recovery process.
Before you think your child needs a good punishment, think about what it will really achieve?
Being a teenager today is not easy.Being a parent is even more of a challenge today – we all have to do our best to make it work and give our kids the best future. Choosing the primitive and punitive road usually isn’t the best decision.
Do you have questions or want to learn more about quality residential therapy? Concerned about how to pay for it? Schools and programs offer financial options that parents have considered.
Contact us today to learn more about teen help programs.
The Pandemic, Teens and Depression: How You Can Help
Stuck at home for months on end and removed from their normal active social lives, many teens may have fallen into a dark period. Considering these unusual factors, a rise in instances of teen depression during the pandemic may not be unexpected. But by no means does that mean it should be ignored.
The three biggest mood conditions affecting teenagers between 13 and 18 years old (anxiety, depression, and adjustment disorders) have been shown to have increased by 80% to 90% between the spring of 2020 and the previous year.
Substance abuse levels among teenagers increased by about 65% in March and April of 2020, and instances of intentional self-harm skyrocketed. In the Northeast of the United States, the number of intentional self-harm instances rose to 334% among teenagers in August of 2020 as compared to August of 2019.
These statistics may be alarming, but that is all the more reason to investigate the causes of these all-too-common problems and search for solutions. In this article, we will take a deeper look at how the pandemic has caused an increase in teen depression. Then we will explore what you can do to help support your teenager.
Effects of the Pandemic on Your Teenager
In general, the teenaged years are already turbulent for most, and levels of anxiety and depression frequently begin during this 13- to 18-year-old age group. The life of a teenager is full of developmental transitions, and life transitions.
The hormonal changes of puberty coupled with the increased pressure of high school social life, applying for college, and impending adulthood can create an intensely pressurized period in any teenager’s life.
But with the pandemic, not only were the usual pressures and anxieties heightened, but the typical releases were removed. Teenagers accustomed to venting with their friends after school, meeting with a variety of teachers and mentors, exercising during sports practice, and engaging in a variety of activities that stimulated and challenged them were now isolated inside their homes. Social activity, mental stimulation, and school all took place over the internet, and that social isolation coupled with increased time online spelled a recipe for disaster for many susceptible teens.
Experts have not yet made direct links between the pandemic and increases in youth suicide. They have noted, however, that the pandemic has caused added stress on teenagers, and has left many teenagers feeling hopeless about the future as well. Instead of connecting with others, teens have been confronted with financial fallout and an unceasing flurry of grim news reporting which has left them stewing in negative thoughts that can exacerbate any pre-existing anxiety or depression.
What You Can Do to Help
Allow Them Space to Breathe
Many parents have found that their teenager has become increasingly withdrawn and uncommunicative during the pandemic. Even in the face of stony silence, it is important to make clear to your teen that they are not alone. Try creating a designated time to share openly- and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
Make sure your teen knows that they can trust you, and that you are open to having frank and even difficult conversations with them.
While they should certainly feel that their parents offer a safe space to communicate, it is also vital for your teens to have some healthy privacy and alone time. Allow them to recoup and retreat into their rooms to listen to music, be creative, read, play, or process through complex thoughts. Give them space to breathe but pay attention to any especially spiky moods and extreme downturns of behavior. You don’t want to smother your teen, but at the same time, you want to make sure they are safe. Try to strike a healthy balance between observation and trust.
Maintain Social Connections
Particularly for teens going through intense emotional turmoil and facing down uncommon pressures caused by the pandemic, maintaining social connections is vital. Some parents have taken the approach of loosening social media restrictions, with widely beneficial results. Encourage your teens to continue connecting with their peers, even online.
Just make sure to implement healthy boundaries and restrictions so your teenager isn’t chatting online to the exclusion of everything else- particularly exercise and sleep. Try implementing a nighttime social media curfew, so your teens are not exposed to the glaring blue light of the screen right before bedtime. You may also want to restrict social media usage to age-appropriate platforms. That can help protect your teens from cyber bullies, hackers, spam, or inappropriate content.
You can also organize family and friend gatherings via video chat. Your teen may be reticent to attend, but these reminders of pre-pandemic life can be helpful for increasing a feeling of social connection and reminding your teen that they are not alone.
Implement Healthy Routines
While the last thing your teenager may want to do is participate in family exercise sessions, or follow bedtime guidelines, these are some of the most important tools you can use to try to combat the effects of anxiety and depression. Because anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders have physical bases, encouraging your teenager to get exercise and regular sleep can help ease the underlying disorders. This can be a vicious cycle; the less sleep your teen gets, the worse their mood disorder may become, thus making it harder to sleep or to go to bed at a reasonable hour.
Try to help your teen create and maintain a regular daily routine that can provide a structure to their days and evenings. One of the most disruptive factors of the pandemic has been the removal of regular routines, which allow teenagers to disregard normal waking hours, school times, and bedtimes.
Create a shared calendar to demarcate when online learning should happen, when your teens are expected to complete their chores, and even family outings for exercise and a change of scenery. Encouraging regular physical activity can help increase the body’s responses against depression and anxiety and regulate the sleep cycle.
Bring in a Professional
You may also want to incorporate assistance from a designated mental health professional. Bringing an extra source of support can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety for your teen and can also provide extra support for parents of teenagers struggling with emotional imbalances.
Talk to your teenager’s teacher or school counselors, and consider trying on internet-based therapist, counselor, or psychologist. You can also look into a variety of online mental health programs that encourage teenagers to engage with their emotions and connect with others, sometimes anonymously.
Giving your teenager a safe space to vent and process their emotions with an impartial third-party professional can help a huge amount, and can allow them to talk about things they might not feel comfortable sharing with a parent or sibling- particularly when you are all sharing the close quarters of home during the pandemic.
Connecting with Your Teen
The pandemic has been difficult for all of us, and some of the problems that parents face can sometimes be transferred to their kids accidentally. Remember that your teenager may be able to handle more than you think. Connect with them honestly and openly up to a point, making sure they know that they are heard, seen, and respected.
Allow them to hide away when they need to, but also make it clear that you are there for them as a strong pillar of support, no matter how difficult it may seem. Let them know that you are available to help them get through whatever they are experiencing, and that together you can help ease some of the pressure that your teen may feel.
When should parents snoop rather than monitor their teen’s online behavior?
This has been a debate for years and the answer comes back to when safety trumps privacy.
Especially now as technology is in the hands of every teens and many tweens, as well as COVID has locked us online more than ever — parents need to be in tune with how are teens are dealing with peer pressure, friendships and most of all, digital school life.
Teenagers earn their trust with their parents. Respecting each others privacy should always be priority, however if you fear your teenager is heading down a dark path, and is not willing to talk to you or a third party (therapist, guidance counselor, relative or adult friend), you may have to cross the line of trust.
Warning signs it might be time to investigate:
Is your teen becoming very secretive? Sure, teens do like their privacy, however if you have a “gut feeling” something is deeper than a secret, you may have to cross that line. There is nothing stronger than a parents intuition.
Is your teen becoming withdrawn? Again, teens will develop some attitudes of not wanting to be with adults, however when it becomes extreme, it may be time to cross that line. The pandemic has caused a rise in stress, anxiety and defiance in many teenagers. Parents are struggling to keep up with the challenging behavioral changes.
Is your teen changing peer groups? Are they hanging with a less than desirable group of friends, even virtually? Have they started joining risky chatrooms? Possibly meeting strangers? Sneaking out?
Is your teens eating habits changing? Eating more or less? Binging? Especially during this pandemic, families need to try to have meal times several times a week.
Is your teen sneaking out? Becoming extremely defiant? Not respecting your boundaries or house rules?
Overall, is your teen slowly becoming a child you don’t recognize?
Are you snooping or are you legitimately monitoring your teens?
Should you read your teen’s diary? Scroll through their text messages or even befriend them on their social networking sites? That is a personal question only you can answer.
Remember writing can be very healthy for teens (and adults for that matter), so if your teen isn’t giving you any valid reasons to “invade their privacy” – respect it.
When safety trumps privacy –is the time to pry – but every day you should be monitoring your child’s online activity – it’s called parenting.
The latest trend with online behavior that have many parents concerned, is their teen’s that are meeting unsavory people online and attempting to meet-up offline. Or their teen is spending an enormous amount of time on sexual sites (porn) or possibly engaging in sexual activities online (such as sending sext messages) to people they don’t know.
This is exactly when safety trumps privacy. If you’ve exhausted your local resources and the behavior is not ending, it might be time to consider the next step. Residential therapy can be an option to steer your teen down a healthy path.
As a teenager, navigating a depressed friend can be tricky. Maybe your friend doesn’t have understanding parents, perhaps the administration doesn’t preserve privacy, or maybe your friend is simply in a very delicate situation. However, you should not be the sole support for a depressed friend. Here are a few steps to get your friend the help they need.
1. Be Open and Talk
One of the best things you can do for a depressed friend is to acknowledge how they feel. Express concern but be sure to avoid sounding selfish. Phrases like “How could you do this to me?” make the scenario seem as though it is about you rather than them. When you recognize their feelings and their situation, ask them how you can help and what they need from you. Don’t beat around the bush; be upfront about your concerns.
2. Speak to an Adult
Find an adult that can be trusted. Many teens struggle with confidentiality and prefer to suffer in silence than have their parents be told what is going on. Whether it be a school counselor, a teacher, or your own parent, you need to find someone who has access to professional help and advice. Be sure this person will not break your trust. A trustworthy adult will not go straight to the parents. They will take the time to understand the entirety of the situation and find the help your friend needs.
3. Refer Friend to Support Groups
Given the teen suicide rate, a number of teen suicide support groups exist both in reality and online. Whichever option works best for the friend should be taken advantage of. They need to speak with people who understand and have overcome the position they are currently in.
Another good source of support is the Suicide Hotline. The National Suicide Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. The people on the other end are trained in crisis prevention and can be anonymously reached 24 hours a day. You may want to provide this number to your friend or keep the number for yourself in the event your friend has a crisis.
4. Know the Warning Signs
Though your friend may be depressed, you should only begin to truly worry if they start to exhibit the warning signs of suicide. Some of these signs can include outlining plans for suicide, talking about feelings of hopeless or feeling trapped, giving away possessions, withdrawing from loved ones, or an increase in addictive behavior.
Addiction is very strongly linked to suicidal tendencies and anyone with an addiction should be closely monitored. This can include a self-harm addiction though most people who self-harm are often found not to be suicidal. However, any addiction should be treated as soon as it has been identified.
5. Contact Necessary Authorities
It can be extremely daunting to call the emergency line when you are afraid for your friend’s well-being. They may have told you they will hate you if you call the police or maybe you’re worried about outing them to their parents. However, your friend’s safety is the top priority. If you genuinely feel your friend is at risk of taking their own life, call 911 and send them to your friend’s home. An angry friend who is still alive is better than a dead friend.
Learning that a friend is suicidal, particularly in your teenage years, can be overwhelming and alarming. Too many teens internalize that they need to be the supporter and that using outside help is off limits. Most teens are not equipped to handle a suicidal person. You need to reach out and use whatever resources you have available. Don’t be afraid to call a hotline, call the police, or speak to a reliable adult.
Contributor: Steve Johnson has always been dedicated to promoting health and wellness in all aspects of life. Studying in the medical field has shown him how important it is for reputable health-related facts, figures, tips, and other guidance to be readily available to the public.
Does the scenario highlighted in the video below seem familiar?
I hope not, but the reality is that missing medicine could be a sign of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine abuse. It’s common to hear about teens abusing illegal drugs, alcohol and even prescription medication to get high, but many parents don’t realize that teens may also abuse OTC cough medicine.
If this is news to you, you may be wondering, why would teens abuse OTC cough medicine?
Teens often abuse OTC cough medicine because it’s affordable and easy to access. They may also mistakenly believe that it’s safer to abuse than illegal drugs.
The good news is that there are things you can do to help prevent your teen from abusing OTC cough medicine.
Have a conversation with your teen about the risks of medicine abuse. Ask your teen if he or she has ever been exposed to DXM abuse or whether it’s something that’s discussed amongst peers. The reality is that one out of three teenagers knows someone who has abused OTC cough medicine to get high. That’s scary to think about, but teens who learn about the risks of substance abuse from their parents are 50 percent less likely to use drugs.
Share what you’ve learned.
It’s also important to communicate with other parents, teachers and community members to spread awareness. These conversations can be had at sports games, school activities or parent events to help inspire other parents to become vigilant against cough medicine abuse.
Parents can’t protect their teenagers from all the dangers of the world, but with education, close monitoring and a supportive community… parents can prevent OTC medicine abuse.
Contributor: Anita Brikman joined the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) in 2016 and leads the association’s communications and public affairs functions. As a member of the senior management team, she is responsible for establishing and directing the organization’s communications strategies and goals. Anita is passionate about healthcare issues, with over two decades of experience as a news anchor and health reporter in major television markets – making medicine abuse awareness and prevention efforts important to her. She is also the mother of three teenagers.
This is probably hard to admit, but yesterday you caught your teenager red-handed taking money out of your purse. To add insult to injury, you are pretty sure this was not the first time they helped themselves to some of your hard-earned cash.
While it’s hard to believe your own flesh and blood is stealing from you, it’s not something that should be taken lightly. To nip this problem in the bud, and prevent it from blossoming into a full-blown issue that involves late-night calls from the police, check out these surefire tips:
Different Ages, Different Tactics
Young children can sometimes have difficulty understanding what does and what does not constitute stealing. Teenagers should know from right or wrong, but maybe you have younger children and have noticed them taking things that do not belong to them.
As Parents.com notes, young children can be taught to never take something from another person without asking first, and that it’s not OK to help themselves to money from a purse or wallet — even if they are used to being handed money now and then.
Teaching them not to steal must be done with a combination of patience and age-appropriate punishments. A 4-year-old who takes a dollar out of your wallet, for example, shouldn’t be able to watch their favorite show on TV that night. On the other hand, tweens and teens usually have the ability to understand that stealing is wrong, so they should face greater consequences.
Determine Why They’re Stealing
Kids and teens steal from family members for a wide variety of reasons. As Kids Health notes, school-age kids who take their siblings’ iPod or gift cards might not have the self-control needed to stop themselves. Tweens and teens may steal because it gives them a rush, or because they have seen their friends do it and they want to try it, too.
Meanwhile, some teens steal because they are rebelling against you and other adults, or because they are angry about something and want attention. In other cases, older kids steal because they cannot afford what they either need or want; sadly, in some cases, this may be alcohol or drugs. Stealing has also been linked to stress, and it can also be a cry for help.
What to Do Next
First, try to determine how often your kid has stolen something. A one-time money grab from your purse is definitely not OK, but it’s not the same as on-going and frequent stealing that has added up to hundreds of dollars, if not more. But no matter how often your tween or teen has taken something that’s not theirs, remind them that stealing is still a crime and that they must be held accountable.
As Empowering Parents notes, while you might be tempted to try to excuse your teenager’s actions based on their rebellious nature or sullen attitude, stealing is much more about breaking the law than someone’s personal feelings or problems. If you catch your child taking money from your wallet, they must pay it back, either by doing extra chores or missing out on allowance.
Teens who steal more than once may need professional help. This can come either from a family counselor or therapist, a religious leader like a minister or rabbi, or a school counselor. To set your mind at ease and help you rebuild trust with your teenager, consider installing a security camera inside your home.
Imagine letting your teenage son or daughter go out for the night only to find out they have been hospitalized or even died due to an overdose of some illicit pill they were offered at a music festival.
If you’re ever put into such a tragic situation, it would be hard not to blame yourself. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to six families in New York just a few weeks ago. Two teenagers died and four others were hospitalized due to an overdose of ecstasy (also known as “Molly”) at the Electronic Zoo music festival. The increasing popularity of this party drug makes it imperative parents recognize, discuss and address the risks their children face every day due to drugs.
Increasing Danger of Ecstasy
Ecstasy is increasingly becoming a risk for teenagers and college students alike. According to a 2011 study by MetLife and DrugFree.org, ecstasy use has been increasing. The rising popularity of raves and music festivals is contributing significantly to the increased use of the drug.
In addition, “safer” alternatives, such as ecstasy in its pure MDMA form, are making teenagers think they are being safe and smart with their drug use. The unfortunate reality is these “safe” alternatives are neither pure nor safe. According to a report by DrugScope.org, some “pure” ecstasy tablets can have as little as zero percent purity. The Drug Enforcement Administration reports even 100 percent pure ecstasy can cause difficulty breathing and a decreased ability of the body to regulate its temperature. With the near certainty adulterants and impurities are mixed into the pills, this risk is multiplied dramatically.
How to Protect Your Child
Don’t pretend these issues don’t exist. This simply will not work. The popularity of ecstasy among today’s youth means you need to take an active role in informing your child of the risks. Speak with your children about the dangers and provide a safe place where they can be honest with you about their thoughts and any experimentation they have done.
According to the non-profit HelpGuide.org, there are a number of warning signs for ecstasy use, including:
Sudden and chronic lethargy
Run-ins with the law
Rift in their relationships, parental or otherwise
Abandoning activities they used to enjoy
If you think your child has already developed a drug problem, seriously consider seeking treatment. Not all rehabilitation clinics are the same, and you should find a treatment center that incorporates a variety of services and methods. Seek a center that only employs certified professionals who are quick to answer any questions or concerns you have.
Prevention is the best method in ensuring your teen stays safe and healthy, so consider having a discussion about ecstasy as soon as possible.
If you suspect your teen is using ecstasy, seek help immediately. If your teen refuses local therapy or out-patient help, consider residential therapy. Contact us for more information.
Every day there is an average of 5,400 suicide attempts among young people grades seven through 12. One in ten teens develop a depressive disorder before the age of 16.
One of the top signs of depression among teens is addition to the Internet, which leads to more isolated screen time, especially with the Internet being so accessible via mobile phones.
Below is a roundup of signs a teen may be suffering from depression, as well as visual representation through this infographic:
Seven Signs Your Teen Is Suffering From Depression
Addicted to the Internet – Kids may go online to escape their problems, but excessive computer/mobile use and screen time only increases their isolation, making them more depressed with feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
Jokes About Committing Suicide – Kids who talk or joke about committing suicide may be suffering from depression. Your teen may be writing comments on social media saying things like “I’d be better off dead.”
Has Violent Outburst – Violence is most common in kids (especially teenagers) who are victims of cyberbullying. Their self-hatred can develop into homicidal rage.
Skips School – Depression can cause low energy and concentration difficulties. At school, this may lead to poor attendance, a drop in grades, or frustration with schoolwork.
Becomes Reckless – Depressed teenagers may engage in dangerous or high-risk behavior, such as reckless driving, out-of-control drinking and unsafe sex.
Loses Interestin Activities – Kids and teens who are depressed may lose interest in sports or activities they used to enjoy, because they have the reduced ability to function in events and social activities.
Critical Comments – Depressed kids are overly sensitive to rejection and may make harsh critical comments about themselves. These feelings of worthlessness can stem from trouble in teenage relationships.
A smartphone in the hands of a teenager or young child can encourage impulsivity, TeenSafe, one of the most popular parental monitoring technology services, provides the tools necessary to assist parents in detecting issues before they turn into serious problems.
TeenSafe aims to empower parents with the tools to monitor and manage a child’s online activity in order to help know when they need to open up a dialogue and start a conversation.