Headed for a crash?

While rebellion is common among teens, parents need to know when to push back

While rebellion is common among teens, parents need to know when to push back

July 08, 2005|by KRISTIN WILSON

When it comes to troubled youth, Amanda Matt has seen it all.

As a family intervention specialist with the Institute for Family Centered Services in Hagers-town, she has seen teens enter the juvenile justice system. And she's watched as teens are removed from their families.

But she's also seen children and families stop the downward cycle of rebellion and bad behavior to turn their lives around.

The key is early intervention and family involvement, she says.

Dealing with rebellious behavior is a reality almost every parent must confront on some level, says Dr. Joseph Jurand, general psychiatrist with the Washington County Health System.


"In your typical, appropriate, healthy family - whether it's single parent or double parent - a healthy kid will start to test the boundaries" around age 12 and 13, he says. "If you don't have a kid who is pushing back some, something's wrong."

Time for rebellion

How a child navigates the adolescent years can determine if he will make strong decisions leading to a positive future, or if he will become another teen statistic.

Children need to make mistakes and test the limits in order to grow into independent adults, Jurand says. But it's crucial that parents respond to such changes and rebellions to let their children know when they are out of bounds.

"Kids will start to talk back to you," Jurand says. "They might experiment with using language that is not appropriate in your own household. They have to be instructed what is appropriate."

"I would agree rebellion in some nature is a very healthy thing," Matt says. "Kids are trying to carve their niche. Answer, 'Who am I?' And separate themselves from their parents."

Dealing with an adolescent can be challenging and can test a family's patience, Jurand notes. But, "it's important for the parents to continue to win all the little battles." If a child discovers they have more control than their parents do, "it's very hard to turn the clock back," he adds.

Administrators at St. Maria Goretti High School have a specific approach to dealing with deviant behavior.

Called the St. Benedictine approach, students are treated with respect when they break the rules. Instead of being punished with detention, expelled from school or yelled at, they are asked to explain their side of the story, or their inappropriate behavior. They often are asked to come up with their own solution for discipline, as well.

"St. Benedict says ... if you want to change behavior you have to deal with a child with respect and respectability. You don't castigate or demean. You don't attack the person. What they think and how they see it has merit," Goretti Principal Christopher M. Siedor says.

The school finds that when it asks students to sit down and calmly explain themselves, the students are more apt to listen and admit fault in their behaviors.

Siedor remembers one instance where the administration addressed a confrontation between a student and a teacher.

"By the time it was over, there was a commitment to an apology to the teacher," he says. The student "was allowed to voice his objection to the way he was treated. If kids are allowed to sit down and process and voice their concerns" it shows them "that their thoughts have merit," he says.

Outside help

Sometimes children get away from their parents' guidance. If they do, it is important to squash rebellious actions as soon as possible, Jurand says.

"The hardest thing for a parent to do when a child is very troubled is to get out of the way and hire professional help," he says. "If it's gone too far, the parent can't get the kid back in (the barn). But that doesn't mean that nobody can."

In fact, almost all children can benefit from being around a positive, adult role model apart from their parents, Jurand says. "Professional help" doesn't have to be a psychiatrist, therapist or doctor it can be an athletic coach, scout director or church leader.

If a child seems to be getting into trouble or is slipping in school and hanging with kids who seem to be a negative influence, offer that child several options to get involved with positive activities. Parents should make sure they know who the coaches or leaders are, so that whatever their child chooses, they will be in a positive, constructive environment.

"Kids need to be kept very busy with a social circle that you, the parent, helps tailor," Jurand says.

Matt has seen kids start getting back on track when they get involved with extracurricular activities or nonprofit, community programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters.

No matter how tough it can be to enforce the rules and maintain boundaries, "The parent must not give up and say 'This kid is hopeless,'" Jurand says.

If kids have turned down a wrong path and seem to be out of control, sometimes parents have to admit some fault as well, say Jurand, Siedor and Matt.

"What parents fear doing is sitting down with a professional to find out what they did wrong," Jurand says.

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