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Getting teens the help they need

February 13, 2006|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

Mark Twain wrote, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

We all wish that our teenagers would sit down and talk with us, confide in us and tell us everything that's going on in their lives. But, as my son once told me, "Mom, that's not gonna happen!"

Getting through to a teenager isn't always easy, especially if they've already decided that you don't know what you're talking about. So, it's a good idea to know where else your teenagers can turn for help with problems and concerns.

A natural start is at their high school counseling center. Many students see counselors as people who are only there to help pick out classes, or show them where to apply for scholarships. But most counselors earned their titles by becoming highly skilled in "counseling."

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As part of earning my degree in guidance and counseling, I was required to participate in both individual and group counseling sessions. When I started the sessions, I participated only because they were required. I didn't think that I had a lot to learn from counseling. As they went on, I found that they really helped me to understand myself, my boyfriend (now my husband) and my family a lot better. The sessions helped me learn to think through problems and develop new ways to address them. I'm not sure I would have even finished my degree had it not been for those sessions.

If a teenager is struggling, sometimes a teacher or a mentor can step in and be the adult who can be trusted. Is there a teacher or coach who seems to have a really positive influence on your student? If so, talk with that person and ask if he or she could help. Or suggest that your teen approach them before or after school.

Not all students feel comfortable confiding in someone at school. There are other options. Many faith-based organizations-churches, mosques, and synagogues-offer youth groups for teenagers. The leaders of these groups often are trained to work with teenagers and young adults, to help them with their concerns. After-school programs that your teenager participates in also provide good options. Many groups like Boys and Girls Clubs or Big Brothers Big Sisters offer someone trained to help their members deal with personal concerns.

I work with a man who teaches martial arts as a hobby. The parent of one of his top students called him one day and explained a problem the student was having. The parent knew her son admired his martial arts teacher, even though the teacher was as old as the young man's father. He was glad to help and ended up having a very positive influence on the situation, which was resolved within a few days.

Your employer may also offer an "employee assistance program." Usually these programs offer employees and their families access to free or low-cost counseling. See if your employer offers something like this, and give them a call. Usually they ask a few questions, then help you make an appointment with the appropriate professional.

Teenagers often feel like they're the only ones who've ever faced a certain problem. They need to know that they are not alone. Nearly one out of ten high school graduates in 2005 who took the ACT indicated that they needed help with "personal concerns." Until, like Mark Twain, your teenager reaches his 20's and realizes his parents are pretty smart after all, it's a good idea to have a backup adult he can turn to with problems.




Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Have a question you want answered in a future column? Send an e-mail to Rose at AskRose@act.org.

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