As a society we want our teenagers to be healthy, safe, happy, fulfilled, and connected to others in a loving, positive manner—and as parents we do whatever we can to ensure those outcomes for our children.
As a mental health professional, I share the same goals for our children, youth, and their families.
However, this day and age places so many different expectations upon adolescents and sometimes they do lose their way, engaging in behaviours that are not so positive or could lead them down the path of poor peer selection, delinquency, and offending.
Early Intervention is Crucial
Evidence suggests that the majority of troubled youth should be treated safely and more effectively with psychological intervention, before their behaviour ends up in formal sanction (eg school suspension/expulsion, criminal charges/court, detention, etc).
The goal of successful intervention is to actively engage the young person as soon as possible, using a multi-modal approach. Early intervention has proven to be successful in avoiding future negative outcomes such as offending, substance misuse, self harming behaviours, bullying or being bullied, lack of coping and other mental health issues.
Most young people will not look for help, or seek professional support. It is the job of parents, guardians and others to identify the warning signs and refer them to professionals who can help.
Warning signs include, but are not limited to:
- A lack of regard for parental or other authority;
- Destruction of property;
- Offending behaviours;
- Early substance abuse/misuse;
- Self harming behaviours;
- Violent behaviours;
- Bullying or being subjected to bullying;
- Social isolation;
- Social skill deficits;
- Unhealthily attitudes to competition;
- Inability to manage the constellation of stressors at school, home and out of school activities; and,
- Alternatively, some children withdraw into themselves and fail to thrive socially or within the family unit.
Effective, evidence-based intervention for adolescents should focus on learning about:
- Boundaries and social behaviours;
- Understanding feelings and their connections to thoughts and behaviour;
- Consequences of their behaviour;
- Empathy and perspective taking (considering others);
- Managing anger and other emotions;
- Managing aggression or acting out or self harming behaviour;
- Increasing their problem solving, and goal setting / planning;
- Coping skills;
- Effective communication skills;
- Coping with change and fostering resilience;
- Building positive supports and peer networks; and
- Building confidence, so they have a more meaningful life.
Furthermore creative, cognitive behavioral intervention and education have been found to be effective with young people. These interventions help to replace their negative thought patterns with more positive ones. These programs or therapies also offer opportunities for participants to practice their new skills and positive behaviors. When adolescents have the opportunity to develop a relationship with an empathic psychologist or counselor, they are more likely to make meaningful changes in their behavior.
An engaging, meaningful and structured intervention will include clear and consistent rules, limit setting, and appropriate behaviour modeling.
In addition, high quality intervention will provide an atmosphere of physical and psychological safety where children are protected from bullying, harassment, judgement and fear, and feel comfortable expressing themselves.
The young person will have the opportunity to develop skills that will help them succeed in school, work, and life, with a focus on improvement rather than on competition or comparison with others.
My effective intervention is focused on personal and social skill development; using activities that are sequenced and coordinated to achieve explicitly identified outcomes for youth; and requiring their active involvement.
It is also important for members of the person’s family or other support people from the community, to understand the young person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Therefore arrangements can be made to ensure significant support people from the adolescent’s family are integrated into later sessions to understand their ongoing support and intervention needs.
As part of that inner circle, you as the parent/guardian will receive support and information from professionals, who form the outer circle. This enables the mental health professional/s to facilitate the person’s emotional support without enabling poor behaviours, and to achieve goals that are positive, practical and meaningful to the adolescent.
The idea is to work to support the young person to develop constructive and pro-social strategies to address everyday problems, and be equipped to plan for and achieve life goals.
If you feel that you – or your teen – are in need of help, please make an appointment to see me.
Author: Trudy Sheffield, B Beh Sc (1st Class Hons).
Trudy Sheffield is a Brisbane psychologist with a wealth of experience in working with young people who present with complex issues, and a need for an engaging and flexible style of intervention.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Trudy Sheffield, freecall 1800 877 924 or book online today!