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What To Do With Troubled Teenagers?

I don’t know what to do with troubled teenagers!

One of the biggest obstacles for parents is figuring out what to do with troubled teenagers when they are feeling confused and overwhelmed about how to even begin. Every teenager and situation is unique, there is no “one size fits all” treatment method to help troubled teens, and there are thousands of different options available. Although it may take parents some time to find the best option for their child, it is never a good choice to do nothing and ignore the behavior. This behavior could be affecting their school work in addition to their family life.

If you suspect your teen has crossed the threshold from “normal teen behavior” into “troubled teen behavior,” a good place to start is to work through the following steps with your spouse, family, or close friends. You can always make changes along the way, but starting with a plan and goals will help combat the feelings of hopelessness and confusion, setting families up for success! So, how do you deal with a troubled teenager?

Step 1: Evaluate

To set a goal for what you want to accomplish with your teen, you first need to determine where they currently are. What behavioral, emotional, or mental issues in your teen’s life have led you to seek help? Make a list of specific problems you are currently facing with your teen. Cite specific examples, including dates of when these problems have occurred.  Read resources such as our “Troubled Teenager Warning Signs and Risk Factors” and other online help articles from different sources to determine the seriousness of the issues you are dealing with. This will help you decide how urgently action is needed.

Step 2: Strategize

Once you have determined which behaviors and problem areas you would like to help your teen work through, it is important to develop a specific plan for how you are going to begin making progress. As mentioned earlier, this plan can absolutely change along the way, but creating action steps for yourself and your teen at home and at school will ensure that the problems do not go ignored.  There are a number of options that your plan could include, depending on what is listed in your evaluation. Here are some options to consider:

  • Youth group involvement
  • Family counseling
  • Pastoral or professional counseling
  • Summer camp for troubled teenagers
  • Year-round boarding school for troubled teenagers


Include in your plan a list of specific consequences associated with each negative behavior. For example, if your teen is caught sneaking out, they will lose access to the car for two weeks. If they are caught using drugs, they will have to go to four sessions of counseling. If they run away from home more than once, they will be sent to a summer camp. Find what works for your child and family. Having set consequences will help you feel more in control as a parent and will let your teen know that you are serious about addressing their behavior.

Also, include a list of rewards for positive behavior. For example, participating in a family activity with a good attitude will earn them a half hour later curfew for the next weekend. In our experience, reinforcing positive behavior in rebellious teenagers is just as important (if not more important) than punishing negative behavior.

Step 3: Implement

Follow through on your plan! Even more harmful than not acting at all would be communicating a plan to your teen and then not following through on it. Begin by sitting your teen down and calmly explaining your action plan to them. Be very specific when outlining your plan for discipline and rewards. Consider even putting it in writing so that there is no confusion. Explain which behaviors and patterns in their life have led you to develop this strategy. Be prepared for some serious pushback and anger during this conversation, but do not let it derail you. While your teen may initially be upset, tell them that this will actually help you treat them more like an adult. They are free to make their own choices, whether positive or negative, but now know the consequences of those choices and must be prepared to deal with them.

Step 4: Review

Prepare yourself for the fact that you will probably not get it right the first time. As you implement your plan, you will probably discover parts that don’t work as you expected, or maybe hear a new piece of advice from a counselor, family member, school teacher, or friend that causes you to rethink some aspects. Be willing to admit where the plan has flaws and reevaluate as necessary. However, this does not mean giving up after a week of implementation because you are not getting the exact results you wanted. Creating lasting change in your teen will probably take months, if not years. If you start getting discouraged and want to quit, pick a date in the future and tell yourself you will at least follow through with your plan until then. At that point, if you still have seen no progress, you will reevaluate and determine if changes are needed.

Throughout this process, you can determine for yourself what to do with troubled teenagers while praying for the strength and ability to continue viewing your teen as a precious child who needs your love and support. There is no such thing as “too far gone,” or “beyond hope” in God’s eyes. In your most frustrated or angry moments, try to picture your teen as they were as a child—fragile and innocent. That piece of them is still in there somewhere, and you can help them rediscover it!