Adolescents We have thirty years of experience in family and relationship therapy. We teach healthy parenting skills especially with difficult adolescents and young adults. We help families deal with addiction as well as depression and anxiety that affect the family system
Today we are experiencing a plethora of random violence perpetrated by adolescents. Emotional and physical violence driven by a socially toxic environment is a current critical issue for teens. Teen violence is a complex issue; we cannot create a direct correlation between, say, a Dylan Klebold and the parenting he received. There appears to be no direct cause and effect relationship to the outcomes. It has become increasingly clear that neurological differences in the still developing adolescent brain increase episodes of anger and discontent that many teens experience. These feelings can just as easily be projected inward towards self just as much as they can outwardly.
Below are some risk factors that seem to herald teen violence, antisocial behavior and a reduction of emotional maturity:
Boys display more directly aggressive or violent behaviors than girls. Beyond culture, men and women are quite different genetically. Overall, male organisms seem to be more vulnerable to breakdowns. Men seem to be more sensation-seeking and less harm-avoidant. Boys tend to experience more cortical under arousal as well as a tendency towards seeing situations as hostile as opposed to neutral or positive hostility bias. These genetic differences lead men to show more conduct disorders, antisocial behavior, ADHD and substance related problems.
Differences like anxious verses passive verses dependent in infants correlate with future violence. Parental reports of “easy babies” create 10% of future violent behaviors where “hard babies” produce 60% of future violent behaviors. Violent teens appear to be hyper-sensitive to negative social cues and oblivious to positive social cues. They appear to have innate negative social cognition that sees the world as hostile, suspicious and distrustful.
Academic problems, especially reading problems with poor peer interpersonal relations, are a hallmark for violent teen behavior. Other variables that appear to reinforce adolescent violence and behavior problems are inconsistent teacher expectations and limited availability, low teacher use of praise and a disorderly school climate. Also, relationships with other violent teens like “getting in with the wrong crowd” and a lack of parental involvement in academic activities are major factors.
“A difficult child is born and an impossible child is raised.” Family environment either reduces or reinforces conduct disorder or antisocial behavior. The incidence of adolescent violence increases with a history of parental or grandparents’ antisocial behavior. It increases also where parental substance dependence is present or when parental supervision is inconsistent. Antisocial adolescent behavior increases where there is low warmth or secure sense of attachment. Family activities in which teens are included are absent. Other factors such as family size, overcrowding, poverty and single parenting seem to be precursors for later adolescent acting-out behaviors.
A lack of resilience is the reason why children may turn to violence even when they have a good start as are family systems where there is a lack of appropriate communication, positive regard or acceptance. Parents who teach the child to cope with their temperament through provision of good boundaries, self-management skills and self-soothing appear to have better outcomes. Disciplinary style becomes a factor if it is overly harsh or abusive, inconsistent or lax or when positive reinforcement is absent or infrequent.
These are the seeds of adolescent anger and fear that show up as instances of rejection at home, in school and in later life. Anger and fear become survival strategies, protective emotions for unmet needs. Anger creates a boundary and a defense against fear or uncertainty. Anger is an aggressive defense of self, while fear shows up as withdrawal or flight. Healthy teens are able to experience a spectrum of emotions, from fear to love, and have the resilience and self-worth to cope with and express them in an appropriate manner.
Understanding That Teenagers Have Amazing Secret Lives
Parents have an imperfect knowledge of their child’s hidden life. Balancing the teens’ right to develop internal boundaries with our concerns about their safety is a primary challenge of parents. Cultivating a context of honest disclosure reinforced by authoritative acceptance is difficult, but essential, and requires parents to be engaged with their teens.
Erosion of Parental Authority and Role
The validity of adult authority is under attack, exacerbated by the confusion between building self-esteem and permissiveness.
The media reinforces this assault on parental authority. Clearly not abdicating one’s parental responsibility to launch a successful, functioning young person requires a foundation of clear rules and responsibilities.
Moralizing is not moral development and articulation is not action. Parents who ascribe to the adage “Do as I say, not as I do” create adolescents who lack trust and a circle of caring increased through empathy.
Violent TV, video games, news and violent stories are to violence as smoking is to cancer. Violent teens develop a repertoire of aggressive, violent behaviors to react to any perceived hostile situation. They conclude that aggression is a successful strategy, reinforcing isolation, alienation, cynicism, and a sense of futility, while rehearsing possible violent scenarios.
The Maladaptive Culture of Honor
Initially, this was a southern condition of worth, especially relevant when an adolescent or adult lacked a sense of self-worth or internal validation with low emotional resources. Honor is a false, external sign of self-worth or self-regard that must be defended at all costs, especially through violent actions. Gang involvement reinforces this need for respect and the powerful need to belong. Killing and violence become a matter of honor.
Behavioral Signs of Antisocial or Violent Adolescent
Aggression to people and animals
Bullies and intimidates
Often initiates fights
Has used a weapon that can cause physical harm
Has been physically cruel to animals
Has stolen while confronting a victim
Has been physically cruel to people
Has forced someone into sexual activity
Destruction of property
Has engaged in fire-setting with the intention of causing serious damage
Has deliberately destroyed property
Deceitfulness or theft
Has broken into a house, building or car
Often lies to obtain goods or favors or to avoid obligations
Has stolen valuable items without confronting victim (e.g. shoplifting)
Serious violation of rules
Often stays out at night, despite parental prohibitions, starting before age 13
Has run away from home overnight at least twice
Often truant from school starting before age 13
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