parenting teens, moody teen, school problems, adhd, teen and drugs, help for teens parenting teens, moody teen, school problems, adhd, teen and drugs, help for teens
parenting teens, moody teen, school problems, adhd, teen and drugs, help for teensparenting teens, moody teen, school problems, adhd, teen and drugs, help for teens
parenting teens, moody teen, school problems, adhd, teen and drugs, help for teens

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Congratulations.By picking up this book,you have just taken the first step toward understanding your teenager better and bringing more peace into your family.

Perhaps your sweet, compliant child has become a moody, unfocused, unpredictable, angry, defiant, lazy, or overly sensitive teenager. Maybe minor idiosyncrasies you noticed during childhood are becoming troublesome now that your teen is older. Or your teen may struggle in areas where classmates and siblings are doing fine. In any of these situations, it is natural to wonder if yourchild’s behavior reflects normal adolescence or if “something’s just


ix Introduction

not right.” It is just as likely that you are a desperate parent of an out-of-control teenager who knows something is wrong but does not know where to turn.

Children do not stop needing their parents once they hit puberty; in fact, as children move through the teen years, you are as pivotal as ever. Parents know their teens better than anyone, so trust your gut or intuition when concerns arise regarding your child. Those around you may accuse you of being over protective or over-reactive. Or just the opposite: others may be concerned about yourteen, but you don’t see a problem. Either way, this book will give you essential information to help determine whether you currently need to worry about your teen—and if so,what next steps are important for you to take.

The material in this book is relevant to a wide range of parents, including but not limited to those who:

  • Think their teen is fine, but just want to make sure.
  • Worry their teen maybe struggling and want to get an idea as to what may be going on.
  • Know their teen is experiencing some difficulties but aren’t sure what to do about it.
  • Feel alarmed and frightened by their teen’s behavior and want guidance.
  • Have tried to get help for their teen in the past, but the situation did not improve.
  • Have found help for their teen and want to be certain they are on the right track.

Every type of parent can benefit from this book—married parents, single parents, divorced parents, stepparents, adoptive parents, foster parents, and even grandparents.



Although I use language directed at primary caregivers, the information is just as helpful for professionals who interact with teenagers: teachers, school counselors, pediatricians, family practice physicians, nurses, mental health practitioners, substance abuse specialists, juvenile probation officers, judges, attorneys, law enforcement officials, juvenile correction officers, child protective service workers, case managers, residential treatment providers, wilderness program personnel, big brothers and big sisters, mentors, coaches, and youth directors.

Although we do not have exact numbers, it appears that close to one in five teenagers has an emotional or behavioral problem that affects his or her ability to develop and maintain relationships with peers, achieve in school, or get along with family members—and the majority of these teens are not receiving the specialized services they need.1, 2

When faced with a teenage child who does things that don’t make sense — particularly if these behaviors are bothersome — parents naturally feel confused, frustrated, and even upset. The entire family is affected when teens experience difficulties. Parents want to do the right thing for their children but often can not tell what’s “normal” during the teenage years and when something is amiss. And even when parents know something is wrong, it is not easy to figure out who to see, where to go, and what to do. This book is designed to help parents become as educated and informed as possible regarding their teen’s behavior so that they can make effective and strategic


1. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General—Executive Summary
(Rockville, Md.:U.S.Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, 1999.)
2. G.Canino, et al, “The DSM-IV rates of child and adolescent disorders in Puerto Rico: Prevalence, correlates, service use, and the effects of impairment,”
Archives of General Psychiatry, 61, 83–93, 2004.


xii Introduction

decisions should their teen require assistance. Although it sounds clichéd, knowledge truly is power when dealing with a struggling teenager.

The goal of this book is to bring together my eighteen years of education, clinical training, and professional experience with decades of research on problematic teen behavior and to present the result in a practical and easy-to-access format.

By the end of Section I, I hope you will experience one of the following reactions:

  • Relief. Your teen seems to be doing fine and is not exhibiting problematic behavior
  • Validation. Not only wereyou right to be concerned, but there may actually be a name for what your teen is going through and specific strategies known to be effective for your teen’s issues.You may also be a bit scared since what you feared may actually be true. However, do not be frightened. This book walks you through the steps you need to take to help your child. Parents should be scared of not knowing because when you don’t know what is wrong, there is no way to improve things. By the end of this book, you will be one of the most prepared parents around and one step closer to reducing your child’s (and family’s) suffering.
  • Mixed Emotions, but Mostly Relief. Your teen exhibits some of the warning signs in the book, but not enough to indicate that it is “time to worry.” Throughout the book, you will learn exactly what behaviors to keep a close eye on as your teen develops, matures, and moves through the obstacles of adolescence. If your teen’s behavior worsens, you can refer back to the book for specific recommendations regarding what to do.

Even when your teen’s behavior has not reached a level where outside assistance is needed, this book can help you discuss important topics with your teen to let them him or her know that you are aware and you care.



Although warning signs of serious conditions are provided, this book was not written to help you diagnose your child. You definitely should not do that. As you will discover, diagnoses are much more than a checklist of symptoms. You will find out exactly who can make a diagnosis, how a diagnosis is made, and when these types of diagnoses should be given. The warning signs give you a jump start as to what your teen’s specific issue(s) maybe. My intention is to provide you with the tools to identify when you can relax about your child’s behavior (and just let your teen be a teen) versus when additional assistance may be warranted. And if your teen needs help, this book will make the process easier and more effective for you and your teen.

You may have already been down the path of trying to get assistance for your son or daughter. If you did this alone and did not have someone warning you of the complexities involved, you may have ended up frustrated and resigned. This book will reveal another road to travel.

Although the material is designed to be straight forward, I hope you also find it compassionate and reassuring. I know how stressful and exhausting raising a teen who struggles can be. There is hope and there are solutions, once you have the tools.

Day after day, year after year, I see what happens when teens don’t get the help they need. As a clinical psychologist, I spent the first part of my career working in mental health hospitals and juvenile justice facilities, where I had the privilege to work with some of the most challenging and troubled teens in the country. Not one of those young people developed severe, and sometimes dangerous, emotional or behavioral problems overnight. Each had shown indications of suffering months, and often years, before an arrest or hospital admission. But, it can be difficult to hear the cries of teenagers, because they usually don’t say, “I need help.” If anything, their words often communicate just the opposite.

Some of the parents of the adolescents I worked with knew that


xii Introduction

something was not right with their child but were told “She’s just going through a phase” or “Don’t worry, he’s acting like a typical teen.” So they took a “wait and see” approach. And things got worse. The parents who tried to get assistance from the start found it was fairly easy to have their teen diagnosed and given a prescription for medication or a referral for talk therapy. The difficulty was in finding someone or something that truly helped their son or daughter—no one or nothing seemed to get to the root of what was wrong. So the teens continued to suffer, as did their families.

My heart broke a little each day. Had these teen’s difficulties been correctly identified and appropriately addressed early on, the course of their lives could have been dramatically different. Consequently, I devoted the second half of my career to traveling the country speaking to large audiences of parents and educational, juvenile justice, mental health, substance abuse, child welfare, and health care professionals, teaching them to recognize the subtle and obvious signs of teens who are struggling—and the specific things they can do to help them. An overriding theme is that too many “sick teens in need of treatment” are viewed as “bad teens in need of punishment.” Extreme defiance, rebellion, and acting out are typically much more than they appear—and much can be done to decrease this negative behavior.

I have spoken to tens of thousands of parents and professionals who serve youth across the United States and internationally, yet, at the end of each talk, I always heard the same comments: “This workshop forever changed the way I look at teenagers,” “I wish I had this information years ago,” “Why is so little written about this critical topic?” and “How can I take you home with me?” Parents and professionals continually asked me to recommend a resource that contained all of the information I had spoken about so that they could refer to it whenever issues with teenagers came up. I never found an in-depth book that covered the full spectrum of emotional and behavioral difficulties that affect adolescents, the wide variety of solutions available, and the specific steps to take should a particular teen need help. Eventually, I realized I needed to write that book.



If you are tempted to blame yourself, don’t do it. You did the best you could with the information you had at the time (and some of that information may have even come from well-meaning professionals). Do what you can now.

If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a breath. This book contains a large amount of information.Some of it may apply to your child, or none of it may apply. Even if you recognize your teen in some of the pages of this book, you do not have to take action this second. Unless adolescents are at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others, you have some time to strategically plan the best action to take.

Lisa Boesky,Ph.D.


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