Many adolescents fall through the cracks, only getting help when they’re in terrible trouble. Like in many things, the key is to pick up problems (like depression or anxiety) early on, when not much is at stake. It will be easier for you and so much better for them.
These days we need to find a happy medium between "Race to Nowhere," a film about how to make school less competitive and more meaningful, and "Tiger Mom," a book about how to pressure your child toward success.
What if your child is simply flying below the radar, doing just the minimum to get by, involved in nothing, with more screen time than a full time programmer? You think, maybe he'll go into computers, in some vague way. But all the kids can do that stuff.
How do you motivate a teen who has few cares and doesn't care enough to care? One of my clients claimed that his minority sounding last name will get him into a good college. That was the sum total of his effort. Or a girl who is in a gifted and talented school but whose parents were too busy working to structure her after school life in a proactive way. She spent the time alone, binging and purging in the bathroom. These are the kids I see in my practice and, arguably, the lucky ones, for at least there's some attempt for help, though they are often forced at first.
These teens often fall into three categories:
One: Adolescents who are not yet mature enough to take advantage of school.
Two: Adolescents with an emerging identity who want what’s good for them and resist or rebel against their parents.
The smart academic kids have lots to do generally. The emotionally and physically challenged hopefully get special services. However, those middle-of-the-road kids tend to get nothing. What's more, their parents often unwittingly contribute to this with a, "I don't want to label him" stance.
Why not, I might ask, if FREE help is available? The stigma is far worse they assure me. So much for educational access.
Three: The teen who suffers from depression privately, but his or her parents (and teachers) don’t see what’s really going on.
CBT works very well in these situations. Ascertaining what goals the child has and structuring his/her time accordingly is often the first time they ever experienced freedom, ironically. For what better way to alleviate parental pressure than to just do your work and go to sleep on time? I remind the kids, “You want mom and dad off your back? Do what you're supposed to, with these tools, and presto, they're gone!”
Falling through the cracks is a bad place to be; the trouble with cracks is that they’re hard to see. These teens are at-risk for later difficulties. Sometimes the real problem surfaces around college, at which point there is less structured help available, especially academically.
Catch problems such as avoidance, low-level depression (dysthymia), and/or social withdrawal/learning disabilities early. Watch what your teen is up to and how he or she is feeling. The earlier you help your child get back on track, the better.
For more on how to boost a child’s self-confidence with basic organizational tools, see:
http://www.ehow.com/list_6713598_organization-tips-kids-school.html; also set an alarm on your phone: do I have everything? And check your locker at the end of the day!
To find out more about Donna Moss, LCSW-R see: www.donnacmoss.com
For more on The Intelligent Divorce and Other Relationship Advice from Dr. Banschick see:
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