Have an Alienated Teen? Most Make an Adjustment as they Mature

Have an Alienated Teen? Most Make an Adjustment as they Mature

At 15, Thomas wears dark clothing, listens to gangsta hip hop and heavy metal music with violent themes, and has several strange tattoos on his neck and arms.

Lisa, who is 14, wears very masculine clothing, has several rings on her face, chest, and stomach, and she views herself as an outcast at school. She says she hates the other girls at her suburban school because “they are all stuck up.”

Sixteen-year-old Mario disliked school from the time he was in elementary school. He hated school work, was aggressive toward other children, and by middle school knew he would drop out as soon as he could. He hangs around with older teens who have dropped out of school and with whom he feels he has something in common.

All three of these adolescents are alienated from school, the community, and even their families. Their parents and their siblings don’t understand them and wonder why they are so estranged from mainstream values and middle class society. However, there are many – perhaps millions – of young people in this country who similarly feel like they are different and that they don’t fit in with conventional society.

In any high school, you’ll find groups of kids who go by various changing designations. They may call themselves or be called by others such names as goths, skaters, metals, punks, emos, gamers, geeks, hip hops, or gangsters. Of course, every adolescent is trying to fit in with some group – whether it’s with other athletes, debaters, musicians, cheer leaders, or high achievers. Often such groups provide “homes” for teens who don’t fit in elsewhere. And these groups of kids can be temporary or transitional, or they can be a group or a gang which will serve a purpose for several years. Whether these various groups co-exist or have rivalries and hostilities, they serve as a stew of different identities to help often vulnerable young people find an identity and their own place in the teenage world.

Unless you work in a high school or spend a great deal of time with adolescents, you may be unaware of these various subgroups. And until you have a son or daughter who finds a strange group of alienated and disaffected young people to call their friends, it‘s easy to avoid or ignore the all-to-common groups of estranged young people we have in our society. It’s when your teen shows up with rings in their face or bizarre tattoos or ritual scarification on their body, that you might become concerned. It’s then when you might start asking some serious questions about what’s going on:

“Why is my kid so alienated?” “Why does my daughter act like an outcast?” “Why does my son dress like that? It’s embarrassing!”

Why do teens feel alienated from mainstream society? And what does it mean? Is he likely to act in an aggressive way? Or is she psychologically disturbed?

These are legitimate questions. And they are questions that not only get asked by parents but also by sociologists and criminal justice experts?

Ask almost any member of a subgroup why they dress differently, listen to different music, or behave differently, and the answers will be fairly predictable: “I want to be an individual,” they might say. Or, “I don’t fit in with the popular kids.” Or, “I don’t want to be boring like everyone else.” For many kids who join a small and unpopular subgroup, they believe they don’t fit in with most other kids and they see themselves as different.

For some of these adolescents, alienation from the broader society began early in school. For some, it happened as early as the first grade. For these young people, school lacked relevance for them. They often didn’t see school as having a pay-off for them. Or they never hit it off with other children. They, thus, turn to other kids who feel the same way.

As we know from follow-up analysis of teens who were involved in school shootings, nearly all school shooters felt alienated and had been exposed to acute or chronic rejection from their peers. Recent research confirms that when alienated youth experience peer ridicule, teasing, and rejection, they are more likely to aggress against those who have made life miserable for them.

However, most alienated youth find a more positive and more conventional social group as they leave high school and enter the adult world. If your child is estranged from mainstream society during the turbulent adolescent years, it doesn’t mean they will feel (and behave) like an outcast forever. The majority develop a better sense of who they are and how they fit in with a positive group of friends as they mature.

As a parent, you can aid their transition to a more conventional life style by avoiding confrontations and lectures, offering acceptance (despite your fears and concerns), and by celebrating their uniqueness. It’s not easy, of course, but railing at them for being so unconventional and different is more likely to lead to more serious alienation and a rejection of you and your values.

Why is Sexting by Teens Popular; Why do Teens do It?

Why is Sexting by Teens Popular; Why do Teens do It?

I was at a memorial for a friend who died recently. While eating baked chicken on a paper plate, a man leaned across the table and said, “Why do teenage do it? Why are they sexting?”

I looked at him quizzically and he said there were about 30 incidents recently in a local high school.

“Yes,” he assured me. “There were 30 girls who were caught sexting. Why do kids do that?”

I hadn’t attended this memorial prepared to answer questions about sexting, so I gave him the best off-the-cuff response I could come up with.

However, the next day, I looked through the newspapers and found the stories about the incidents discovered at a local school. There were, in fact, 30 girls who were involved in sexting – sending sexually explicit photos of themselves on their cell phones to boys. The boys, however, were certainly no respecters of the girl’s privacy, which the girls may or may not have expected, and they were texting them around to other boys. Finally, one of the girls told a school official and that’s how the police got involved.

While this happened in a Detroit suburb, it’s not the first such rash of sexting incidents. It happens at schools around the country.

So, the question the man was asking is certainly relevant, and deserves some kind of attempt at an explanation. What does motivate girls to snap nude selfies and send them to a boy?

It’s a question that should be asked in view of what schools, prosecutors, and police have done to educate young people to the risks of sexting. The risks are clear to most adults: sexting may lead to embarrassment, self-image problems, school problems, relationship hassles, and even criminal prosecution. And, of course, who knows how it may affect future job prospects?

Do teens do this because of raging hormones? Is it to get attention (this was the explanation offered by the man who originally posed the question to me)? Is it a reflection of the sorry state of our nation’s morals? Does it indicate the lack of parenting at home?

I don’t think any of these explanations are particularly useful or helpful. I don’t think raging hormones offers an explanation of anything during adolescence – let alone sexting. Attention-seeking is always such an easy answer for any child or adolescent behavior – yet “looking for attention” doesn’t really explain any complex behavior. And to my way of thinking most child and adolescent behaviors are far too complex to warrant such a glib explanation.

Sexting is new – the term itself is only about two years old. But the motivation behind it is perhaps as old as the human race. Middle school and high school students are trying to find themselves, have undeveloped portions of the brain that control decision-making and hinder their full consideration of consequences. And with the technology available to kids, sexting is easy. How simple is it to snap a photo and send it in a text? It takes five seconds.

But that technology and the ubiquitousness of social media, where photos are shared daily by perhaps a majority of people in our country, makes it a popular pastime, a way to establish who and what you are, and a habit that reaps instant rewards. Teens may get so used to posting all sorts of photos that sending out the most intimate of photos maybe doesn’t even rate a second thought. Kids, like adults, are accustomed to sharing profiles and personal information on many social media sites. Sharing is now second nature.

If you post your private thoughts or your latest selfie on Twitter or Facebook, after a while you don’t think about it anymore. It’s what you do. Doesn’t everyone do it?

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, many girls sext as a form of dating and sexuality without really having sex. Furthermore, the article by Hanna Rosin points out, girls frequently send a sext to a boy they like because the boy has asked for a sext.

Combine all of this – the ease and frequency of posting thoughts and photos, the lack of fully considering consequences, a request of a favored boy, and sexual experimentation, along with the immature decision-making skills – and perhaps you have an explanation of why they do it. There’s the ease, and then, too, there may even be the sense that what you are posting is private, overrides the potential negative consequences. And even though most adolescents have been warned by someone – teacher, prosecutor, or parent – about the dangers of this behavior, taking risks is what teens do. They forget about the possible legal ramifications.

If you’re the parent of a teenager or a pre-teen, you have to talk about this frequently. Go over the dangers of sexting. Don’t assume they know those risks and will remember them. Take advantage of news or media stories about sexting to remind them what can happen to them if they do this. Emphasize the importance of thinking before acting and teach them to rehearse in their minds the possible negative consequences of all decisions.

Maybe Your Teen has a Learning Disability

Maybe Your Teen has a Learning Disability

 Brandon says that he doesn’t expect to graduate from high school. The reason for this, he explains, is because he is 16 and only has a few credits so far.

“I don’t want to be 19 or 20 and still in high school,” Brandon says. “That would be embarrassing.”

Elizabeth has been frustrated with school for several years. Although at 15 she appears bright, her grades have never been exceptional. She works hard to achieve the grades she gets, but she says she doesn’t know how much longer she can put up with school.

“I never liked school,” Elizabeth points out, “but I did the best I could because my parents wanted me to do well at school. But now that it’s getting harder, I’d rather drop out and work. It would be less frustrating.”

When parents see students like Elizabeth and Brandon struggle with school, they often encourage them to try harder or suggest that they spend less time focusing on friendships, sports, or other activities. Frequently, parents are convinced that if their child would just concentrate on school they would be able to perform better and experience less frustration.

But when children or teens consistently perform poorly on school work or tests, get frustrated with school assignments, avoid doing homework, take a long time to complete school tasks, or have great difficulty understanding school work, the fault may be not so much in their interest in other areas of life but in their having a learning disability.

There are various kinds of learning disabilities. For instance, Elizabeth is a poor reader. When children or teens have difficulty reading or comprehending what they read, they may have one of the most common learning disabilities – often referred to as dyslexia. Brandon has problems both with reading and with math. He just does not understand mathematical concepts and he has never learned the multiplication tables.

Both Brandon and Elizabeth seem very bright to their teachers and parents. They both have good verbal skills and both are friendly and out-going. But the key to understanding learning disabilities is that there is a gap between their intelligence – or their potential for learning – and their actual performance – their reading achievement, for instance.

Because kids with good verbal skills and other intellectual abilities appear bright enough to excel in school, adults are less likely to suspect learning disabilities. It is easy for parents and teachers to assume they are not trying hard enough. Given the pressure put on them by their parents – and even by themselves – children and teens with learning disabilities become frustrated. And, as a result of their failure to live up to their own and others’ expectations, they often feel slow or stupid.

Consequently, after years of feeling stupid or seeing themselves as a person who doesn’t try hard enough at school, they get so frustrated that they would like to drop out or get away from school. School, sometimes from the earliest grades, is often challenging, overwhelming, and anxiety-provoking.

Each teen with a learning disability will cope differently. Some, like Brandon, want to give up. Others, like Elizabeth, have tried very hard to be successful, and eventually conclude that they have personal flaws which prevent them from succeeding at school. Still others may make excuses, skip classes, or begin hanging around with others who find school frustrating and boring. Sometimes this means that they begin to get involved in drug or alcohol use, or even in delinquency.

Although many children with learning disabilities are identified early in their school career, there are others – like Elizabeth and Brandon – who remained undiagnosed well into high school.

If you suspect your child’s frustrating or poor school performance is related to a learning disability, then you can arrange for your child to be properly assessed.

Assessment for learning disabilities will involve psychological testing and educational testing by an educational psychologist. Often an evaluation for a learning disability will begin with intelligence testing and include testing for various academic subject areas to determine if there is a discrepancy between their potential and their level of achievement.

If an assessment determines there is a learning disability, then it is important that this finding be communicated to the teen so they understand why they’ve had difficulty in school and so they can be involved in future planning and efforts at remediation.