Guidance for Parents of Struggling Teens

When you held your tiny infant in your arms, you wished all the best for their future: success, friendship, health, and joy. But eventually independence, rebellion, stressful life situations, behavioral issues, or emotional stressors set in. And here you are now, overcome with emotions centered around your struggling teen.

How can I help my son with his depression and anxiety?

What can I do to get my daughter to speak to me?

I don’t understand why my teen behaves/reacts this way.

How did I not see this coming?

Where did I go wrong?

What now?

We are here to help. Our team at Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness helps your child overcome their obstacles while participating in our intentional, safe, and life-changing program. We can offer both your troubled teen and your family a pathway for hope, change, and healing.

But right now we’re just going to provide you, an overwhelmed parent of a struggling teen, with some wisdom for the moment.

The 5 Non-Negotiables That Every Teen Needs

According to author Sean Grover, there are 5 non-negotiable things that every teen needs:

Tension outlets

Sources that boost your teen’s self-esteem

A healthy structure of life with limits and boundaries

Models, mentors and teachers

Learning diagnostics

I would add a sixth, but let’s explore each of the 5 first.

#1 Tension Outlets


You’ve heard it repeated more than you care to admit: regular exercise is good for your health! Symptoms of anxiety and depression can be reduced up to 70 times by performing cardio exercises 3 times per week, 30 minutes each.

Your struggling teen will have a clearer mind, healthier body, and a more relaxed demeanor if they can express their tension (emotions) appropriately. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Have a lazy teen? Try enrolling them in a sport, training for a race (running, swimming, or biking), or taking a walk/hike. Head to your bowling alley, rock wall gym, laser tag, golf course, paintball course, or Ninja Warrior/Crossfit gym.

#2 Sources That Boost Self-Esteem

Catch your child doing something right. Yep, you heard me: catch your child for doing something right, instead of doing something wrong.

Find at least 3-5 areas where your teen can thrive and where you can compliment them on their achievements. Perhaps your teen is passionate about music, art, sports, volunteering, building, crafting, etc. Make it a point to get your teen involved. And then notice and highlight the positives that spring from those experiences.

However, only one area of achievement is not healthy. Why? Because it will be the only thing that defines your teenager. The moment they “fail” or lose, their self-esteem and self-worth can fly out the window. Also be sure to not remove these privileges as a form of punishment, which would then remove their source of self-esteem.

Catch your struggling teen doing something well instead of allowing him/her to be defined by their struggles.

#3 A Healthy Structure With Limits and Boundaries

The future is full of unknowns. And a teenager is under mounds of pressure to figure it all out. Constantly asked “where are you going to college?”, “what do you want to do for a career?”, or “do you have plans after high school?”. Cue the anxiety! A life with structure, boundaries, and limits will naturally wash away those additional areas of fear and doubt while fostering healthy habits that will endure after they leave your house.

Limit technology usage, set a time for lights out, enforce a reasonable curfew, schedule homework/study sessions, and incorporate family time. Without these boundaries, you’d find yourself living with a moody and temperamental teenager who possibly resembles a bear awake during hibernation season.

#4 Models, Mentors and Teachers

I will never forget the night that I was babysitting a little girl who asked me a profound question. I watched these kids for nearly ten years, and the youngest daughter was around 7 or 8 at this time. I tucked her into bed, kissed her forehead and said, “I love you. Goodnight!”

She looked at me with curious eyes as I started to leave her room. “Why do you love me?” she asked innocently. “You don’t have to love me because you’re not in my family.”

“You’re right.” I replied. “I don’t have to love you, but I choose to love you.”

Right there I was choosing to believe in this sweet girl, encouraging her heart that she is not alone, that she is worthy and that she is loved. I was that adult, other than mom or dad, who invested in her life.


Does your struggling child have a teacher, babysitter, aunt/uncle, counselor, coach or family friend who they love and adore, and who is willing to invest in your teen? Begin observing who your teen talks about, or ask about the adults in their life.

When an adult, other than mom or dad, pours into a troubled teen, that teenager now feels reassured, worthy, accepted, hopeful, and more positive about their future because someone believes in them who doesn’t have to. Mom and dad “have to” think the best about their baby, but someone outside of the family doesn’t. That model, mentor or teacher has a fantastic opportunity to invest, inspire, motivate, and redirect a troubled teen.

#5 Learning Diagnostics

The last area that Grover includes in this list of essential things teens need is an evaluation of their learning. Include a physical and psychological exam as well.

Learning disabilities can manifest as depression, ADHD, or behavioral outbursts. Psychological diagnoses present with a variety of symptoms, and a physical imbalance would also contribute to a troubled teen’s struggles. Although it’s #5 on the list of 5, it is a critical priority because it directs future actions toward recovery.

#6 Love

I believe there should be a sixth item here: love. A non-negotiable that your struggling teen needs is your never-ending, never-giving-up, never-stopping love from you, their parent or loved one.

They may rebel, yell hurtful words, isolate or ignore you. But at the end of the day, they still need your love.

Don’t give up. When they tell you to leave them alone, don’t believe that lie. When they say that they don’t need you, don’t believe that lie. Yes, it’s tempting, but don’t allow those lies to seep into your mind and heart.

You’re exhausted, worn out, wounded, and beat. But don’t give up. When your teen’s actions and words try to push you away, he/she is hoping that you won’t abandon or give up on them, no matter what.

Your teen needs you, and we’re here to help. We know that you and your teen are struggling. Our program is a resource for your whole family! We provide your teen with a physical and psychological exam, adult mentors who invest in each student, structures and routines, encouragement for accomplishments, and hope for a brighter future.

Contact Us Today! to learn about our wilderness program for teens with various struggles and workshops for parents.


5 Things Every Teen Needs

Tips for Helping Your Troubled Teen

Psych Central Blog List by Grover: When Kids Call The Shots

Book: When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully—and Enjoy Being a Parent Again, by Grover

Book: Tough Guys and Drama Queens: How Not To Get Blindsided By Your Child’s Teen Years, by Mark Gregston

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