I have an adopted son. When we were approved, my wife and I were over the moon. This little boy, whom we had already fallen in love with, was going to be under our care and in our family for good. We couldn’t think of anything more perfect.
It was only a couple of months in when we started to really grow concerned. He was angry, threw constant tantrums that would last for hours and could become violent. While his actions were manageable when he was little, we worried about what would happen as he got bigger. After recognizing that he wasn’t making progress as he got older and spent more time with us, we were unsure of what to do for him.
His pediatrician was the first to diagnose him with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). ODD is common in children who are adopted, especially at a young age. ODD displays as a resistance to authority that can become a lifelong struggle.
Now he is in his teens and for the most part has overcome many of the behavioral issues that are associated with the disorder. This is thanks to an early diagnosis and regular therapeutic intervention. But I have always wondered what my wife and I would have done if the interventions we took part in early had not worked, or if we had not done them at all.
Behavioral Issues in Teenagers
Teenagers are predisposed towards risky behaviors. As part of their development, it takes time for the brain to begin creating those mushy centers of self-control and risk assessment that we, as adults, take for granted. Have you ever looked at a teen and wondered what in the world they were thinking?
When a teenager is facing abnormal behaviors, that impact can be much worse. ODD, ADD/ADHD, personality disorders, mental illness, depression, substance abuse, mood disorders and other factors can all be contributing to risky or even violent actions on the part of a teen.
Unfortunately, the inner workings of these illnesses in teens is poorly understood by many. How do you go about treating it when you don’t always know what the entire source of the behavior may be?
Behavioral Modification for Troubled Teens
Behavioral modification is sometimes a controversial subject. Developed based on the principles of B.F. Skinner, it uses a system of either reward of punishment to begin encouraging certain actions or decisions on the part of the participant.
For example, your teen may be truant at school and so is placed in a summer program to make up the grade. That would be a punishment for wrong behavior. However, they might also be placed in a daily group where they work with their peers to make up those grades, which comes with a reward each day for finishing work.
The principle behind most behavioral modification programs is to use the latter, or a reward system, to encourage proper behavior from the teen. Positive reinforcement is always preferred because studies have shown that it is both more effective and has a positive impact on the child’s self esteem.
In-Patient Settings for Behavioral Modification
Many parents with teens who are facing particularly severe behavioral issues are turning to in-patient programs for assistance. These include residential treatment programs and even therapeutic boarding schools.
There are drawbacks to these programs. For one, they require the child to be admitted for an extended period of time, something that many families are resistant to. They have also gotten a bad reputation due to unrelated wilderness and military programs that have existed in the past.
On the plus side, these programs, which are monitored and accredited by the proper national and state agencies, are 24/7. They have staff always on hand to help the teen to manage their conditions, including fully licensed therapeutic staff for intensive behavioral modification through private and group therapy.
While these programs can be done outpatient, having a stable environment for the teenager to address concerns can be beneficial. They simply have more room to work on their problems in an in-patient program.
Regardless of whether a residential treatment center is chosen, there is plenty of evidence to support the use of positive reinforcement for healing.
- Bressert, Steve, PsychCental, Oppositional Defiant Disorder Symptoms, https://psychcentral.com/disorders/oppositional-defiant-disorder-symptoms/
- Shelton, Deborah, Miller-Rubin, Bonnie, Study: Adolescents Adopted As Infants Are More Likely to Have Psychiatric Disorders, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-05-06/news/0805050441_1_center-for-adoption-support-international-adoptees-oppositional-defiant-disorder
- ScienceDaily, Inside the Teenage Brain: New Studies Explain Risky Behavior, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140827203544.htm
- Tamanini, Kara, PsychCentral, Setting Up a Behavior Management Plan for an ADHD Child, https://psychcentral.com/lib/setting-up-a-behavior-management-plan-for-an-adhd-child/
- PLOS, The Computational Development of Reinforcement Learning During Adolescence, http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004953
- Help Your Teen Now, Behavioral Modification Programs, https://helpyourteennow.com/behavior-modification-programs/