NUMBER 180 • 8 JANUARY 2003 • TROUBLED YOUTH
INDEX OF QUOTES
Troubled youths generally have not experienced the same quality and quantity of care and learning in their relationships with adults and peers as other youths their age and this makes it difficult for them to feel worthwhile and to function as productive members of our society. More specifically, without fulfilling relationships, troubled youths are not able to develop the skills, feelings and thought processes that will allow them to develop the way other youths do. Following are descriptions of how relationships can affect troubled youths in three major areas of development.
Troubled youths’ emotional involvement with others has usually been permeated by impermanence and unpredictability. They have been abandoned frequently, both psychologically and physically, and they have been exposed to an inordinate amount of extreme emotional behavior. This creates at least three major problems. First, they experience an excess of depression, guilt, anger, fear, rejection and loss. And, when these are their prevailing emotions, it is difficult for them to feel good about themselves and their environment. Second, they do not learn how to cope with and express their feelings. They will often cover-up, misdirect or act out rather than share their feelings in a more self-fulfilling way. Finally, troubled youths will often behave as if they don’t care about how others feel. They will ignore or belittle others instead of trying to be helpful or compassionate. All of these factors serve to constantly deprive troubled youths of the relationships and interactions they need to develop the emotional strengths required to deal with the stress, anxiety and enjoyment of everyday living.
Troubled youths have also related to adults and peers who have been unable to provide the cognitive stimulation and insight they need to cope successfully with the realities of their immediate living environment. Generally they have a distorted knowledge of the world around them, a limited awareness of how to interact socially with others and inadequate problem solving techniques. For instance, their worldview may be completely inconsistent with reality. What seems obvious and logical to them may be in complete opposition to what others around them perceive as obvious or logical. Troubled youths also have trouble "placing themselves in another person s shoes." They are unaware that others have thoughts and feelings, which are different from their thoughts and feelings. Hence, they often appear as if they are manipulating or twisting situations to meet their own needs at the expense of others.
Their reasoning processes also often leave them with the least rather than the most productive alternative. Even when more productive alternatives are readily available, they will pick the solution which can only lead to more problems. It is almost as if they are driven to pick the wrong course in order to justify the poor images they have of themselves.’
Another frequent outcome of troubled youths' relationships is physical neglect. They are often underweight or overweight, afflicted with minor illnesses or suffering from lack of proper nutrition. Their coordination, balance, manual dexterity and other basic movements are also often awkward or underdeveloped in comparison to other youths their age. Troubled youths also often have a neglected looking or disheveled physical appearance.
Problems in these three areas of development are compounded further by the fact that each area can have an effect on the other two areas. Lack of emotional, cognitive and physical growth are usually mutually interdependent. Problems in one area enhance the probability of problems in another area. Just as one’s positive strengths can build upon each other, negative traits can perpetuate each other. It is not surprising, then, that troubled youths develop feelings and perceptions about themselves, others and the world they live in which make it difficult for them to get involved in growing experiences such as daily living routines, recreational activities, school, and positive interactions with adults and peers. For example, some troubled youths are so used to not having their emotional, cognitive and physical needs met that, to them, growing up just means more unmet needs. Other youths have such poor self-images and feelings of self worth that they can’t imagine themselves as being eligible for positive change.
Still other youths are afraid to try something new, because they think others expect more than they can give. And even when their perceptions of others’ expectations are fairly accurate, their perceptions of their own abilities might not be sufficient to allow them to try.
Finally, troubled youths often are not able to identify a place for themselves in the world. No one in the past seemed to care enough to show them where they fit in and they can’t define their own place, so as far as they are concerned they really do not belong here.
Krueger, M.A. (1988). Intervention Techniques for Child/ Youth Care Workers. Child Welfare League of America: Washington, DC pp. 2-5.