One of the things that comes up often in conversation these days amongst myself and friends is how different life is for teens today than it was in our day. It's not like it's that far off, we're all just turned 30-something over the past little while. But the sheer drastic difference can be called "unparalleled". While the concept of a snotty teen is nothing new, the instances of teens roaming the streets, acting out, being belligerent, are what feels like a million times worse than when I was a teen. I was snotty, sure enough, I told my folks where to go more than once. I snuck into pool bars, drank under-aged, etc. But it was more just "being a teen" than being a excessive dick.
I walk through the Village Mall (in west end St. John's, NL, Canada) on any given day, and I see literally hundreds of wayward teens, smoking outside the doors, fighting with security guards, acting like punks. I've personally witnessed drug use, alcohol abuse, and violence (all reported, I don't turn my back on such things). You can go anywhere in this city and see large groups of teens, and if you look close enough, they are doing things that they shouldn't. What I mean by shouldn't isn't spray painting CD luvs SM on a wall, they are drinking, smoking, fighting... so many awful things.
I do ask myself, what are their parents doing about this? In many cases, the parents simply don't care and wallow in their own shitty lives, the child being a by-product of excess in their own lives. White trash, I believe many of these people are called. But in some cases, as you will read about in the following article from Keith Gosse of The Telegram, are beyond just bad parenting and a non-loving environment.
This mother, who does not want to be identified, is dealing with a teenage daughter with behavioural problems and hopes to connect with other parents in the same situation.
Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Parents calling for bootcamp or lockdown facility
Teenagers and tweens can act out. Their hormones can be a problem. They are experimenting with boundaries. They are trying to find themselves and their place in the world as they transition into adulthood.
Parents who have spoken with The Telegram over the past two weeks have heard this before. They say the behavior of their children has moved beyond hormonal “acting out” and they need help to handle it.
The parents are calling for a program to assist young people who have not broken any laws, but are in desperate need of a disciplinary wake-up call.
Two examples are highlighted here. The names have been changed to protect both the parents and the children, who might suffer from undue public stigma and judgment.
Mary is 13 years old and lives in a two-parent home in Mount Pearl. She has had behavioral problems since the age of eight, her mother said, but they have rapidly become more extreme in the last year or two.
The behavior has included aggressive swearing, bullying of other children, a lack of manners and skipping school. Most recently, Mary’s mother said, her daughter has offered to expose herself on the Internet for a fee, has been picked up with two other young girls who were caught shoplifting, and she has had conversations via Facebook about scoring drugs.
Although her mother has found no physical evidence of drug use, she is convinced Mary has been using. She has locked their home computer, but Mary has found access elsewhere — most likely during the days she refuses to return home until 1 or 2 a.m.
Mary’s mother called the police on one of those days last spring. A police officer found her through a patrol of the area, but could not bring her home.
Unless a troubled youth has broken a law or is endangering them self or others at the time, the police have no right to put them in the car.
On another day, Mary’s mother videotaped one of her worst encounters with her daughter. The video was taken at 10 a.m. and — seen in the shaky images from a handheld camera held at her side — she opens her daughter’s bedroom door and asks her to get up for school.
Mary had been asked at 7:30 a.m., when the rest of the family was getting breakfast. She was told by her stepfather half an hour later, when her two younger siblings were leaving for school. She was begged a few minutes after that, before her mother had to call and say she would be late for work again because her daughter was having “one of her bad days.”
On the screen, Mary mumbles something into her bed sheets and her mother asks her again to “please get up.” Mary screams. “Get the f--k out!”
Dropping to a quiet yet audible voice level, the 13-year old adds: “I swear to God, I’d like to take a knife and stab it through one of you guys.”
Watching the video, Mary’s mother admits she slept on the couch that night.
She said she informed Child, Youth and Family Services about the incident and a social worker spoke with Mary about it. The mother feels nothing has changed in Mary’s behavior since the incident.
“It’s hard to recognize it from that (video). We do share a bond. We can make each other laugh and she does tell me a lot that goes on with her friends,” she said. “My heart breaks for her.”
John is 12 years old. He lives in Goulds in a single, working-parent family. His mother has been raising him and his two older siblings since he was two.
The family moved to St. John’s to be with their extended family, coming from what John’s mother describes as a generally unsafe neighborhood in another province.
“We were in a 17-floor building and the place was just rampant with people,” she said. “There was a lot of drugs, a lot of guns.”
She said the change in location has not helped her keep all of that from her kids.
She admits she has not seen John with any drugs, but said she has found a vanilla extract bottle made into a homemade pipe after coming home from work one day.
“My son smokes pot. I don’t know what else he does, but he was talking about the frost on the mushrooms one day there — and he’s 12. I’m scared to death for him,” she said.
“I never know where he is. Every time he walks out I ask him where he’s going and I’m promptly told to go f--k myself.”
On the day John’s mother spoke with The Telegram, he came to her workplace in the middle of the day asking for money. Told he could not have any and to go back to school, he ranted and swore, storming off and leaving his mother to ashamedly apologize to her co-workers.
Like Mary, John is having problems whenever he is in class.
“They talk to him and they talk to him and then they suspend him,” his mother said. “And he’s a smart kid. That’s what kills me.”
His mother went to Child, Youth and Family Services for help in August 2009. A social worker spoke with the 12-year-old and his siblings. They spoke with John’s mother.
“If it was a problem with my parenting, I think my other two would be having problems, too,” she said.
Youth services, mental health
In the case of both Mary and John, their parents’ first call when things started to get out of hand was to the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS).
The department is mandated mainly for child protection — where there is evidence or risk of parents or guardians harming their child. For this purpose, CYFS operates eight group homes in the province for at-risk youth taken from their homes and unable to be placed with relatives or in another type of residential care situation.
There are also group homes for young people who have broken the law, falling under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and are between the ages of 12 and 18.
If, at the age of 16, there is no parent or guardian willing to provide care for a youth, the teenagers can sign a Youth Services Agreement with CYFS and receive assistance in finding housing and educational programs.
Outside of these cases — youth threatened by their parents, that have broken the law or have been tossed out at 16 — CYFS will refer families to non-profit organizations and/or the Department of Health and Community Services.
Mary and John have been referred to several outside providers of programs for troubled youth, including anti-drug seminars, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Janeway Family Centre, Choices for Youth and Waypoints supportive programming.
Both mothers say nothing has helped.
John’s mother has asked about having him evaluated for any possibility of mental illness, considering his sometimes wild mood swings. Mental illness would mean other programs that may have a positive effect.
She has been told, and the Department of Health has confirmed, it will be up to 18 months before he will get in to see a specialist and have any diagnosis.
Mary has seen a psychiatrist. Her mother has been told her daughter has ADHD, but does not believe it explains all of Mary’s behaviour, especially considering it has continued through the use of prescribed medications.
Mary’s mother is waiting for a re-evaluation of the diagnosis. Barring a mental health crisis, her daughter will be almost 15 by the time she sees a specialist to have it completed.
Both the RNC and the RCMP say they work closely with Child, Youth and Family Services and families in times of serious incident or crisis, but they ask that parents not contact police for “informal intervention” with youth.
“It is too often used by parents as a primary parenting tool instead of having the parents do it right themselves,” said RCMP Sgt. Boyd Merrill.
“I know you can’t send them to jail, but I think there should be some kind of a lockdown facility where you can send them for a week or two weeks,” John’s mother said, adding it might be the wake-up call the youth needs.
Mary’s mother suggested the program could take troubled youth behind the scenes of the justice system, with a tour of the lock-up and a talk from a judge, in combination with a multi-day “bootcamp” program.
“Ideally, in the long-term, what I see is Child, Youth and Family Services and the RNC coming together to do some kind of program, something to be proactive instead of reactive.”
As another option, there are boarding schools that are specialized in dealing with troubled youth and desperate parents, but none are in this province.
For now, Mary’s mother is trying to connect with other parents of troubled teens. She has started an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Facebook page and a Twitter feed, under “scaredforteens.”
“I just wonder how many parents are out there that are afraid of getting the call at 3 o’clock in the morning that their child is dead or that they’ve overdosed,” she said. “Where do you go? Like, what do you do?”
Is a bootcamp for troubled teens a good idea? I do. I'm not a parent yet, so I will be honest in saying that I can't speak from experience. I've dated women with troubled children, but they were so young that they could likely be saved before it becomes a true issue. Once again though, this was only brief, so I can't really say I've got experience in this sort of thing. I do know what I don't like though. I do not like seeing so many teens with seemingly ZERO guidance. I have personally heard parents say they can't control their kids and have given up (one of my neighbor's is brutal for this) but to me, given that they are THEIR CHILDREN, doesn't that BY DEFAULT mean you never give up? You always try, no matter what?