As the winter holidays approach, parents of troubled teens across the country are hoping “things will be different this year.” Instead of worrying about how the holidays will go, if their son or daughter will create discord among family members, or if this holiday season will be as tumultuous as the last one, many parents of adolescents who are barely getting by in school or at home are taking advantage of the upcoming holiday break to enroll their teens in wilderness therapy.
Out of School, Out of Control
Like other vacation periods such as summer and spring break, winter vacation means more down time, which leads to less rules and structure and more opportunities for struggling teens to engage in delinquent behavior. “Young people tend to focus more on the social scene during school vacations,” says Kathy Rex, Executive Director of SUWS Adolescent and Youth Programs. “Winter, even more so than summer, brings out school parties, which often come with underage drinking, substance use, and heightened emotions.”
More down time also means more family time, which can escalate interpersonal conflicts and make evident problem behaviors that may have been less visible when school and work were in full swing, says Michael Ervin, Regional Director at SUWS of the Carolinas, a therapeutic wilderness program in North Carolina.
The holidays can be full of stress and anxiety for adults as well as teens. Add to the bustle of family gatherings a teen who is angry, defiant, depressed, or otherwise acting out, and many parents are pushed to their breaking point.
One of the first things we notice as parents is that teens don’t respond well to the word “no.” Our once perfect, sweet little children turn into complete monsters at the mere mention of the “no” word. It’s almost as if the teen years are a horrifying repeat of the terrible twos, but without the relief of naptime.
Sure, there’s always the child who seems molded out of Stepford robot clay who does exactly as mom and dad say, when they say it. This child, straight from an Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie, never appears to challenge authority. Although I applaud any parent who has produced such a child, I also find such children a bit unsettling.
For most of us, there is at least a temporary period where the word “no” raises a red flag right in front of the good common sense of any teenager. As a result, the teen will buck any authority she perceives as controlling.