Alcohol Abuse

A Guide to Help Youth with Alcohol Use and Abuse

Ravi and Kishore tiptoed down the steps a few minutes after 1 am. Ravi led his friend into the far corner of the room they called the study, though no one did any studying in there. A metallic click echoed in the room as twelve-year-old Ravi turned the key in his dad’s liquor cabinet.

“He’s going to know you got in here,” Kishore warned.

“No way,” Ravi insisted. “I only take what I know he won’t miss.” He reached around a few bottles in the front and drew out a bottle of vodka. He unscrewed the cap, placed the bottle to his mouth, and swallowed a mouthful of the clear liquid. He passed it to Kishore, and the two drank a few more swallows before returning the bottle to the cabinet. 

Ravi’s late-night adventure with Kishore soon became a regular event when Kishore visited or stayed the night. Before long, Ravi snuck liquor from his father’s cabinet when he was home alone too. By the time he was fourteen he was drinking every day. Ravi had few friends besides Kishore, and most evenings he spent alone at home while his father worked late, and his mom went to work or market or wherever his father wasn’t home. It seemed to Ravi like he was always lonely and bored, and the booze somehow helped to fill the void. It made him feel warm and secure, somehow.

Neither his father-whom Ravi suspected was an alcoholic-nor his mother seemed to notice the alcohol that disappears with regularity from the house. If they did, they never commented on it.

Problem of Alcohol Use and Abuse

As many as 1,000 youths in the age group of 16 to 21 years, from cities including Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata, Rajasthan, were surveyed. It was revealed that 75% youth consumed alcoholic drinks before turning 21, the legal age for drinking. Almost 88 per cent youth tried some of the other addiction between 16 and 18 years of age, the report said.

According to the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2019, among adolescents and young adults (aged 10–24 years), alcohol-attributable burden is second highest among all risk factors contributing to disability-adjusted life years in this age group.

Alcohol consumption in adolescents results in a range of adverse outcomes across several domains and includes road traffic accidents and other non-intentional injuries, violence, mental health problems, intentional self-harm and suicide, HIV and other infectious diseases, poor school performance and drop-out, and poor employment opportunities.

Adolescent alcohol abuse has become a devastating epidemic.

Thomas Seessel, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism, also said, nearly 100,000 twelve- and thirteen-year-olds get drunk at least once a Week.

It begins, of course, with experimentation. A preteen or teen discovers a bottle of wine in the refrigerator or is induced to sample beer at friend’s house. Many young people, after such experimentation, find their curiosity satisfied and thereafter abstain from alcohol. Others, However, continue to drink, sharing a six-pack of beer in a friend’s car or sneaking a few swigs from the bottle of champagne in the refrigerator.

Some of those become problem drinkers, occasionally drinking to get drunk, perhaps even driving while intoxicated. Still others succumb to alcoholism.

Frank Moran, manager of adolescent services at the McDonald Treatment Center of Scripps Memorial Hospital, summarizes all the statistics and studies with a warning,

It’s hard to get an accurate picture of alcohol abuse from kids but the reality is that thousands of preteens are halfway down the road to disaster? And many teens have already arrived.

Causes of Alcohol Use and Abuse

Complex problems rarely have simple causes, and alcoholism is a complex problem. Mental health and health care professionals differ as to the primary causes of alcoholism, but the following are generally acknowledged as factors:


Numerous studies support the view that alcoholism springs from a physiological source. That is, some people possess an inborn predisposition toward alcoholism. This predisposition may never be discovered in people who never experiment with alcohol; but for physiological reasons those who do will experience a different reaction to alcohol than many of their friends.


Psychologist Gary Collins points to three factors that can affect the likelihood of alcoholism:

a. Parental Models

How parents behave often influences the subsequent behavior of children. When parents drink excessively or abuse drugs, children sometimes vow to completely abstain. More often, however, they follow the parental example. It has been estimated that “without intervention, 40 to 60 percent of children of alcoholic parents become alcoholics themselves.”

b. Parental Attitude

Parental permissiveness and parental rejections can both stimulate chemical use and abuse. When parents don’t care whether or not the children drink, there is no concern about the dangers of drugs or alcohol and misuse often follows. . . .

c. Cultural Expectation

If a culture or subcultural group has clear guidelines about the use of alcohol or drugs, abuse is less likely. Among conservative communities, for example, young people are discouraged to drink, drunkenness is condemned, and the rate of Alcoholism is low. In contrast, our general cultures are more tolerant of drunkenness . . Since “getting high” is the “in” thing to do, conditions are set up which leads many to alcohol abuse.

Outside Influences

Another contributing factor to alcoholism is the influence of outside forces such as a dysfunctional family environment, peer pressure, and stress from social problems. Many people, of course, have endured peer pressure or severe stress without becoming alcoholics, but these are among the factors that can influence a young person’s abuse of alcohol.

Effects of Alcohol Use and Abuse

Many people assume they know the effects of alcoholism: drunkenness and debauchery. Such an assumption, however, is not only incomplete, it is incorrect. A drunken person is not always an alcoholic, and some alcoholics are seldom visibly drunk. There are, however, some effects of alcoholism that can be generally applied.


Alcoholics frequently experience a combination of physical and mental pain that can only be characterized as anguish. The alcoholic wonders if he or she is going crazy, fearing that he or she has lost control-or will soon. The alcoholic becomes intensely frustrated about his life. He begins to think God has deserted him or is actively seeking to punish him. Steve Arterburn, author of Growing Up Addicted, says,

“It is as If a big black cloud of everything negative and unpleasant about life is hovering over the alcoholic.”

Confusion and Disorientation

The alcoholic will experience a variety of mental effects. A brilliant student may find it difficult or impossible to focus her mind. She may routinely forget names, dates, details, and appointments. She may even experience occasional blackouts (a blackout, not to be confused with passing out, is a state in which a person who appears to be functioning consciously and normally cannot later recall anything that happened during the blackout period). The blackout is considered by many experts to be a primary indicator of alcoholism.

Loss of Control

Loss of control is the classic indicator for alcoholism.

Author Steve Arterburn also writes further,

Loss of control is characterized by the inability to predict the drinking behavior once the drinking has begun. It doesn’t mean that a person can’t stop drinking for two or three weeks. When the drinking does begin, the desired two drinks become the uncontrollable twenty. . . [It] also refers to the inability to control emotions. . . . The alcoholic may find himself or herself breaking into tears or uproarious laughter at inappropriate times.


An alcoholic is well acquainted with depression a bout of severe and prolonged sadness and hopelessness. (See also Depression – Bijoyful). He feels paralyzed, pathetic, and powerless to regain his grip on life, and that sense of helplessness compels him to drink, which increases his depression. The pair of such emotions, heightened by the chemical affecting his system, often exceeds that of other forms of depression.

Low Self-Esteem

An alcoholic will typically experience fatal bows to his or her self-esteem. She will feel that her life is a mess, that she made it that way, and that she is powerless to turn it around. She will often conclude that if she were worth anything, if she had any character at all, she wouldn’t be in the shape she’s in. She feels as though she has no will power, no strength, no worth. She will believe that the friends she’s lost, the tests she’s failed, the people she’s disappointed have all been deserved, because she is worthless. Tragically, such feelings of low self-worth tend only to drive her to drink, which in turn deepens her convictions of worthlessness. (See also Unhealthy Self-Esteem – Bijoyful)

Personality Distortion

An alcoholic typically becomes nearly unrecognizable to many families and friends, “another person” from the person he or she “used to be.” Things that once were priorities are no longer important. Former values and interests are abandoned. A young woman who once took meticulous care of her appearance may often appear frumpy and disheveled; a young man who once seemed devoted to the piano may appear unconcerned with music.

Arrested Maturity

Alcohol stunts emotional growth.

A teen (for preteen) alcoholic will suffer from arrested maturity. “Alcohol stunts emotional growth,” says one professional in the field. “Kids who drink heavily don’t develop the judgment or coping skills they need as adults.” The alcoholic may become easily distressed, easily angered, and easily offended, often like a child many years his or her junior. The path toward emotional and social maturity may not only be stunted; it may actually be reversed.

Guilt and Shame

In alcoholics guilt seems to prevail over all the other emotions.

An alcoholic may feel guilt over his conviction (often encouraged by family, community, etc) that his alcoholism was self-inflicted. His alcoholism may have separated him from family, friends, and even from God. He may know his periodic drunkenness to be a sin forbidden and condemned in his belief. Such things are likely to engender deep feelings of guilt. (See also Guilt – Bijoyful). Inasmuch as he equates his actions with himself and his disorder with his person, he will also feel shame- shame because he is an alcoholic, because he is a “drunk”, because he is a “failure,” because he’s not “normal”- in his own eyes and often in the eyes of others.


Remorse focuses on the harm the person has caused something or someone else.

An alcoholic will frequently be overcome with remorse. Whereas guilt focuses on a person’s acts and shame focuses on the person’s self, remorse focuses on the harm the person has caused something or someone else. She may be remorseful over the tears her mother has shed on her behalf. She may feel remorse for the lie that have hurt her friends. She may deeply regret the embarrassment she has caused her family or trouble she feels she’s caused her people. Such remorse, combined with guilt and shame, can prompt a person to sincere repentance-or total despair.

Alienation and Isolation

Many of the above effects- low self-esteem, depression, guilt, shame, remorse-can create a crippling sense of alienation in the young alcoholic’s mind and heart. He or she feels alone, unable to get close to anyone, unable to seek help from anyone. Arterburn writes:

      The alcoholic, alienated from God and others, is left to suffer alone…. “They don’t really care.” “He hasn’t been through what I’ve been through.” “How could you help someone like me?” All become the battle cries of continued alienation. One by one the alcoholic figures out some excuse to push everyone out of his or her life.


A young person who is in the advanced stages of alcoholism will sooner or later succumb to despair. The situation appears hopeless. Life is effectively over. There seems to be no way out. Many alcoholics at this point succeed at suicide. Even if they do not, however, the outlook-apart from intervention- is bleak. “The progression.” Arterburn says, “100 percent of the time, ends in death from disease, an accident, suicide, or total insanity.”

Response to the Problem of Alcohol Use and Abuse

A young person who is struggling with alcoholism is in acute and urgent need of help. Even if the youth has not progressed far into alcoholism, even if he or she does not perceive his or her own need of help, the youth leader or caring adult must wisely and diligently seek to bring help and healing. Before detailing a- plan of response, it might be helpful to quote Collins’s list of things that will not help: criticism, coaxing, making the person promise to stop, threats, hiding or destroying the alcohol. . . . urging the use of will power, preaching, or instilling guilt. The following suggestions may, however, assist the youth leader:


Listen closely, not only to what the young person says but to what his or her words and actions indicate. Keep in mind that alcoholics (even young ones) are often masters of denial and manipulation. Resist the temptation to preach or argue; instead, try to communicate nonverbally (“If the addict collapses on the living room floor,” Collins suggests, “leave him or her there rather than helping the person into bed) or by the use of nonthreatening questions (“Can you tell me more?” or “Why are you angry?”).


Let your gentleness be known.

Try to see beyond the young person’s words or actions to imagine what he or she is feeling and thinking. Strive to focus (at least initially) on understanding, not on correction. “Let your gentleness be known” to the young man or woman, and be alert to ways to communicate your empathy and willingness to understand, such as:

  • Being available to the youth.
  • Making eye contact.
  • Leaning slightly forward in your chair as he or she talks.
  • Nodding to indicate understanding.
  • Reflecting key statements.
  • Waiting patiently through silence, anger, or tears.


Be very careful to remember that most alcoholics experience intense anxiety and low self-esteem. Consequently, be careful not to criticize or condemn the young person; instead, communicate your acceptance of and appreciation for him or her (although not of his or her behavior). Be gentle, accepting, affirming- but not naive -in your approach.


The concerned adult can most help a young person struggling with alcohol abuse by offering the following direction:

  1. Gently but firmly guide the young person to recognize and admit the problem. The following eight questions may help:
  • Do you sometimes look forward to drinking when you should be doing something else?
  • When you are drinking, do you drink as much as you can as quickly as possible?
  • Do you ever end up drinking more than you (or others) think you should? (A “yes” answer to this question indicates a 90 percent likelihood of a drinking problem)
  • Do you ever drink alone (not necessarily physically alone; others may be present but not involved with the drinker)?
  • Do you try to protect your supply of alcohol in order to make sure you’re not “short” when you need it?
  • When you’re upset or sad, do you ever think, “If I could just have a drink, I’d feel better”?
  • Are you able to drink more than you used to while remaining remarkably functional?
  • Do you ever have trouble remembering things you did or said while drinking?

If the young person answers “yes” to four or more of the above questions, it is likely that he or she has a drinking problem. If the youth refuses to answer honestly or is resistant, offer calm but consistent evidence sticking as much as possible to a non-threatening questioning style. Present specific examples (“Did you intend to lose control last night?”) rather than general accusations (“You’re never sober anymore!”).

2. Turn the young person towards God. Lead him or her to confession and repentance of sin, and help the young person receive and acknowledge God’s love and forgiveness. Impress upon the youth that there is grace and strength in a relationship with God. Guide him or her to the establishment of a daily habit of prayer.

3. Inform and involve the youth’s parents. As early as possible, the young person’s parents must become involved. Though sometimes parents are reluctant to face the truth of a son or daughter’s problem, their cooperation and support will be central to effective treatment and recovery.

4. Review the options for treatment. Help the youth (and parents) to consider medical intervention, support groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), and other forms of treatment. One of the most effective ways of accomplishing this by suggesting “either/or” options (“Would you feel more comfortable seeing your family physician about the problem or would you like me to suggest someone?”)


Once the youth has faced his or her problem (which may take considerable time and effort- for both of you) concentrate your efforts on enlisting him or her in planning for recovery. Offer gentle prodding and guidance, as warranted, but gain as much participation from the youth as possible. Though he or she may at first feel powerless, steer the teen toward solutions, but be sure the youth “owns” whatever decisions are made.


Teen alcoholism is a complex and critical problem. It is imperative that, as quickly as possible, the youth be referred to a qualified professional who can offer counsel and guidance. Under no circumstances should you let an alcoholic try to overcome his or her alcoholism without considerable and professional help There is a wide variety of organizations (like Alcoholics Anonymous) and treatment programs that can help, and an informed physician or psychologist can help the youth and the youth leader connect with such resources.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person to care for. If you have any questions related to Alcohol Use and Abuse or any problems faced by young people, write to us at

In case you want us to discuss about specific problems faced by young people, leave a comment below and we will try and come up with an article to help you.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based charitable organization. (357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery, livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.

A Guide to Help troubled Youth

This series is for everyone who has a young person to care for with resource that will help them address crises of today’s youth.

I received an email from a father who had heard me speak, He said he and his wife had always done their best to be good parents. They were part of good community and had always been proud of their children. But he told me that had just discovered something about their oldest daughter, something that brought their world crashing down around them. He described his daughter as a pretty girl, but he said she’d never been real popular with boys. Until recently.

She started dating one of the boys on the college band, and this father had just learned -very early in the relationship she had sex with him. She went from that band member to another. Before long, she had slept with the whole band! This tortured parent wrote me, “Bijo, they were passing my little girl around as some sort of ‘band girl’!”

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard similar stories, firsthand, that would melt even the hardest hearts. Parents, grandparents, teachers, friends and youth leaders confide their frustrations, fears and their intense and urgent longings for help with the complex, critical issues youth face today.

That’s the reason for Help & Hope for YOUth series.

Our humble effort through these articles is to provide any caring adults who wants to work with youth a collection of resources that will help them prevent and address crises so many of today’s youth face at one time or another.

Who should subscribe for this series?

It is most useful to those concerned adults who feel ill-equipped, who feel they are in over their heads, who long for a resource to help them help the kids who come to them. it is offered as a first line of defense for adults who hope to prevent or address the tragedies that too often afflict our youth.

What is covered in this series?

Each of the articles that follow focuses on topics and issues in the categories of Emotional, Relational, Family, Sexual, Abuse, Disorder, Addictions and Educational faced by youth, and is intended to offer strong working knowledge of the issues and appropriate short and long- term responses to each.

How to use this series?

Each issue is organized to lead you through the helping process in four steps for effective analysis and results.

1. Identity the problem

2. Discover the issue

3. Determine the effects

4. Suggest a right response

Do Subscribe and help us spread the word in your connections, so that these resources will reach everyone who has a young person to care for.

Bijo Joseph is the Founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg, 357152/Sec. 8 Co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and peer support offered by counsellors, coaches, social workers and volunteers.

Parental Divorce

A Guide to Help Youth with Parental Divorce

Fourteen-year-old Meera stormed into the school counselor’s office, dropped her books loudly onto the floor, and slumped into the chair just inside the door. She crossed her arms and frowned at the counselor.

“What’s going on with you, Meera?” the counselor asked. The thirty-eight-year-old former science teacher sat on the corner of his desk and crossed his arms on his chest.

When the girl did not respond, the counselor continued. “I’ve never heard anything but positive reports from your teachers” he said. “Until lately. You’ve been speaking rudely in class, your grades have dropped dramatically in just the last two weeks, and you can’t seem to get along with anybody.”

The girl said nothing. She fixed her eyes on the picture on the wall over the counselor’s left shoulder and stared.

“And now you get into a shoving match with Veena Shele in study hall?) I thought you and Veena were best friends.”

Meera clenched her jaw and stared stubbornly at the wall. She had determined not to say a word. It was hard enough to deal with herself; she didn’t want to have to explain to everyone why her parents were breaking up. She didn’t want anyone to know. She didn’t know how long she could keep it a secret. But she would try.

Problem of Parental Divorce

The number of divorcees has doubled in India over the past two decades, revealed in a report from United Nations in 2019-2020 titled “Families in a Changing World” with those in urban areas making up the largest proportion in India. A survey states that Agro based states like Punjab and Haryana are now seeing an increase of 150% of divorce rate since the last decade. Kerala, known to be the most literate state has experienced an increase of divorce rate by 350% in the last 10 years. 

While India has one of the lowest divorce rates globally, estimated to be around 1.1%, its exponential growth in past two decades is disturbing especially when one considers the effects of divorce upon youth.

Effects of Parental Divorce

Countless scholars have conducted studies on the effects of divorce on children, identifying wide range of results and responses, both immediate and long-term. While some mental health professionals believe that a divorce (and the naturally associated separation of a child’s daily life from one parent) is more traumatic at some ages than at others, there is certainly no good time for a young person to endure the divorce of his or her parents.

Youth may respond in multiple and varied ways to the news of their parents’ divorce, including denial, shame or embarrassment, blame or guilt, anger, fear, relief, insecurity and low self-esteem, grief, depression, alienation and loneliness, and other effects.


A common response to pain (especially mental and emotional pain) is denial. Some youth may respond to their parents’ divorce by acting as if it isn’t happening or by insisting to themselves that their parents won’t go through with it. They may say nothing at all to their friends, or they may say their father is simply away on business. This form of denial is often maintained for a long time, continuing even after the divorce is final and new living situations have been formed as a young person entertains a stubborn hope that Mom and Dad will soon get back together.

Another common form of denial manifests itself in a young person’s refusal to admit, even to himself or herself, that he or she is upset in any way by the divorce. Such a response is often characterized by an attempt to shrug off the divorce or by a refusal to talk about it because “it’s no big deal.” While there may be, in rare cases, a degree of relief at the breakup of the parents’ marriage (a response discussed later in this article), such casual responses are an indication of the youth’s inability or unwillingness to face what’s happening to his or her family. Denial may take other forms, such as idealizing the absent parent or even by bragging loudly and frequently about the parents’ breakup in order to mask one’s own anxiety.

The concerned adult must realize that denial, though usually unhealthy, is a defense mechanism. Youth who resort to denial do so (most often unconsciously) to protect themselves and guard a certain degree of stability in their lives.


“More than anything, I was ashamed,” a young woman named Vera related to Anne Clair and HS Vigeveno, authors of No One Gets Divorced Alone. “Ashamed of living in that crummy place and ashamed of my parents for splitting up. I didn’t tell a soul.”

Shame and embarrassment are common responses to parents’ divorce among teens and preteens. Some and so embarrassed that they don’t even tell their closest friends about what is happening in their families. . . even when those friends’ parents are also divorced or divorcing.

Such youth typically feel ashamed or embarrassed because they interpret a divorce as an indication that there is something wrong with their family (and assume others will think the same thing). They also may assume that they bear a degree of responsibility for their parents’ breakup (discussed later in the “Blame/Guilt section). They may be embarrassed by what they consider inappropriate conduct on the part of their parents following the divorce (such as Dad dating a younger woman) or by the abrupt changes in their style of living (such as moving into a smaller apartment with Mom)

Such feelings are often intensified among religious youth. They may feel that religious teachings regarding divorce condemn their parents and their family. They not only have to face their friends at school and in the neighborhood, but they also have to cope with an entire religious community (from which they may have reason to fear judgment and disapproval). If their parents have functioned as leaders in the community, youth may face even greater embarrassment as their parents strive to maintain their positions or family relinquish their duties.


Young children often attach huge significance to a single event in their immature attempt to determine the cause of their parents’ divorce. They may remember a loud argument Mom and Dad had, or the night that Mom cried alone at the dinner table and think that must be the reason their parents are getting divorced. Often, of course, the most memorable events in a child’s mind are those that pertained to the child: the disagreement over who should take Josna to her piano lesson or the time Daddy yelled because Josh strayed from the road. As a result, children often blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. One child psychologist found that “almost three-quarters of the six-year-olds we studied blame themselves for the divorce.”

The same thing happens (though at a more sophisticated level, perhaps) among older youth. Preteens and teens may feel that their fights with siblings prompted Mom and Dad’s decision to divorce. They may think that their struggle for independence or their teenage rebellion contributed to the split. They may feel responsible because of falling grades, flaring tempers, or failure to communicate their love to one or both of their parents. Some youths have even been told, by parents or other adults, that their attitude or behavior contributed to or caused their parents’ divorce.

Youth who blame themselves for their parents’ split may also feel a driving, urgent need to engineer Mom and Dad’s reconciliation. They may prefer such bearing of responsibility to what they see as the alternative-a feeling of utter helplessness. (See also Guilt – Bijoyful)


Anger is among the most common responses to parental divorce. A young person may be angry simply because the divorce disrupts his or her family environment, creating disorder where before there was order. A youth may feel anger because he or she resents being separated from one parent. His or her feelings of abandonment may create anger, or he or she may resent being different from friends who still live in intact families.

Youth may be victims of one parent’s resentment toward the other. Sentiments and statements like “Why do you have to be so much like your father?” and “Why do you let her do this to you?” can create a strong emotion of anger in an adolescent or preadolescent. Even in the most amicable situations, the turbulence and activity surrounding the divorce may decrease the amount of time and attention the parents are able to give to the family which may occasion reactions of frustration and anger in the children. And certainly, a divorce is likely to cause multiple new resentments and frustrations between the divorcing parents which, added to the disaffection that may already have existed, will make life more stressful on the children.

Physical and financial circumstances may prompt anger as well. If the divorce prompts a family move from a familiar neighborhood, school, and community, or a change to less-than- ideal living circumstances, youth may respond with anger. A teen or preteen may become angry that Mom has to start working (or work longer hours) taking both mother and father away from him or her for long periods of time.

Youth will respond to their anger in various ways. They may repress it and deny it and even feel guilty because they feel angry. They may release it by identifying with others (such as characters in violent movies). They may release it symbolically through passive aggressive behavior (such as “accidentally” hurting themselves or others, after which they may make effusive attempts at repentance and restitution). They may project their anger onto others, seeing anger in others’ words and behavior.

Those young people who suppress their anger may suffer heightened stress. They may experience anxiety attacks, which may include sweating, shortness of breath, body tremors skin irritations, and even a state of severe, irrational panic. They may experience nightmares at night and/or severe depression and moodiness during the day (See Anger – Bijoyful and Depression – Bijoyful)

The primary purpose of anger, according to let Dr Richard A. Gardner is to remove a source of irritation and frustration. When anger is directed at a physical threat, it serves a useful protective purpose; anger that is directed at divorcing parents (or something hazier, like the divorce itself, or circumstances) creates far more problems than it solves. Anger that is unresolved may lead to rage (a more violent, less directed response) and eventually to fury (an irrational response that is more violent and less directed still)


Like anger, fear is also a common and elemental response to parental divorce. Bowlby (1969) claimed that the loss of anyone to whom an infant is attached produces an instinctive fear response. Such a loss in older children-such as a loss through divorce-will also frequently produce fear.

Adolescents and preadolescents, in addition to experiencing the same instinctive response, will also, because of their age and relative mental maturity, face fears that are more tangible. They may entertain fears about where they will live, where they will go to school, or where they will spend vacations. They may fear the reactions of their friends, family and community. They may fear total abandonment by one or both parents. They may fear “losing” their grandparents.

Youth who respond to parental divorce in this way may react by withdrawing and becoming less communicative with their parents and/or peers. They may suppress or deny their fears. They may become so frustrated by their fears that they respond angrily and begin to lash out emotionally at parents and others. They may experience nightmares or may be more prone to daydream. Some youth may even be subject to anxiety attacks or panic attacks. (See also Anxiety – Bijoyful)


Some adolescents and preadolescents actually experience feelings of relief when their parents announce plans to divorce. Their relief may be occasioned by a variety of factors, but it is most often related to conditions that existed prior to (and may have contributed to) the divorce.

 “Anything’s better than their constant fighting,” they may say.

“I couldn’t wait for him to leave,” some may say.

“I knew it would happen sooner or later,” others may say. “They just never got along.”

Such expressions of relief may be a form of denial (discussed earlier in this article) intended to mask a young person’s pain. Other teens and preteens may use such statements as a means of “getting back” at their parents for the hurt they have caused their children. For others, however, such statements of relief are a sincere and accurate articulation of their feelings.

Divorces rarely occur “out of the blue.” They are more often the result of months, perhaps years, of struggles and mistakes. The children in a family are seldom ignorant of those struggles and mistakes. They may have overheard their parents’ arguments. They may have witnessed abuse or suffered abuse themselves. They may even have been aware of one parent’s infidelity. As a result, for many youths the threat of a divorce is welcomed as the promise of relative peace and harmony.

Insecurity/Low Self-Esteem

Children of divorce are especially vulnerable to feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. The circumstances that led to divorce, the divorce process itself, and the conditions that commonly follow a divorce often constitute three “strikes” against an adolescent or preadolescent’s sense of self-worth.

Children of divorce often reason that their very existence brought about their parents’ divorce; “if I had never been born.” some may suppose, “Mom and Dad might still be together.” Or they may believe that if Mom and Dad had somehow had a different-better-child, the marriage could have been saved (see “Blame/Guilt” discussed earlier in this article) Such attitudes, however unreasonable to an objective, adult mind, are intensely real–and reasonable-to many children of divorce, causing a harmful effect on a young person’s self-esteem.

Even if they don’t blame themselves for their parents’ divorce, teens or preteens may feel different from-and less worthy than-friends whose families are intact. Because in a divorce one parent is largely removed from a young person’s daily life and because the circumstances surrounding a divorce often make it harder för either parent to give attention and affection to the children, the younger victims of divorce are likely to feel abandoned to some degree, and many assume that because they have been thus “rejected,” they are therefore unlovable.

Many also feel stigmatized by their neighborhood because of the family split, and they accept that stigmatization as a reflection of their low worth. Stigmatization may also occur (or be inferred by youth) because of a parent’s behavior (alcoholism, promiscuity, abusiveness), which can strike a crippling blow to a young person’s self-esteem. Economic changes or hardships can also constitute, in a young mind, evidence of low worth.

The circumstances that follow divorce can also threaten a young person’s security and self-esteem (see Unhealthy Self-Esteem – Bijoyful). The If the parents struggle to “make arrangements” for the care and supervision of the children, if one parent is lax in visitation or child-support payments, if the child is made to feel like an inconvenience to Mom and Dad, he or she may believe “I’m nothing but trouble; I’m not worth much to them.”

Such situations, because they often breed insecurity and low self-esteem, may give rise to a plethora of other psychological symptoms.


After a divorce, children, teens, and adults alike sometimes go through stages of grief much as they would after the death of a loved one. Of course, such grief following divorce is generally not as extreme as grief caused by death, for several reasons: the separation (even when one parent moves far away) is not irrevocable, divorce seldom occurs as suddenly as death often does, and divorce (while it is certainly serious and disturbing) does not often produce quite the same level of upheaval (emotional and otherwise) that death does.

However, a sense of grief is nonetheless real, and often severe, to children of divorce. Grief is a healthy process, providing a period of transition and acclimation to a loss. The grieving process normally includes five stages, as Kubler Ross identified: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (See Grief – Bijoyful). In the case of a divorce, these stages may be less pronounced, but they are often present, nonetheless.

While relatively few teens or preteens will mourn overtly, they may experience times of sadness, melancholy, and listlessness. Their tempers and emotions may be unusually volatile. Intense feelings may overcome them at odd moments, and they may have difficulty expressing their feelings or attributing them to any source. They may not connect their grief to their parents’ divorce, and they may need guidance to help identify the reasons for the changes in their feelings and behavior.


Unless the news of a divorce occasions feelings of relief because of prior family conflict and upheaval, most adolescents and preadolescents will experience sadness upon learning of their parents plans a divorce, and they will endure occasional moments of sadness as they adjust to the new state of affairs.

Depression, however, is a prolonged period of sadness, often intense. (See also Depression – Bijoyful). It is typically characterized by:

  • apathy
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of interest in and concentration on studies
  • loss of ability to enjoy play
  • loss of ability to enjoy peer relationships
  • helplessness
  • hopelessness
  • irritability
  • obsessive self-criticism
  • withdrawal

Other symptoms may include extreme periods of boredom and low frustration tolerance, and extreme cases may be characterized by self-destructive fantasies and threats of suicide (See Depression – Bijoyful)

Such depression may last a few weeks-or months. If circumstances other than the divorce itself (such as pent-up anger or guilt or the prolonged distress of the custodial parent) contribute to the depression, it may last even longer. While a certain degree of depression is natural and understandable among the children of divorce, long-term depression is not a healthy response.

Alienation and Loneliness 

Children of divorce-particularly adolescents- often experience a sense of alienation as a result of their parents’ decision. They may feel somewhat estranged from one or both parents. They and may feel alienated from their community even when they have experienced no unpleasant or judgmental reaction from community members or leaders. They may feel suddenly distant from their friends. They may feel deserted and rejected by God Himself and will frequently wonder how God could allow such a thing to happen to their family.

In the wake of such alienation, of course, many teens and preteens experience bouts of extreme loneliness. They may feel friendless, helpless, and alone. They may think that no one understands what they are going through, what they are feeling. They may withdraw physically to their bedrooms, they may withdraw emotionally into fantasy or melancholy, or they may do both (See also Loneliness – Bijoyful).

Other Effects

The many turbulent feelings a child or teenager may experience in the case of his or her parents’ divorce can create other, long-term results which, to a greater or lesser degree, stem from the emotions and responses discussed above. These include academic problems, behavioral problems, sexual activity, substance abuse, or suicide threats and attempts.

Academic Problems

Thomas Ewin Smith boy found that adolescent children of single mothers exhibit a lower “academic self-concept” than children living with both biological parents. Furthermore, Shin and Hetherington, Camara, and Featherman documented that children from two-parent families have better grades and higher academic achievement than children in one-parent families. Such disparity may be the result of many factors: it is more difficult for children to concentrate on schoolwork in times of family turmoil, slipping grades may be a means of gaining attention or expressing rebellion, and single parents will often find it more difficult to monitor homework, etc. Academic problems may also be an outgrowth of one or more of the problems and emotions mentioned above.

Behavioral Problems

Some youth exhibit behavioral problems in the wake of their parents’ separation and divorce. They may begin smoking or drinking. They may start missing school. They may have trouble getting along with others. They may become disrespectful to schoolteachers and leaders.

Such behavior is often an expression of anger or confusion, a response to the emotional turmoil they feel-but cannot adequately express–because of their family situation.

Sexual Activity

Research suggests that divorce may also, in the long term, prompt a higher degree of sexual activity and promiscuity. For example, college students with divorced parents have been found to be more sexually active than classmates from intact homes. This is especially true of male children of divorce, who tended to favor “recreational” sex over committed relationships and were most likely to have had more sex partners by the time they entered university.

Such activity may be the result of modeling; boys who grow up without a live-in dad “may model more from cultural stereotypes of how a man is supposed to behave, from TV and movies short-term seductions,” says researcher Robert Billingham of Indiana University Billingham also suggests that such patterns of sexual activity may be-knowingly or not- modeled by single mothers who form multiple short-term relationships.

Substance Abuse

Researchers have found a linkage between parental divorce and substance abuse. Wilkinson and Dombusch and associates report a correlation between alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco use and the absence of a father from the home. Such behavior may be a simple result of less parental oversight or an expression of anger or rebellion. It may be the action of a young person who feels rejected at home and seeks approval and acceptance with friends and acquaintances.

Suicide Threats and Attempts

Occasionally, a young person’s depression and despair over the breakup of the family will become so severe that he or she will threaten or attempt suicide. The youth may view suicide as a way to avoid the pain and grief engendered by the breakup of the family. He or she may entertain the hope of “reclaiming” Mom and Dad’s love and attention by attempting suicide. Suicide may also be (to the youth’s imagination) a means of communicating how much his or her parents have hurt him or her, a way of “making them sorry.” Regardless of the thoughts and emotions behind the threat or attempt, such statements and actions should always be taken seriously and responded to immediately. (See Suicide – Bijoyful)

The long-term effects of parental divorce may also include a fear of betrayal, a fear of commitment, an inability to form close and lasting relationships, and lingering bitterness toward one or both parents.

Response to the Problem of Parental Divorce

The youth leader can help an adolescent or preadolescent cope with the tragedy of divorce by implementing the following plan:


Allow the young person to talk freely about his problems, his feelings, his thoughts, his hurts. Don’t probe for details of the parents’ divorce, but for expression of the young person’s thoughts and feelings about it. Perhaps the most important questions to ask at such times are:

  • What do you think is happening?
  • How does that make you feel?

These questions may help the youth focus on the pertinent issues: the facts (what is truly happening) and his or her feelings about the facts.


As you listen, try to see things through the eyes of the young person. Place yourself in his or her shoes; how might you feel in a similar situation? Such empathy can help you understand the young person’s responses and reactions to his or her situation. Remember that you can communicate empathetic warmth by:

  • Listening carefully to verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Nodding your head.
  • Making eye contact.
  • Leaning forward in your chair to indicate interest and concern.
  • Speaking in soothing tones.
  • Reflecting key statements (“So what you’re saying is or gestures (“It looks like that makes you pretty mad.”).


Resist the temptation to tell the young person that his or her feelings or actions are ridiculous or unfounded. Give the young person permission to feel and express his or her feelings. You may say, “What you’re going through must be a little scary. I know I would be afraid, not knowing for sure what things would be like now that my parents were divorcing. What’s that like for you?” Try to communicate the fact that his or her feelings are natural and understandable and that you accept him or her even when he or she is afraid or angry (for example). Offer affirmation, not only through what you say, but also through faithfulness in prayer for the young person.


A concerned adult should pursue several priorities in offering support and guidance to a youth whose parents are divorcing. These should include:

1. Encouraging dependence on God. Lead the young person into a relationship with God or encourage frequent prayer and greater dependence on God for the young man or woman who is already religious, for God promises to heal, guide, and “restore comfort” to those who are broken and contrite.

2. Try to direct the youth to differentiate between how he feels about the divorce and what he thinks about the divorce, leading him to evaluate for himself the reasonableness of his feelings. Don’t discount his feelings, for they are real and powerful, but try to lead him, not only to understand and express himself, but also to temper such feelings according to what he knows objectively, to be true.

3. Explore with the youth the difference between things one can control and things one cannot control. For example, one can control whether one hits a brother or sister; one cannot control whether one has a sister or brother. One can save for a rainy day; one cannot control on which days it may rain. Help the youth appreciate that parental divorce is among those things that the children in a family-regardless of their age cannot control.


Enlist the youth’s cooperation and participation in acknowledging and devising the things he or she can do to lessen the pain of Mum and Dad’s divorce. Focus his or her attention on constructive things that are within his or her power to do and encourage such things (making the transition to a new lifestyle easier for parent and child or attending more carefully to the relationship with the absent parent by calling several times a week, for example).


Strive to facilitate communication and cooperation between the youth and his or her parents. Consider recommending (to parents and child) consultation with a counseling professional who can offer counseling while you continue to offer support and guidance.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person to care for. If you have any questions related to parental divorce or any problems faced by young people, write to us at

In case you want us to discuss about specific problems faced by young people, leave a comment below and we will try and come up with an article to help you.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.

Sibling Rivalry

A Guide to Help Youth with Sibling Rivalry

For years, Sabiha and her older brother Kamal were best friends. They played football and cricket together. They went bicycling with each other. They were much closer to each other than either was to their older sister. That all changed, however around the time Sabiha turned fourteen. Her interests began to change It wasn’t as much fun hanging out with Kamal anymore; instead, she found herself drawn to her sister. She suddenly seemed to have much more in common with her than with Kamal.

It was around that time that Kamal started with the insults.

“He’d call me ‘snout’, then fatso,” says Sabiha. “I hated it, and I didn’t know why he was behaving, the way he was-all of a sudden, he wasn’t my best trend. If he knew something bothered me, he’d keep going on and on about it until I’d get even more upset and start to cry.”

“It really hurt.” she says. “I didn’t know why it was happening- I was really confused.”

Problem of Sibling Rivalry

Sabiha’s experience is not uncommon. Brothers and sisters can be best friends, bitter enemies- or both, depending on the circumstance, the time of day, or their moods. Siblings can be surprisingly loving toward each other, and they can be shockingly cruel.

Trouble between siblings can take many different forms, such as rivalry, strife, or abuse.


Rivalry is natural, perhaps unavoidable, between brothers and sisters. Sibling rivalry is a spirit of jealousy or competition between siblings in a family. For example, thirteen-year-old Mahi makes a nuisance of himself trying to be a part of his older sister Trisha’s social circle, primarily because he’s jealous of the attention she gives to her friends-which she used to give to her brother.

Sibling rivalry can be a devastating factor in family relationships, but it can also be a positive factor. Sixteen-year-old Joshua is the starting forward on his high school football team, primarily because he always worked hard to compete with his older brother, Justin, who set many school records. “Interaction with siblings. . . a way to learn how to negotiate, to compromise, to become goal seekers, and to command and give respect to their peers,” says Wanda Draper, a child development specialist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Sibling Strife

Sibling rivalry can become destructive instead of constructive, however, when it begins to create sibling strife. Fifteen-year-old Akash seemed to take every opportunity to frighten his twelve-year-old brother Takshak teasing the plump boy about his weight, driving him to tears in front of others and then ridiculing him for being a “cry-baby,” and starting fights for no apparent reason.

Sibling Abuse

Fighting is an effort to try to work out your differences; in abuse, it’s one sibling trying to be more powerful than another.

Relationships between siblings, can sometimes degenerate into abusive behaviors and patterns. Dr Annaclare van Dalen defines sibling abuse as “an emotional and/or physical assault that makes the victim[s] feel bad about themselves.” Siblings are more likely to become abusive if they themselves feel victimized; by turning the tables on a (usually younger) sibling, they regain a sense of power. Such was the experience of Aman with her brother Ayan:

Although the two of them had never gotten along very well, the summer he was 16 and she was 14 was a nightmare. Aman explains. “He was an extremely angry guy, really unhappy in school, and he didn’t have a lot of friends.”

Left alone together over the summer, Ayan was like a bomb, waiting to explode. . . . One time, without any provocation, he chased after Aman with a cricket bat. Aman was totally terrified; “After I crouched down on the floor in front of him, he was like, ‘Okay, okay,’ then calmed down and walked away.” Another time, Aman tells, “He was just trying to mess with me, see how far he could go to freak me out, so he came at me with a big kitchen knife. I ran from him until I was backed up against a wall, and he came at me laughing, then veered the knife away.”

Van Dalen-points out that “Fighting is an effort to try to work out your differences; in abuse, it’s one sibling trying to be more powerful than another.” Abuse can range from of name-calling and inciting fear in a younger sibling to threatening, destroying a sibling’s personal possessions, or physically scratching, hitting or kicking a sibling. 

Causes of Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry has to do with many things. To some extent, it is simply the natural result of multiple children in a family setting, vying for attention and affection. It may also be caused by birth order, by parents’ preferential treatment of one sibling, and by a number of other factors, including:


The underlying source of sibling conflict is old-fashioned jealousy and competition.

Writes family advocate and author Dr. James Dobson. Jealousy of a sibling’s talents, friends, appearance, grades, family privileges, parental attention, etc. will frequently create a sense of rivalry, often leading to sibling strife and abuse. Such feelings may have their roots in events and attitudes that neither sibling remembers nor is aware of, yet they are nonetheless real.

Unhealthy or Unfavorable Comparisons

The root of all feelings of inferiority is comparison.

Dr. James Dobson writes:

Lecturer Bill Gothard has stated that the root of all feelings of inferiority is comparison. I agree. . . This particularly true in three areas. First, [youth] are extremely sensitive about the matter of physical attractiveness and body characteristics. It is highly inflammatory to commend one child at the expense of another. Second, the matter of Intelligence is another sensitive nerve. . . Third, children (and especially boys) are extremely competitive with regard to athletic abilities.

Changing Roles

Adolescence is, of course a time of many monumental changes. A young person’s body begins to mature, he or she begins to develop new interest and very often, his or her role in the family takes on a different dimension as well. The young person may have more responsibilities at home; he or she may be entering a new school. His or her relationships with friends may become deeper or broader- with members of the opposite sex, for example.

Such changes can have ramifications within a family. Little brother may feel neglected; little sister may become jealous. Or big brother may move on to college, changing the chemistry of the family. Such changes can create or fuel feelings of sibling rivalry.


Sibling rivalry can become severe due to stress in a family situation. One social worker described how this happens:

When you have something that creates tension and conflict- whether it’s stress in your parents’ marriage, parent/child abuse, an alcoholic parent- and it isn’t dealt with, one child may start taking the frustration he or she feels toward their parents out on a weaker or younger sibling.

Rivalry, strife, or abuse may be ultimately directed at someone or something (such as an undesirable circumstance- other than the sibling); the brother or sister is often simply a convenient target for the release of stress and frustrations.

Selfishness/Difficulty Sharing Limited Resources

From the toddler who doesn’t want to share his toys with his little sister to the teen whose arguments with her sister frequently involve the sister’s constant “borrowing” of favorite clothes, some of the rivalry and strife among siblings is due to selfishness or having to share limited resources (such as the bike, the parents’ time, or money for special purchases). Such situations can be constructive–helping kids learn “how to stand up for [their] rights, how to compete without being hostile, and how to resolve well conflict through negotiation and compromise.” They can also be destructive, however, creating animosity and hurting the participants.

Desire for Attention

Even in teens (and adults, for that matter), strife between siblings is often a means of manipulating the parents.

Dr. James Dobson writes:

Quarreling and fighting provide an opportunity for [siblings] to “capture” adult attention. It has been written, “Some children had rather be wanted for murder than not wanted at all”. Toward this end, a pair of [siblings] can tacitly agree to bug their parents until they get a response-even if it is an angry reaction.

Effects of Sibling Rivalry

Not Always Deleterious

Sibling rivalry is almost always deeply disturbing to parents and unsettling for the young people involved. However, it is not always causing harm. Draper notes:

The vast majority of siblings who squabble when they are young outgrow this and become close. The thing to remember is that this is simply another normal aspect of development, and most parents would be wise to back off a bit and let their children develop the ability to handle the situation.

Destructive to Self-Esteem

When the sibling rivalry and strife is particularly severe, however, it can wreak havoc with a young person’s sense of self-esteem that may extend even into adulthood. Nancy was constantly scolded by her older sister, Nilima. Nilima persistently called her sister “ugly clumsy, and “stupid.” Though today Nancy is a refined. accomplished, and beautiful adult and mother of three children, she still struggles with feelings of inadequacy and inferiority-particularly following a visit by her older sister.

Effects of Sibling Abuse

Moreover, sibling abuse produces many of the same results as any abuse: guilt, mistrust, aggression, deficient social skills, insecurity and poor self-esteem. The physical and emotional scars of sibling abuse are not insignificant because they are inflicted by a brother or sibling; on the contrary, they can make a lasting, tragic imprint on a young person.

Response to the Problem of Sibling Rivalry

Someone has said that the only surefire way to avoid sibling rivalry is to have only one child in each family. Such a solution may be amusing but it is not very helpful. There are, however, ways to minimize the kind of sibling warfare that plagues so many youths and worries so many parents. The following measures may help a parent, teacher, or other concerned adult to address sibling rivalry among adolescents or preadolescents.


Often the greatest need felt by a person who is hurting is for someone who will take the time to listen and to care. Let the young person express his or her feelings honestly and openly. Resist the temptation to correct the youth with statements like, “Oh, you don’t mean that about your brother,” or “She doesn’t mean anything by it.” Let the young person express himself or herself without censure or correction.

As early and consistently as possible, turn the youth to prayer, reminding him or her that, even when no one else is around to hear and to care God is. Encourage dependence on Him and His resources.


Faber and Mazlish, coauthors of Siblings Without Rivalry, suggest that:

Intellectually, [sibling rivalry may not be] hard to understand but, emotionally, many of us have difficulty accepting . . . [young people’s] hostile feelings toward each other. Perhaps we might better understand those feelings if we tried to put ourselves in [their] place.

Perhaps some parents or youth workers can recall sibling struggles from their own childhoods: perhaps they can empathize by coming to terms with their own feelings of jealousy and insecurity. Empathetically approaching sibling squabbles will help immensely.


The wise parent, teacher, or youth worker will be alert to every opportunity to offer messages of encouragement and affirmation. Take every opportunity to communicate sincere assurances of your esteem for the young man or woman. You may say:

  • I enjoy being around you because . . .
  • I like the way you . . .
  • You have such a terrific smile (voice, sense of humor, etc)
  • You’re so good at . . .
  • I love you.

Keep in mind the following suggestion as well:

Remember. . . that siblings are not always fighting. They can be very good friends to each other much of the time. It’s very important to notice and praise them when they do something thoughtful for each other. Try to acknowledge [such things]. 


There are two important directions in which a youth leader, parent, or teacher can help a young person address sibling rivalry.

  1. With the teen self or herself. The young person should be encouraged to examine his or her own feelings, why is there a spirit of rivalry? Does he or she contribute to it? What can he or she do to temper the cause(s) of the rivalry?

In the case of sibling abuse, the teen should speak up: he or she should not hesitate to inform the parents (regardless of the threats or intimidation of the sibling) and to continue doing so-loudly-until the abuse is stopped and future abuse is prevented.

2. Within the home. The following tactics may help parents or caregivers prevent or address sibling rivalry:

  • Help youth express themselves. Help teens and preteens use words to express their feelings; to say, “I feel like you never have time for me anymore,” for example, instead of sabotaging an older sibling’s friendships.
  • Be careful not to inflame the natural jealousy of siblings.Resist the urge to compare siblings, particularly in the three areas mentioned above (physical appearance, intelligence, and athletic abilities). Congratulate and appreciate each child without reference to his or her sibling(s). And never say, “Why can’t you be like your sister?”
  • Treat children uniquely rather than equally. Children expect equal treatment from their parents, and parents usually respond by trying to prove they’re being fair. But children are unique, they have unique interests, gifts, and personalities. Parents should spend time alone with each child as well as together as a family. Strive to love children equally, and to treat them uniquely, enjoying their individual strengths and helping their individual weaknesses.
  • Erect boundaries of respect, such as a prohibition on name-calling. Dr. Dobson offers several examples he has used in his family:

a. Neither child is ever allowed to make fun of the other in a destructive way: Period!

b. Each child’s room (or portion of the room if siblings share a room) is his private territory.

c. The older child is not permitted to tease the younger child.

d. The younger child not permitted to harass the older child.

e. The children are not required to play with each other when they prefer to be alone or with friends.

f. We mediate any genuine conflict as quickly as possible, being careful to show impartiality and extreme fairness.

  • Intervene when siblings’ fighting can’t be ignored. Do so in a way that will not hand the solution to them on a silver platter but will teach them how to negotiate and resolve conflicts in the future. 


Engage the young person himself or herself in solving sibling problems. Encourage him or her to decide, “What will I do the next time? How can I prevent conflict before it occurs? How will I approach disagreements differently? How can I negotiate, compromise, or resolve things better?” If the youth themselves work out a plan for countering sibling rivalry, they will be more satisfied with it, and will be more likely to abide by it.


The teacher, or youth leader needs to be sensitive to the home situation of the young person and the necessity of informing or involving the parents in the solution. In severe cases (particularly when sibling abuse is involved), immediate referral to a professional counselor (with parental involvement and permission) is critical.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person to care for. If you have any questions related to sibling rivalry or any problems faced by young people, write to us at

In case you want us to discuss about specific problems faced by young people, leave a comment below and we will try and come up with an article to help you.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.

Runaway Youths

A Guide to Help Runaway Youths

She was a smart girl,” said Sreejith, referring to his stepdaughter, Ananya. “She got good grades too,”. Annaya’s mother, Loveena, added, “until seventh grade.” Ananya grew up in Mangalore, a city located about 352 km west of Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka.

“At first, Loveena said, “she just started skipping school with some friends. They weren’t bad kids. Most of them didn’t even smoke” Soon, however, Ananya started sneaking out of the house at night to hang out at friend’s homes, staying up late, talking and listening to music. 

“We tried everything, Ananya’s mother said, “but nothing worked.” Finally, her mother and stepfather decided they were unable to control Ananya and concerned about her influence on her younger brother and two sisters, they send her to grandmother’s place in Kochi, Kerala.

Ananya ran away from the grandma’s home but was soon caught and placed in a boarding school, where she met another runaway named Megha. Ananya and Megha became fast friends. Two months after Ananya’s arrival at the boarding school, she and Megha cut a hole in their bedroom window screen, crawled out, and crept to the quiet country road that ran by the boarding school. By the time their absence was discovered, Ananya and Megha had hitched a ride to port Kochi.

Megha took, Ananya to an apartment complex she had once lived in an assortment of dreary dingy apartments populated by prostitutes, small time criminals, drug addicts and runaway.

Megha left soon after their arrival, but Ananya stayed on. Her pretty face and figure made her the center of attention among the men-many of them two or three times her age-who played cards, drank beer, and smoked pot in the rooms and hallways of the complex.

On September 12, 2022, however, Ananya’s mom and stepdad received a call.

Ananya had been found dead in a pool of blood on the floor of apartment 113. She had been shot in the head at close range by a nineteen-year-old boy who was high at the time of the shooting.

Ananya was fourteen when she died.

Problem of Running Behavior

More than one million Indian teenagers run away from home every year. Some estimates place the numbers much higher, perhaps between two and four million. The average age of these runaways is fourteen. Seventy percent are from middle and lower middle-class families. 16 percent from affluent homes, and the remaining 14 percent are from poor backgrounds.

“At least half of all youth who run away from home,” writes Gary D. Bennett, “stay within the town or vicinity in which they live, many going to a friend’s or relative’s house. Most runaway episodes seem to be poorly planned, reflecting impulsive behavior, and most runaways return within a week. Generally, the length of time gone from home increases with age.”

Keith Wade, a program supervisor at a shelter for runaways, adds, “There is a pattern to running behavior. Kids run for the first time overnight, typically to someone close to them, a friend or a relative. But the more they run the further they go, and the longer they stay.”

Wade also observes that the runaway problem is not only becoming more serious and widespread; it is also spreading to younger kids. “The average age of the kids we see here now is 14 1/2 and it was 16 when I started. [T]hat’s an 18-month decline in the average age in five years, which is significant. . . . Thirteen-year- olds used to be rare; now they are common.”

Wade says he has also seen a change in the problems of runaway teens, both before and after their “running behavior” begins. “The kids have worse problems. When first came, the typical girl we’d see would be experiencing communication problems at home, and maybe there was some abuse. Now we’re seeing kids who have already been hospitalized for depression or because of suicide attempts.

Kids who run away from home these days bear little or no resemblance to the comic-strip image of Dennis the Menace with a kerchief on a pole slung over his shoulder. It is an increasingly common and frequently tragic problem.

Three Categories

Dr. James Oraker says, “My experience suggests recent that teenagers who run away fit into one of three from categories: the runaway, the throwaway, or the just plain bored.” He elaborates:

The runaway is running from a situation he or she can no longer tolerate. Conflict is so great that members of the family can hardly stand each other. . . The pressure builds until the young person finally leaves home.

Another type of runaway is the young person who lives two lives. One pleases the parents, but a second, secret, life violates what the parents want. Parents become suspicious and begin to ask questions. It becomes more and more difficult to remember what excuse was given. The young person fears that the parents will “find out” and leaves home before the “lid blows.”

The throwaway was usually rejected as a child During adolescence, the rejection becomes more and more open and blatant. . . To escape, the young person may start drifting; he or she leaves home with no resistance or is told to leave home for the sake of the family. . . 

Finally, there is the just plain bored. The message I hear from them is, “No big conflict. My parents and I just agreed that home was sort of a ‘place to land’ for all of us, so I decided to do what everyone else is doing- drift. I really get into looking at people and seeing what’s happening in other parts of the country.” These young people are difficult to help because they don’t want help. . . Some of them are committed to nothing and desperate for love. This category of runaways is possibly the most frustrating to work with.

Causes of Running Behavior

Factors contributing to running behavior include abuse, alienation, rebellion a perceived lack of control, and fear.


“Youth don’t run for fun or adventure,” says Wade. The majority don’t run to anything. They run from something, usually abuse, emotional, physical or sexual. Or just plain neglect. They are victims when they run, and often they are victimized again.”

A study of adolescents and young adults at Covenant House, a center for runaway youth, discovered that 86 percent of the runaways they interviewed reported suffering some form of physical abuse in their homes before running away.


“Running away is an attempt to solve a problem, says Oraker. The problem, he says, is commonly “alienation-strong feelings of separation or rejection that explode inside. . . Alienation is usually a family problem that brews for years. He suggests that many teens who run away are simply doing what their parents have been doing for years, except that Mom and Dad may have “runaway” into their jobs or into drinking, for example.


Rules without relationships lead to rebellion and running behavior is often an expression of rebellion. (See also Rebellion – Bijoyful) One mother of a runaway said that her daughter “didn’t like rules. That must have been why she ran.” The girl’s father concurred. “We had rules set up for all the kids, and none of them followed ’em to a T, but she went out of her way to let us know she didn’t want to. You couldn’t hold her no matter where she was.”

A healthy parent-child relationship is no guarantee that a young person will not run away, but it certainly helps temper the adolescent tendency to resist and rebel against rules, which may, in turn, prevent and/or address running behavior.

A Perceived Lack of Control

Bhasker Pandey ran away from his suburban Mumbai home in late 2021 in order to avoid the painful chemotherapy treatments he had been undergoing in order to combat Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Bhasker’s parents returned home from work on Wednesday, December 26, to find the note he left behind. “He felt he had no control at all” Pandey explained. “We had basically told him, ‘You’re going to get chemo’ and that was that. Bhasker’s case ended happily four weeks later, when Bhasker returned home with an agreement to explore less painful treatments.

Adolescents, like adults, need to feel a sense of control over their lives. They may respond positively to appropriate parental guidelines and boundaries, but the teen who begins to feel as though his parents-or someone or something else control everything he says or does may respond by shedding his parents’ control and running away.


Dr. Oraker describes one teen girl runaway as an example of the fear that is occasionally a factor in a young person’s decision to run away. (See also Anxiety – Bijoyful) He writes:

She was out of tune with her family and with society. She had deep personal fears of failing and not being able to make it anywhere. For her, drugs, sexual involvement, and running away were ways of coping with those fears.”

Other Reasons

Other possible reasons a teen may run from home, according to Gary D. Bennett, include:

  • To avoid feeling a lack of love 
  • To escape a “situation”
  • To avoid punishment
  • To respond to friends
  • To seek attention
  • To ease emotional problems
  • To act out feelings the teenager has about parents, siblings, or other “important” people in his life
  • To find a meaningful family relationship (often a teenager may be detached or rootless)
  • To avoid disappointing parents when the teenager feels something he has done will not please them
  • To attempt to control, i.e. he exploits the threat of running away in order to manipulate the parent
  • To test independence and prove he can make it on his own without parental supervision.

Effects of Running Behavior

Running away from home seldom-if ever- solves the problems to which the teen is reacting. On the contrary, leaving home is often just the beginning of the teen’s problems.

Survival Difficulties

Bennett writes:

Survival becomes a critical dilemma [for many] since most runaway episodes are poorly planned. Food is obtained by begging or shoplifting. If shelter isn’t available with friends, then a runaway must resort to living and sleeping in bus stops, railway stations, basements etc. When money runs out, work is usually impossible to find because the runaway is underage and doesn’t have the skills maturity, or legal acceptability to be hired.

The realities of running behavior and of life on the street make runaways extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. News magazine reports:

Vulnerability to Exploitation and Abuse

Many teenage runaways end up as tragic figure. An internal police report made public in September (2016) said that one female recruiter for a local brothel took in runaways and put them to work as prostitutes. Then, in late October, the Youth Victims Project, a joint investigation by social agencies and the police into allegations of abuse of street kids by men issued another report. Project members identified 183 girls, some as young as 10, who had been sexually abused by up to 100 men. Usually, the men picked up the girls at downtown haunts and took them home, where they gave them drugs and alcohol and, in many cases, raped them after the girls were too impaired to resist. Still, many girls clearly went willingly with the men-and declined to report the attacks. The men provided for the girls at the basic levels shelter, food, clothing and companionship.” said the report. “The victims regarded the sexual exploitation as a small price to pay for the attention they received.”

Criminal Behavior

In addition to a heightened vulnerability to exploitation and abuse, running behavior is also often accompanied by criminal behavior. Bennett writes:

Problems with the law are inevitable because running away and the necessities of survival create circumstances, which lead to illegal behavior A runaway may be charged with such offenses as disorderly conduct, hitchhiking possession and use of alcohol and other drugs, being declared “wayward” or “uncontrollable” and shoplifting.

Other Effects

Runaways also frequently struggle with malnutrition and poor health. They are often plagued by severe feelings of guilt, shame, and low self- esteem. They are susceptible to bouts of depression. Their psychosocial development is typically stunted, and they often become trapped in a cycle of dependency and victimization that can be extremely difficult to break.

Response to the Problem of Runaway Threats and Attempts

It’s not always possible to predict or anticipate running behavior in teens. The wise parent or concerned adult must be alert to the possible causes of running behavior (abuse, alienation, rebellion, a perceived lack of control, and fear) and seek to address conditions that may contribute to such behavior before the situation reaches a crisis point. In addition, because most teens run to a friend or relative first, it is sometimes possible to prevent further running behavior by addressing the reasons for such behavior as soon as its shown to be true. Some of the following suggestions may help a caring parent, youth leader, teacher, or youth worker to reach out to a teen who has shown or is showing signs of running behavior.


Pandey, the father of Bhasker, admits to having learned a valuable lesson from Bhasker’s running behavior: to listen “You need to really understand what they’re going through” he said.” Allow the young person to talk at length-about the reason(s) he or she wants to run away. Avoid the temptation to answer or argue what he or she says, criticism or correction will restrain communication and may prevent the concerned adult from discovering the true reason(s) for the behavior. Some helpful questions may include:

  • When did you first think about running away?
  • What makes you want to run?
  • Can you remember a time when you didn’t think about running? What things were different then?
  • What do you think running will do for you?
  • What things do you think would have to change in order for you to not think about running?


“My characteristic way of approaching behavioral problems, says William Lee Carter, “is to consider matters from the teenager’s point of view. Although I am not likely to agree with the teen in all areas of concern, my knowledge of his or her viewpoint provides invaluable information that I can eventually use in providing a beneficial response.” Try to see things through the eyes of the teen without taking sides in any disagreement.


Bennett writes, “At whatever stage one becomes involved in the teenager’s return, reassurance and protection should be the message the child receives-certainly not fear of discipline.” Strive to communicate unconditional love, acceptance, and esteem to the teen.


Successful intervention in the problem of running behavior must involve the teen and the family. Oraker provides a sound and workable outline for helping a family and a teen who exhibits running behavior”

Step 1: Finding an arbitrator agreeable to the family members. Since lack of trust is operating and each person feels abused by the other, the person chosen to help with the healing process must be agreeable to all sides. The arbitrator can be a trusted, sensitive neighbor, a teacher or a friend.

Step 2: Talking out the problem. A sensitive arbitrator will begin to explore the problem and identify each person’s part. As this is accomplished, understanding will begin, things will begin to fit together. This step will take time and energy, but, it done properly, it will provide an adequate foundation for the family work of Step 3.

Step 3: Commitment to a plan. Once understanding has begun and the crisis is resolved, plans must be initiated to work through the problem. A skilled arbitrator will (1) draw out from each family member suggestions to assist in solving the problem; (2) help the family select a concrete plan of action [perhaps even drawing up a contract for each family member to sign]; (3) gain commitment from each member to a plan; (4) provide the tools needed to implement the plan (such as assigning specific rights and responsibilities to each individual); and (5) establish an evaluation procedure to measure success or failure [such as weekly “family meetings” to discuss progress).”

A final-but critical-factor in addressing running behavior is to encourage the family and the runaway to turn to God, to enter into a relationship with God, and to depend on Him for grace and strength in addressing and correcting the problems that have contributed to the behavior. Healing and wholeness cannot be achieved without His involvement in the process.


Oraker also suggests enlisting the parents and child’s participation in the resolution of the problem. “Develop a family strategy without an arbitrator,” he writes. “The goals of arbitration are to resolve crisis, initiate solutions, and equip a family with tools so they can work out their own growth. Thus, an arbitrator can withdraw as he teaches the family new skills for relating on their own.”


Do not assume that because a runaway returns home the problem has been solved. It will probably take months, perhaps even years, to fully address the problem. It may also take the intervention of a professional counselor, particularly if running away is a repeated problem. The causes and appropriate responses to running behavior are often complex and may be most effectively addressed by a qualified professional.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person with running behavior to care for. If you have any questions related to runaway youths or any problems faced by young people, write to us at

In case you want us to discuss about specific problems faced by young people, leave a comment below and we will try and come up with an article to help you.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.


A Guide to help Youth with Rebellion

Vicky was a fourteen-year-old ninth grader struggling to make passing grades in school. He came from a family that was strongly dependent on religious beliefs and values. His parents were well-thought-of by their peers and had positions of leadership in their community

His adolescent years, however, were marked by a spirit of rebellion toward his parents He deliberately did poorly in school, claiming the classes were useless to him. He used alcohol periodically and seemed to delight in coming home in a drunken stupor occasionally just to prove to his parents that he was bold enough to violate their standards of conduct. He reached a point in his adolescence when he announced his freedom from his religious training and declared that he was not sure God even existed.

He entered early adulthood with feelings of contempt for his parents. Once he was living on his own, however, he discovered that his steadfast rebellious views on life were not as valid as he had once thought them to be. At the age of twenty-two Vicky was willing to reexamine the teachings he had been given by his parents from an early age Financially broke, educationally untrained, spiritually empty, and deemed irresponsible by his friends, Vicky was ready to learn from his mistakes causing his parents nearly a decade of turmoil and heartache. 

Problem of Rebellion

To some parents and youth workers, the phrase “teen rebellion” may seem redundant. At times it does seem that adolescence is synonymous with rebellion.

Madhav arrives home from school, and his mother greets him by asking. “How was your day?” He spins on his heels and snaps, “Get off my back!”

 Deepa’s mode of dress has bothered her parents for some time, but they’ve tried to keep their mouths shut. But when she arrived home and their actions a late one Saturday afternoon with three earrings in one ear and four in the other-and a small silver hoop adorning one nostril-they threw up their hands in disgust.

Julie simply won’t go to school. Her parents have tried grounding her, but she just runs away and stays a few nights with friends. She’s even been to court for her truancy, but she professes not to care and prefers to hang out at the mall or at friends’ houses all day.

Tushar, whose father was a pujari in their temple not only refused to go to temple with his mom and dad, but he also managed to get arrested for throwing a brick through door of the temple building. He explained to the police that he and his friends were just “looking for something to do” on a Saturday night.

Such instances would be considered mild by some parents who endure physical assault and verbal abuse and watch their kids become involved in dangerous and destructive behaviors on a much larger scale.

According to Dr. Grace Kellerman, behavior that a parent may interpret as rebellion can fit into three categories.

 When parents are obviously too strict, children rebel to draw attention to the fact that they are growing up. But the same misbehavior much more common among children whose parents are terribly inconsistent. I label the actions of these teens testing out behavior, because they aren’t actually rebelling. They are only trying to find out if the parents care enough (and are powerful enough) to stop them. The bad behavior is very similar, but the reason is just the opposite. Rigid parents need to let up a little and be flexible. Inconsistent parents must tighten up and set some standards. The third condition I call wild behavior, which is exhibited by some children as an attempt to get away from their emotional pain. Many kids have their own variety of pain-broken homes, loss of a parent, etc., so they act out their feelings and their actions are interpreted as rebellion.

Causes of Rebellion

Teenage rebellion occurs for many and varied reasons. In some cases, it is simply an awkward expression of an adolescent’s stumbling progress toward adulthood. However, in many cases adolescent rebellion also stems from a number of roots, among which may be a poor relationship with parents, an effort to communicate, a need for control, a lack of boundaries and expectations, an expression of anger and aggression, and the absence of an honest and vulnerable model.

A Poor Relationship with parents

Rules without relationships lead to-rebellion

Parents may consider themselves strict or lenient, but no matter how few or how many rules a teen is expected to observe, the key is the parents’ relationship with the teen.

A parent can get a child to “behave” by enforcing a hard-and-fast set of rules; Mom or Dad can control a child by running a “tight ship”. But adolescents are often a different matter. When parents try to lay down rules without first establishing a real relationship with their kids, they sow the seeds of rebellion. Sometimes it will be outward rebellion that is easy to spot. but just as often it can be an inward rebellion, in which the young person appears to be obedient but is nursing all kinds of grudges and hang ups, along with an unhealthy self-image and low self-esteem.

An Effort to Communicate

Rebellion is often a reflection of a teen’s effort to communicate what he or she is thinking, feeling or needing. Dr. William Lee Carter deftly has illustrates this fact:

Several years ago while [I was] teaching Sunday school class of high school students one of the teenagers in the class read Colossian 3:8, which states “But now you also, put them all aside anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth”. As soon as these words had been read, another teenage boy who had a reputation for rebellion blurted out,

If I quit doing all those things, I’d never get anything across to anybody. No one takes me seriously if I don’t force my feelings on them.

Though few teem are as aware of the roots of their rebellion as that young man was-and though they seldom communicate what they consciously or subconsciously intend-many nonetheless rebel in the hope that someone will hear and understand their feelings and their needs.

A Need for Control

Everyone-adults included-needs to feel in control of his or her life to some degree. That is among the reasons we are so deeply disturbed by random killings reported in the news, the burglary of one’s own home, and the death of a friend or loved one: they shatter our sense of control.

Adolescents-adults in training-possess the same need for a sense of control. They may respond positively to appropriate parental guidelines and boundaries, but the teen who begins to feel as though his parents control everything he says or does may respond with attempts to shed his parents control (by repeatedly breaking curfew, for example) or control things himself (perhaps by using alcohol or doing other things his parents have forbidden). If parents attempt to exert control through threats, coercion, or physical restraint, the teen may feel that he is being forced to either rebel or to sacrifice all control over his own life.

A Lack of Boundaries and Expectations 

Dr. G. Keith Olson, author of Counseling Teenagers, writes

Teenagers raised in overly permissive homes… may be just as rebellious as those from restrictive homes, although usually for different reasons. Youth from overly permissive homes may rebel against the lack of codes and expectations. In both home environments, there has probably been a years-long pattern of discouragement, lack of affirmation and direction from family and much self-criticism. By the time these children enter adolescence, they usually have very serious questions about their sense of worth, value and whether they belong. 

An Expression of Anger and Aggression 

Some psychologists and researchers have linked rebellion and destructive behaviors to “aggressive impulses that are turned inward.” The teen may be angry at his or her circumstances (parents’ divorce, death of a parent, etc.), at someone in particular (an absent father, an abusive relative, etc), or even at God. This anger, usually suppressed, can lead to rebellious impulses or acts. (See also (1) A Guide to help Youth with Anger | LinkedIn)

The Absence of an Honest, Vulnerable Model

Ronald P. Hutchcraft writes

Kids don’t have much respect for parents who are “never wrong [Parents who] are never wrong, never apologize, or never seek forgiveness. . . seem unapproachable. . . Another reason why teens reject parental authority is that they don’t think their parents set a good example for them. They feel that parents expect one thing of them but do not practice what they preach.

They want their parents to be good models for them-to show them by their own lives how they as children should live and respond to various situations

 Effects of Rebellion

As has been said, all adolescents are likely to rebel in one way or another. Rebellious thoughts and behavior are not only common, but they are also natural. Such rebellious tendencies can even be beneficial in helping teens to grow toward independence and their parents to adjust their expectations and practices. However, prolonged rebellion can be both dangerous and harmful to both parent and child.

Dangerous Pursuits

Rebellion that is expressed in wrongdoing (alcohol and drug abuse, vandalism, etc.) bears many dangers for youth. The risks of such rebellion are many, as author Linda Peterson makes clear:

You no doubt remember your own teen turmoil-the arguments with parents over clothes, friends, the state of your room, your schoolwork, your future. Parents and teens are still at it. Only now, the stakes are higher. . . Fifteen-year-olds are going to “drink-all-you-can” parties, marijuana is five or ten times stronger than it was 15 years ago, and the consequences of casual sex can be deadly.


In his book Teenage Rebellion, Carter writes

The typical haughty, arrogant attitude of most rebellious teenagers suggests anything but depression. However,

one of the ground rules of human behavior is that the overexpression of emotions often is a strong indicator of more serious, underlying emotional discomfort.

This is the case in the rebellious teenager.

Dissatisfaction is frequently substituted as a synonym for the term depression. Rebellious teenagers are frequently dissatisfied with various aspects of their lives. One teenage girl said “I can’ tell you how many things are wrong in my life. I can’t get along with my parents. I’m constantly in trouble at home. At school, my teachers act like I’m some sort of snob. They treat me like a juvenile delinquent. . . I know I’m going nowhere in life, but don’t know how to stop. In fact, I’m not sure I want to stop.”

Other people characterized her as self-centered, conceited, arrogant, and difficult to manage-and she certainly showed those traits. But the term that described her real feelings was not arrogant, but depressed. See also (1) A Guide to Help Youth with Depression | LinkedIn)


 Rebellious teens also experience a sense of alienation as a result of their attitudes and actions. They come to feel alienated from their parents, from their teachers, from school officials, from society in general-even from their friends.

Their behavior and demeanor often cause people to avoid them, and the rebellious teen is seldom oblivious or inattentive to such reactions.

The girl quoted by Carter above also said, “The only teenagers who will have anything to do with me are the ones who are always in trouble, just like me. Ironically, such a sense of alienation often leads to more-not less-rebellion.


Rebellious teens are often plagued by guilty feelings.

They know the wrongness of their actions. They know the pain they cause their parents and others who care about them. They often understand their behavior to be disobedience against God too. But they don’t stop their rebellious behavior. They may be determined not to give in to their parents. They may be afraid to show any sign of weakness or vulnerability. They may simply be unable to face the underlying causes of their rebellion. Consequently, they often deny their guilt-and in so doing, invite more of it (See(1) A Guide to Help Youth with Guilt | LinkedIn)

Anxiety and Fear

Carter writes

Whether or not rebellious teenagers will acknowledge it, they are fearful of many things.

. . . [T]hey may fear the eventual results of their rebellious actions. Many rebellious teenagers fear they will never outgrow their argumentative ways and will find themselves in perennial hot water with others. Some teenagers fear they will never be understood and will be doomed to relationships marred by conflict. . . 

Anxiety may be shown as follows:

  • Frequent complaints of physical illness including headaches, stomachaches, and sleep disturbances
  • Feelings of panic that result in uncontrolled emotional expression
  • Unrealistic preoccupations or irrational beliefs about others
  • Intense emotional displays that go beyond what the situation calls for
  • Becoming numb to the emotions of others for fear of further emotional hurt
  • Assuming that the worst will always happen
  • Holding emotions within to the point that bodily tension becomes uncomfortable.

 While the reactions listed above do not exhaust the possible effects of rebellion, they do illustrate the unpleasant and destructive potential of teen rebellion-not only to the parents but to the teen himself or herself.

 Response to the Problem of Rebellion

 Olson warns that “counseling rebellious and delinquent youth is a very difficult, slow and often frustrating task. Success might be marginal at best. Counselors will do well to keep in an active prayer and fellowship life. Constant contact with God will empower and guide a [adults] as they work with these special teenagers.” Though attempting to help and guide a rebellious youth is indeed a challenge, the following may help a sensitive, patient youth leader, teacher, or parent:


Invite dialogue. Allow the young person to vent his or her feelings and to talk without interruption or condemnation. Rebellious teens are unaccustomed to anyone really listening, they expect criticisms, platitudes, and advice. Surprise him or her by really listening and listen with the eyes as well as the ears. Look for nonverbal communication; watch the eyes, the gestures, the posture. Use what you see to help the young person better express what he or she feels.


My characteristic way of approaching behavioral problems” says Carter, “is to consider matters from the teenager’s point of view. Although I am not likely to agree with the teen in all areas of concern, my knowledge of his or her viewpoint provides invaluable information that I can eventually use in providing a beneficial response.” Try to see things through the eyes of the teen.

Try also to communicate your understanding and empathy by:

  •  Being available to the youth
  • Listening in order to understand
  • Making eye contact
  • Leaning slightly forward in your chair
  • Nodding to indicate understanding
  • Reflecting key statements (So, you’re saying. . . ” “That must have made you feel. . .”)
  • Waiting patiently through silence, anger, or tears.


Many parents and other adults fear that if they openly express love and appreciation to a rebellious teen, it will be interpreted wrongly as an endorsement of his or her behavior. On the contrary, sincere affirmation and appreciation is a key to reaching such a young person. You may express appreciation for a rebellious teen’s honesty, willingness to talk things out, sense of humor, intelligence, smile, voice, etc. Be prepared, however, for such expressions to be greeted with suspicion or with attempts at manipulation. Still, no matter what happens seize every opportunity to communicate sincere acceptance and affirmation to the teen.


A rebellious youth is unlikely to acknowledge his or her need for direction. nor to respond to it if it is given. However, the sensitive and discerning adult may be able to offer help in the following ways: 

  1. Help the youth identify and express the reasons for the rebellion. Patiently talk through the underlying causes (which may come as a surprise to both of you). This may take a long time-months, even years-but it is crucial.
  2. Explore with the youth what circumstances might make rebellion unnecessary. The most likely response, of course, is, “When my parents trust me,” or “When Morn and Dad get off my back. ” Help him or her become more searching and more specific than that, however Under what circumstances might the rebellion conceivably be rendered unnecessary?
  3. Involve the parents. Marshall Shelley quotes one youth leader who said, “We’re finding more and more that we need to get the whole family involved in counseling. For us to deal just with the one who’s knocked on the office door or just the one who’s being pointed at is not usually helpful at all.”
  4. Work toward a “negotiated agreement.” Help the teen, parent(s), or other significant adults to discuss the following:
  • Identifying negotiables and non-negotiables. For example, premarital sex and drug abuse are nonnegotiable; a loving parent cannot approve or allow such behavior. Limit, however-or certain music styles or modes of dress-might be negotiable.
  • Spelling out expectations. Parents and teens need to be explicit about their expectations. Parent. “Divya, I expect you home by ten o’clock; not ten-thirty or even ten-ten” Teen: “Dad, I don’t expect you to be at every badminton match, but I think you should make it to all my Interschool matches, at least.”
  • Attaching specific responses to behaviors. Parents often set their teens up for rebellion by responding to a teen’s behavior out of anger or disapproval. By attaching specific responses to behaviors, parents and the teens can sometimes avoid resentment and bitterness. If both parties know that skipping school will result in a teen being grounded for a specific period of time is not always being given out by angry parents but is more clearly a choice (though a poor one) that the teen himself or herself is making.
  • Outlining a long-term plan for dealing with the roots of the rebellion. Remember that addressing teen rebellion is likely to be a long and often frustrating process: Parents and other adults who care about the youth can help over the long run by instituting some long-range plans,

such as those suggested by William Lee Carter:

  • Show your teen, through words and behavior that you understand his or her viewpoint.
  • Keep criticism to a minimum and use it only after you have actively listened.
  • Walk away from arguing but be firm in your decisions.
  • Maintain an open mind. Don’t insist you are always right.
  • Use proper timing when making negative, but necessary, statements.
  • Refrain from trying to emotionally overpower your teen. You won’t win.
  • Give your teenager a voice in the decision-making process.
  • Keep your comments brief.
  • Allow your teenager to live with consequences of his or her behavior.
  • Show a willingness to approach your child rather than waiting for him or her to approach you.


Keep in mind that a teenager cannot be coerced into submission to his or her parents; he or she must be convinced that rebellion is not the best way to respond to whatever is lacking (nor to fulfill the needs) in his or her life. The young person must become an active participant in addressing the most prominent contributing factors to the rebellion and in eliminating the perceived need for such behavior. This can, of course, be a long (in fact, life-long) process.


In cases of severe rebellion, particularly rebellion involving alcohol and drug use, running away, premarital sex and other dangerous behaviors, a qualified counselor should be involved (with parental permission) at the earliest opportunity.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person with rebellion to care for. If you have any questions related to rebellion or any problems faced by young people, write to us at

In case you want us to discuss about specific problems faced by young people, leave a comment bellow and we will try and come up with an article to help you.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.

Single Parent

A Guide to help Youth living in a Single-Parent Family

Dipesh’s parents had been divorced for almost six months, but a lot had changed in that short time. Fifteen-year-old Dipesh and his thirty-seven-year-old mom moved out of the house they’d lived in since as long as Dipesh could remember and into a tiny apartment across town. He had to transfer to a new school at the beginning of his new academic year, And Dipesh, who had been solid A grade student until last year, was failing most of his classes. He wasn’t rebelling or anything; he just didn’t feel like doing the work anymore.

When his first report card of the new school year came in the mail, Dipesh’s mother hit the roof. “What’s the matter with you? There’s no excuse for you to be getting grades like this!” his mom said. She wasn’t used to being the disciplinarian in the family, but she was determined to do a good job as a single parent.

Dipesh shrugged. “It’s no big deal, Mom,” he said. “I’ll bring them up.

“Oh, you bet you will. And you can start tonight. You’ll have plenty of time for studying because you’re not going out for the next two weeks.”

“What? You can’t be serious!”

“Well I am. Now march up to your room, young man, and get started on your homework.”

“No way! I’m supposed to go to the game with Chirag.”

“You’re not going anywhere.” She pointed to the room.”

Dipesh grabbed his cycle keys from hall cupboard and turned towards the door. His mother blocked the way, her arms folded across her chest.

“You can’t stop me, Mom!” he said, pushing her aside and reaching for the door. She pushed him back, and he swung around and threw a punch at her face, knocking her to the floor.

Dipesh stormed out the door and left his mother lying on the floor of their tiny apartment, crying and rubbing an eye that was already beginning to swell black and blue.

Problem of Living in a Single-Parent Family

In the 1980, till Generation X, more that 80 percent of children grew up in a family with two biological parents who were married to each other. By 2020 only 50 percent could expect to spend their entire childhood in an intact family. If the current trend continues, less than half all children born today will live continuously with their own mother and father through childhood.

Single parenthood may occur because of divorce, desertion, or death or because a woman or man has a child outside of marriage. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the family situation, single parent face “too many decisions that have to be made without the consultation of another partner, too many jobs to be done by one person. . . too many tensions and frustrations that seemingly have only intermediate solutions, and too little time apart from child rearing that [can be claimed as one’s] own.”

Single parents- and their children- face monumental challenges and obstacles, some that are confronted immediately and other that develop over a longer period of time. Among these are: financial struggle as well as the child’s academic problems, behavioral problems, and sexual activity.

Financial Struggles

“For the vast majority of single mothers,” writes Whitehead, “the economic spectrum turns out to be narrow, running between precarious and desperate. Half the single mothers live below the poverty line”

Academic Problems

Thomas Ewin Smith found that adolescent children of single mothers exhibit a lower “academic self-concept” than children living with both biological parents. Other research indicates that children from two parent families have better grades and higher academic achievement than children in one parent families. Such disparities may be the result of many factors: it is more difficult for children to concentrate on schoolwork in times of family turmoil, slipping grades may be a means of gaining attention or expressing rebellion, and single parents will often find it more difficult to monitor homework, etc.

Behavioral Problems

Some youth exhibit behavioral problems in the wake of their parents’ separation and divorce. They may begin smoking and drinking. They may start missing school. They may become disrespectful to schoolteachers and leaders. Such behavior is often an expression of anger or confusion, a response to the emotional turmoil they feel-but cannot adequately express-because of their family situation.

Sexual Activity

Research suggests that divorce may also, in the long term, prompt a higher degree of sexual activity and promiscuity. Whitehead states that

girls in single-parent families are also at much greater risk for precocious sexuality, teenage pregnancy, nonmarital birth, and divorce than are girls in two-parent families.

and college student with divorced parents have been found to be more sexually active than classmates from intact homes. This is especially true of male children of divorce, who tended to favor “recreational” sex over committed relationships and were most likely to have had multiple sex partners while they are in college.

It must be stressed, however, that while adjusting to and living in a single-parent family can create complex problems and considerable challenges, it does not seal a young person’s fate. As Nicholas Zill says, “While coming from a disrupted family significantly increases a young adult’s risks of experiencing social, emotional or academic difficulties, it does not predetermine such difficulties.” The many changes and challenges of living in a single-parent family can produce a number of effects, however, that may recommend or require the attention of a caring adult.

Effects of Living in a Single-Parent Family

Whatever the circumstances leading to the establishment of a single-parent home- whether it’s the death of a parent, divorce, something else- some of the effects that are likely to be felt by a young person include shame or embarrassment, guilt, rejection, anger, insecurity and low self-esteem, and withdrawal.


Shame and embarrassment are commonly felt by teens and preteens living in a single-parent family. They may be embarrassed because of their parents’ divorce, interpreting it as an indication that there is something wrong with their family. They also may assume that they bear a degree of responsibility for their parents’ breakup. They may be embarrassed by what they consider inappropriate conduct on the part of their parents following the divorce (such as Dad dating a younger woman) or by the abrupt changes in their style of living (such as moving into a apartment with Mom).


When the establishment of a single-parent family follows a divorce, many youth are afflicted by guilt. Ronald P. Hutchcraft writes:

Research shows that children of divorce tend to assume blame, or at least part of the blame, for the failure of [their parents’] relationship. They say,

Well, maybe I made too many demands; maybe they spent too much money on me. They argued about me a lot of times.

Even when the single-parent family has been created by the death of a parent, the teen or preteen “may believe himself to be responsible for the death.” writes author Clyde C. Besson, “and such a responsibility will create guilt.”

Some kids unconsciously prefer such bearing of responsibility to what they see as the alternative-a feeling of utter helplessness. (see also A Guide to Help Youth with Guilt | LinkedIn)


One of the deepest feelings a [young person] experiences in solo-parent situation is rejection.

Besson adds, “Whether the parent has left by death or divorce, the child still experiences a sense of rejection.” Teens are acutely sensitive to rejection, either expressed or perceived, and they may even harbor feelings of rejection because their single parent, struggling mightily- and alone-with the demands of parenthood, is not home much of the time, or must occasionally miss important events. The young person may even know, intellectually, that Mom (or Dad) is doing the best he or she can, but emotionally a sense of rejection may persist.


Besson, writes:

In the midst of their confusion, children will feel angry. In the case of a death of a parent, the child will find himself experiencing a sense of anger, feeling that he has been cheated, that he has been deprived of the support and love of that parent. In the case of a divorce, the child will experience anger towards both parents. . . [and particularly] toward the parent who left.

Frequently, however, the [youth] will not express his anger towards the missing parent, but rather toward the parent who has custody.

Even in a case where the father or mother walks out and never comes back, the anger will be expressed to the parent who remains.” (see also Anger – Bijoyful)

Insecurity/Unhealthy Self-Esteem

Whether the single-parent family is caused by death or divorce, youth in such families may be especially vulnerable to feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. (see also Unhealthy Self-Esteem – Bijoyful) The circumstances that led to divorce, the divorce process itself, and the conditions that commonly follow a divorce often constitute three “strikes” against an adolescent or pre-adolescent’s sense of self-worth. Teens or preteens may feel different from – and less worthy than- friends whose families are intact; they may feel stigmatized by society or neighborhood because of the family split and accept that stigmatization as a reflection of their low worth. Stigmatization may also occur (or be inferred by youth) because of a parent’s behavior (alcoholism, promiscuity, abusiveness), which can strike a crippling blow to a young person’s self-esteem. Economic changes or hardships can also constitute, in a young mind, evidence of low worth.


When relationships have hurt us, we tend to pull in, withdraw, and not talk, love or care.

Young people in single parent families, Hutchcraft writes, are particularly susceptible to such withdrawal. They may feel somewhat estranged from one or both parents. They may feel alienated from their school/college group, even when they have experienced no unpleasant or judgmental reaction from friends or teachers. They may feel suddenly distant from their friends. They may feel deserted and rejected by God Himself and will frequently wonder how God could allow such a thing to happen to their family.

In the wake of such alienation, of course, many teens and preteens experience bouts of extreme loneliness. They may feel friendless, helpless and alone. They may think that no one understands what they are going through, what they are feeling. They may withdraw physically to their bedrooms. They may withdraw emotionally into fantasy or melancholy. They may do both.

Response to the Problem of Living in a Single-Parent Family

The sensitive teacher, youth leader, or parent can help an adolescent or preadolescent adjust to and cope with single-parent situation by implementing a plan such as the following:


Teens in single-parent families need the freedom to express what they are feeling, writes Besson, especially in two areas:

the freedom to express feelings about the missing parent and the freedom to express negative feelings without condemnation.

If the youth use inappropriate language, the adult may request for more appropriate words, but the adult will be wise to listen closely to the feelings that lay behind the young person’s words.


Don’t be too quick to judge or correct the young person’s reactions, nor to offer solution. Initially, take time simply to empathize with him. Comfort him. Let him know of your care and concern.


Communicate acceptance and affirmation to the youth. Remember that he or she may be feeling rejected and alienated; the first step toward healing and progress may be for him or her to know that someone believes in him, that someone thinks she’s worth something. Remind the youth that both God and you value and appreciate him or her. Many people who are struggling in difficult circumstances need affirmation-reassurance of their own worth and capabilities -more than anything else.


Some of the following ideas may help parent or concerned adult to guide a young person struggling with the many adjustments of life in a single-parent family:

  1. Encourage dependence on God. Help the teen in a single-parent family learn to turn to God for comfort and fellowship when other relationships fail. He truly is a “father to the fatherless” and a loving parent who can strengthen and sustain the youth through the many difficulties and challenges of life and adolescence.
  2. Preserve routines or traditions that are intact. Routine can be reassuring in times of transition; encourage the preservation of bedtimes, mealtimes, school-related routines, etc.
  3. Encourage involvement in youth groups in community. A healthy and vibrant youth group is an important part of a young person’s life-especially for a child from a single-parent home. Youth workers need single parents, and single parents need them.
  4. Encourage parent substitutes in the teen’s life. Guide the teen boy living with a single mom to male adults who can make regular contributions to his life; help the teen girl who is living with her father to identify female adults in community who can help her answer questions and provide guidance on regular basis. Try to develop a strong network of families and adopted “uncles” and “aunts” to serve as role models of male and female relationships.
  5. Offer Hope. Children of divorce and kids of single parent families do face more obstacles that many other kids, but the majority of kids in single-parent homes do pretty well: they do pursue higher studies, they don’t typically display high levels of emotional distress, and they don’t get involved in problem behavior. Help the youth understand that they is reason to hope, particularly if he or she trusts God and is supported by a caring, understanding community.


There is much in a single-parent family that no one can change. Mom and Dad probably won’t get back together; things will never be like they were. The parent, teacher, or youth worker can help by enlisting the youth’s cooperation and participation in acknowledging and devising the things he or she can change, the things he or she can improve. Focus his or her attention on constructive things that are within his or her power to do, and encourage such things, which may include:

  • Attending more carefully to the relationship with the absent parent (by calling twice a week, for example).
  • Recording his or her thoughts and feelings in a journal.
  • Helping younger siblings.
  • Joining a support group at community or school or college.
  • Seek support in healthy peer relationships, such as a community youth group.


Jim Smoke advises, “If [the youth] does not resume normal development and growth in his life within a year of the divorce [or other precipitating event], he may need the special care and help of a professional counselor.

If negative pattern continues after a number of months, seek help. A few words by a trained professional can often [help the young person] turn the corner.” Such a referral, of course, should only be done with parental permission (and, preferably, participation).

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe, comment and share with your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person who is living in single parent family.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery, livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.

Inattentive Parents

A Guide to help Youth with Inattentive Parents

Manav and Deepa were both studying in junior college. They met through the tuition classes. Both were sixteen years old when they began dating. Both had been raised in the same town, and both were good students (though Deepa usually earned better grades than Manav). They had so much in common. But not everything.

Manav was the star football player of his high school team and was named to the all-district team. When he won the trophy as the most valuable player for the district championship, he smiled hugely and strode to center court to accept the trophy with a swagger that communicated his sense that he thought he deserved the award- and more. He didn’t scan the faces in the crowd to find his parents because he knew they wouldn’t be there. They never were.

Deepa didn’t understand. She played on the badminton team, and her parents never missed a game. They seldom missed a practice match, in fact. They seemed to take an intense interest in everything she did.

It wasn’t just Manav’s sports events that his parents missed, though. His dad was a businessman who traveled a lot, and his mom was an obstetrician; they were highly respected in the community. But most mornings, Manav left for college without seeing his parents and usually scrounged in the kitchen to make his own dinner. Manav sometimes commented to his teacher that he could probably die, and his parents wouldn’t discover the body until it began to stink up the house.

Problem of Inattentive Parents

Neglect can appear in many forms and at different levels of severity. Most authorities consider neglect to be inattention to the basic needs of a child or young person (that is, shelter, food, clothing, medical care, school attendance, etc)

But the youth suffer a type of neglect that is not so readily recognized, not so easily documented. School and government authorities may not consider Manav’s situation (described above) to be a case of neglect or abuse. However, the kind of inattention he suffers, the apparent lack of interest and involvement on the part of his parents, will take a slow but dramatic toll in a young person’s life.

Many youth leaders and teachers consider disinterest and involvement on the part of parents a major problem for young people. Seventy percent of the national youth leaders and teachers surveyed for this series rated the problem of inattentive parents as “very important,” and 30 percent of the leaders rated the situation of inattentive parents as a “crisis.”

Causes of Inattentive Parenting

Parenting is a difficult job. It is tough enough to juggle the many demands of life without children; many people find giving appropriate attention and care to one or more children- on top of the already considerable responsibilities of marriage and career- a nearly impossible job. Many succeed admirably, nonetheless, but many- for a variety of reasons- do not.


Most experts agree that the most common cause of neglect is poverty. Likewise, poverty is present in many cases in which a child suffers from inattention or apparent unconcern. Many causes related to poverty increase the likelihood of neglect inattention, such as single parent households, multiple siblings, lack of education, and lack of proper role modeling for the development of effective parenting skills. Moreover. there is often a general sense of hopelessness in low-income neighborhoods. And, too, parents often lack the knowledge or the will to provide purposeful parenting. However, low-income parents are not alone in this behavior.


Youth in middle-class and upper-middle-class homes usually have their basic needs of food, shelter, schooling. and clothing met. These children of higher-income households are often neglected in different ways, however; they may be starved for attention. affection and a sense of parents’ interest. Middle-class and Upper-class families often suffer from “locomotive lifestyle” in which parents resemble a speeding locomotive. racing the clock while frantically striving to meet the demands of their career, social life, communities- while their kids end up feeling like the scenery that gets passed by blurred and barely noticed at all.

In today’s fast-paced world, both parents sometimes feel pressure to work full-time jobs, and some youths are left to fend for themselves after school, sometimes well into evening. Such times can leave a young person feeling lonely and, not infrequently, afraid, and can also give opportunity for unwise and unhealthy pursuits.

Family Breakup

Divorce and single parenting create great stress on parents. The pain and anger a parent experience from a divorces or separation may overshadow his or her child’s needs to grieve the loss of family. Many times after divorce, one parent is left alone to accomplish the complete responsibility for parenting. At the same time, there may be extra financial burdens, the beginning of a new career, and/or new relationships, all of which distract the parent and make careful attention to the youth seemingly impossible.

Single parenting is an overwhelming task. It is very difficult for a single parent to find the proper balance between his or her needs (which are likely to be acute in the wake of a death or divorce) and the needs of the children. Many single parents are admirably attentive to their children’s need. Too often, however, the young person’s emotional needs- for attention, support, and affection- are neglected.

Multiple Siblings

It is not difficult to see how multiple siblings in a family can make it harder to invest interest and attention in each child. As one of three daughters in the Mehta family, Tara being eldest with sisters who were 7 & 10 years younger to her. never got individual attention from her parents. They were both busy working and trying to keep up with the bills and saving up for daughters’ marriage. Tara’s parents were never available or interested in attending any of her school or sport activities and, in fact, did everything they could to discourage her from pursuing extra-curricular interests, citing the additional financial burden such involvement would cause. Tara felt she was loved best when she was noticed least.

Parental Preoccupation with the Social Ladder

Parents tend to neglect their children if they are preoccupied with anything, especially social advancement. Sakshi’s mom and dad were involved in local politics, several community activities, and both were constantly striving for advancement. Sakshi was left in the care of an aunt, her mom’s twenty-year-old sister. Sakshi’s parents didn’t realize that their daughter and her caretaker were smoking pot (weed) together every afternoon. Since Mon and Dad usually didn’t arrive home until 8 or 9 pm, the physical evidence was carefully hidden, though the emotional results in Sakshi’s life were apparent. . . to anyone who cared to notice.

Mental Illness

Schizophrenia, manic depression, postpartum depression, and clinical depression are some of the disorders that might lead to parental inattention. When a parent suffers from one of these disorders and is not being treated appropriately, the disease will sorely inhibit his or her ability to give attention to a child.


Today’s society urges men and women to “have it all” and to “have it your way”; earn a six-figure income, send your kids to private IB/ICSE school, work out every day, vacation abroad- and meanwhile, have a happy family. Parents who buy into this “have it all” mentality will typically neglect their children’s emotional needs, choosing (consciously or unconsciously) to place their “needs” ahead of their children’s needs.

Lack of Parenting Skills

Kids don’t come with parenting manual. Almost all first-time parents admit that nothing could have prepared them for the demands of parenthood. Some (particularly those whose parents modeled healthy parenting styles and skills) struggle, work, and finally succeed at developing skills that not only provide for their children’s physical needs but for their emotional needs as well. Unfortunately, many parents believe that parenting means only providing financially for a family.

Effects of Inattentive Parents

A young person whose parents seem unconcerned or inattentive is likely to experience hurt, frustration, anger (sometimes resulting in bitterness and rage), as well as feelings of insecurity and loneliness. Reactions such as these may prompt many and various effects.

  • Low Self -Esteem

When a parent neglects a child (or when a child perceives indifference), the young person may develop a sense of worthlessness. Manav, whose story opened this article, may have appeared overconfident in accepting his most valuable player award, but his behavior probably masked a critically low self-esteem. He compensated for his parents’ indifference to his achievement with a mask of accomplishment and arrogance. (See Unhealthy Self-Esteem – Bijoyful)

  • Poor Scholastic Achievement

There is a strong link between parental involvement and academic achievement. When parents are not around, a young person’s grades will mostly suffer.

  • Poor Peer Selection

Inattentive parents may be the last to know that their child has chosen the “wrong” group to hang out with. A child who feels that his or her parents are indifferent and uncaring will probably be desperate for acceptance; he or she often finds that acceptance in the wrong ways, with the wrong crowd. (See Peer Pressure – Bijoyful)

  • Poor Social Skills

Children begin their first social exploration in the family and build confidence and skills with which to reach out to the rest of the world. When the parents are not available or not interested in the child, the young person’s social development will probably be hindered.

  • Inability to Bond with Others

Bonding is essential to human development and growth. When a teen has not bonded with parents through time, personal interaction, and touch, he or she will be retarded in his ability to bond with others, a lack which will show itself in friendships, in marriage, and eventually in relationships with his or her own children.

  • Rebellious Behavior

Youth who feel neglected will try to get attention, and they will deem negative attention better than no attention at all. When negative attention achieves the desired results, more negative behavior will follow. A young person may rebel by finding a way (haircut, tattoos, profanity, etc) to embarrass a parent in front of the parent’s friends or collogues, or the youth may become involved in criminal activity.

  • Drug and Alcohol Problems

Neglected teens are more likely to succumb to alcohol and drug abuse because they have more unsupervised time. One researcher reports,

Young teens who come home to an empty house are twice as likely as those supervised by adults to use alcohol, weed and cigarettes

  • Sexual Acting Out

Teens who feel that their parents are unconcerned or inattentive have both the motivation and (seeking intimacy, attention, etc.) and the opportunity (large amounts of free time and unsupervised activities) to act out their frustrations and to seek fulfillment of their needs through sexual behavior.

Response to the Problem of Inattentive Parents

A teen who is hurting because of parental indifference or inattentiveness is likely to be in desperate need of an adult who will show interest and offer support; such care and concern will never replace the attention the youth desires from Mom and Dad, but it can certainly help, particularly if the adult responds to the youth in the following ways:


Youth who feels neglected by their parents often yearn for someone just to listen to them; they long to feel that some adult cares about them and their well-being. Careful and patient listening can be very constructive for such a young person. Questions such as the following may encourage the young person to talk, provided they are asked sensitively, without pushing:

  • When did you first begin to feel this way?
  • Have things gotten better or worse?
  • Do your siblings feel the same way?
  • Have you ever discussed these things with your parents? If not, why not? If so, with what results?

Be sure to listen to the youth’s feelings, as well as his or her words. Listen (without offering judgement one way or the other) in an attempt to discern whether the parents are being inattentive or whether that is the youth’s perception (in either case, the hurt will be real), Listen alertly for any indication of physical neglect or abuse.


Come alongside the young person; step out of your “adult shoes” for moment and try walking in the teen’s tennis shoes. Try to see things from her or his perspective. Don’t jump to conclusions or offer quick and easy “solutions”. Instead, take your time seeing things through the youth’s eyes and feeling things with his or her heart. Strive to communicate empathic concern by:

  • Being available to the youth
  • Making eye contact
  • Learning slightly forward in your chair when he or she is talking
  • Nodding to indicate understanding
  • Reflecting key statements (“You feel. . .” and “You’re saying. . .”)
  • Waiting patiently through periods of silence or tears


“Deep down,” say author Dick Forth, “we all want to believe that we are likeable, worth loving, and valuable to another human being”; a teen whose parent are (or seem to be) unconcerned may have rarely if ever felt that way. One of the deepest needs he or she is likely to have is a need for affirmation; one of the greatest ways a caring adult can help such a teen will be to offer affirmation. Affirmation, say Foth, “is me telling you how I see you in qualitative terms, [not for] what you do, [but for] who you are and what you mean to me. . . How do we affirm another person effectively? Is it words, actions, or time? The answer is all three.”


Sensitively offer the following direction to young persons whose parents are uninvolved or unconcerned:

  1. Offer hope. Show them how God sees them; show them that He believes in them and in their future.
  2. Lead them into relationship with the Lord. Gently guide them into a deeper relationship with God who always there and always has time for them.
  3. Direct them to positive peer groups and a community (such as a thriving youth group) that will not neglect their emotional needs. If they have material needs, direct them to resources that will help in those areas too.
  4. Get them involved in helping others. Constructive attention can more often be gained through giving than through taking, through serving instead of being served. Encourage youth to help siblings, friends who may also be feeling neglected or unloved.


Enlist the young person himself or herself in brainstorming and planning ways to cope with the neglect or perceived neglect. Should the teen express his or her feelings to Mom and Dad? Should he or she write a letter? Can he or she suggest any concrete ways to approach Mom and Dad and suggest ways both parent and child can adjust to make things better?


Keep in mind that relational problems take time to work out; patience and persistence are called for it. Both the caring adult and the young person should be in the process for the long haul. The youth leader, teacher, worker should make it a priority to involve the parents in these matters as early as possible. The adult should also be alert to the possible necessity and opportunity for referral of the youth and his or her parents to a competent counselor who can provide family counseling.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe, comment and share with your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person who is struggling with inattentive parent.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery, livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.

Overprotective Parents

A Guide to help Youth with Overprotective Parents

Leena could pass for twenty or twenty-one, though she was only thirteen years old. She stood five feet seven inches tall with long dark hair, a well-developed figure, and brown eyes that shone with personality and confidence. Her parents, of course, watched their thirteen-year-old develop the body and personality one would expect in a woman much older than their little girl with more than a little concern, They were too worried about her.

Not that Leena never gave her parents cause of concern. She became interested in boys much earlier than her peers. Starting late in her fourth-grade year, her parents began reacting to Leena’s growing independence and maturity by pulling in the reins. As Leena’s peers were beginning to receive more privileges and freedom from their parents, Leena’s mom quit work in order to “be there” for Leena; Leena was convinced her mom was intent on “Keeping an eye on her.”

By her thirteenth birthday, Leena had devised a system for getting away with things and circumventing her parent’s rules. She discovered, for example, that if she asked to spend the night with a friend from her own community, Mom and Dad would say yes; she could then talk that friend into going to the mall to meet boys.

Leena’s parents felt like they were trying to swim upstream against Leena’s will and her desires; Leena felt that if her parents were going to cause such trouble to keep boys away from her, there must be something unimaginably pleasurable that they didn’t want her to discover. Little by little, however, Leena’s parents succeeded in monitoring her behavior to such a degree that she stopped planning ways to get around their rules. She stopped engineering ways to meet boys. In fact, she stopped shopping, she stopped dressing for attention, she even stopped bathing.

Problem of Overprotective Parents

“During my years as a school psychologist,” says Dr Bernice Berk, “I’ve encountered many overprotective parents. While it’s clear they don’t want to be overprotective, their concerns about their child prevent them from allowing him to do things that he’s perfectly capable of doing.”

One of the major tasks of parenting, of course, is to encourage enough confidence and capabilities in a child to equip him or her to leave home and function independently of Mom and Dad when he or she reaches adulthood. But overprotectiveness is a hesitation or inability to do that.

Overprotectiveness is often hard to gauge, but it may be shown in number of ways:

  • Parents will not let the young person out of their sight except at school.
  • Parents relate to the teen very similarly to the way they relate to the child as an eight-year-old or ten-year-old.
  • Parents screen or monitor the teen’s phone calls (and WhatsApp chat)
  • Parents consistently refuse permission for the teen to do things considered age-appropriate by other reasonable parents.
  • Parents exhibit a determination to protect the child from all harm.
  • Parents offer oversight of even the smallest details in the teen’s life.
  • Parent’s actions and decisions seem designed to foster dependence, not independence.
  • Parent’s rules are applied rigidly and are equally nonnegotiable.
  • Parents seem to have difficulty trusting the young person.

The above, of course, are highly subjective measurements of overprotectiveness. The most reasonable parent, for example, will sometimes refuse permission for his son or daughter to do things that other reasonable parents consider appropriate. Generally speaking, however, the above tendencies are typical of overprotective parents.

Cause of Overprotective Parenting

There are a variety of reasons parents respond to their task in an overprotective manner. Such behavior may be founded upon one or more of the following causes.


Fear is a common factor among overprotective parents. Today’s world is a frightening place in which to raise children, and many parents worry about their children’s vulnerability to the dangers they see featured on the news channels. But overprotective parents are sometimes fearful to an irrational degree. “While a certain amount of fear for children’s safety is normal and healthy,” says Berk, “allowing exaggerated fears to prevent [youth] from engaging in the normal activities with their peers can be harmful.”

A Sibling’s Rebellious Behavior

Overprotectiveness may also stem from a sense of failure with another (typically older) child. For example, Roshni gave her parents every reason to trust her and allow her to attend night party with her school friends. But because her older sister’s first experiment with alcohol occurred at a school night party, Roshni’s parents refused to allow her to attend similar parties, fearing Roshni would follow in her sister’s footsteps. Roshni was not the same sort of person her sister was, but she nonetheless had to pay for her sibling’s behavior.

Parent’s Past

If one or both of the parents had neglectful or ineffective parenting, they may respond by becoming overly protective. Parenting styles are typically a reflection of -or a reaction to- the way we were parented. Similarly, if one or both parents were rebellious in their childhood or adolescence, they may respond by determining that they will prevent their child from making similar choices.

The Child’s Misbehavior or Shortcomings

If a parent views a child as immature, incapable, or limited by physical, mental, or developmental handicaps, he may respond by becoming overly protective. Indeed, at some level there is a need to protect such a child; however, an overprotective parent will usually resort to counterproductive control and manipulation rather than healthy support and encouragement based on an understanding of the child’s potential to develop and mature. Extra parental precautions may indeed be required by certain children, but there must still be a balance between ensuring safety and allowing our children to try new things and develop new capabilities.

Lack of Relationship

Many parents try to lay down rules without first establishing a real relationship with their children. Mom and Dad may see their parental role as primarily that of a policeman or judge; they focus on rules and may measure how well they are doing by how many rules they have established and how well the children adhere to those rules. Such parents, not knowing how to form and nurture a real relationship, may rely on the good behaviors of a child to bolster the parent’s own relational needs-a poor and unfulfilling substitute, of course.

Only Child/Death of Child/ Adopted Child

Parents of only children may tend toward overprotectiveness, perhaps more so than parents of two or more children. A parent of an only child may focus excessively on the needs of that child and become fearful (consciously or unconsciously) of losing him or her. There is often a similar reaction by a parent who has lost one child to accidental death or disease; the parent may begin to develop irrational fears about the surviving children that prompt overprotective behavior. Similar unconscious beliefs may be experienced by adoptive parents who may carry a sense that they did not deserve a child and therefore must overcompensate with protective behavior.

Parental Loss or Emotional Needs

Sometimes mothers who feel unfulfilled in their relationships with spouses will divert their pain by focusing obsessively on a child. (This can also be true of fathers, though that is less common.) Some parents become overly protective in an effort to fill their own emotional needs; they are fearful that if they lose the child their own love needs will be unmet. They may also believe that they are protecting the young person from a father’s (or mother’s) lack of involvement.

Effects of Overprotective Parenting

“Can overprotectiveness harm a child?” asks Dr. Berk. “Certainly, it can,” she says, answering her own question.

“Children learn not from our experiences but their own. They need to have opportunities to take reasonable risks, to make mistakes, and to live with the consequences of their own actions. Overprotectiveness on the part of a parents will interfere with that natural process.”

Psychiatrist Michael Liebowitz goes so far as to say that “overprotectiveness brings out the worst in kids.” The effects of overprotective behavior in parents vary based on the personality of the child, the degree of connection with or distance from the parent, and the severity of the overprotective behavior.


When children feel controlled by a parent, the most natural response is anger (see Anger – Bijoyful). They may repress their anger out of fear of Mom or Dad’s response, but it will be present, nonetheless. The anger can turn inward and become depression (see Depression – Bijoyful) or it can turn outward and be expressed in rebellion.

Increased Dependency

Some children of overprotective parents reach their thirty (and beyond) and cannot leave home. The child may get married but never put an end to his or her dependence on Mom and Dad; some will even live next door to Mom and Dad- or very nearby. The parents’ overprotective behavior has stunted the young person’s emotional development.

Eating Disorders

There are a variety of contributing factors to eating disorders such as anorexia (self-starvation), bulimia (bingeing and purging), and compulsive overeating. For many children of controlling parents, eating activities become a way to control negative feelings. Bulimia and anorexia become a “tool” a young person uses to regain a sense of control over his or her own life.

Panic Disorders

Dr Michael Liebowitz, the head of Columbia University’s unit on panic disorders, has observed that “an unusually high proportion of panic patients report having had overprotective parenting in childhood.” Because fear is at the root of the parents’ overprotective behavior, the child often picks up on the fear and may develop anxiety disorder or a full-blown panic disorder. Agoraphobia (irrational fear of leaving “home base”) is a possibility in some children of overprotective parents.

Low Self-Esteem

Parents don’t want to raise proud or arrogant children, yet overprotective parents often make the opposite mistake of unwittingly teaching their children that they (the children) are incapable of caring for themselves and making decisions for themselves. The youth develop a sense that he is incompetent (in his abilities) and inadequate (in his self.) (see Unhealthy Self-Esteem – Bijoyful).

Emotional Withdrawal

The way we learn to relate to peers is an important developmental task throughout our lives. When a child is overprotected, peers are usually limited to the people the parents know well and trust; there is usually limited opportunity to develop social skills in various settings, which will often cause insecurity, prompting the young person to withdraw from peers by becoming a “loner.”

Delayed Spiritual Growth

Overprotective parents teach children to rely on Mom and Dad. This may prompt the young person to depend less- or not at all- on God. Overprotective parents may teach truth about God, and the child may be well grounded in the foundations of religious faith. However, the controlling parent undermines the young person’s relationship with God by (perhaps unknowingly) trying to be God to him or her.

Response to the Problem of Overprotective Parents

A concerned adult has a two-fold task in responding to a young person whose parents may be overprotective: to help the youth by being supportive and encouraging and also (when practical) to help and reassure the parents.


The first step, of course, is to listen to the young person and his or her problems and frustrations. You may wish to ask such questions as:

  • When did you first begin to feel this way (about your parents)?
  • Have things gotten better or worse as you’ve grown?
  • (If the youth have siblings) Do your siblings feel the same way? How would you describe their feelings?
  • Have you ever tried to discuss this with your parents? If not, why not? If so, with what results?

Don’t be too quick to defend the parents, but don’t criticize them, either. Let the young person discover that there is (at least) one adult who is interested in his or her feelings. Just providing a listening ear can go a long way toward help and healing.


As the teen discusses his or her frustration with the parents, cultivate an atmosphere of empathy towards the youth by:

  • Nodding your head
  • Making eye contact
  • Leaning forward in your chair to indicate interest and concern
  • Speaking in soothing tones
  • Listening carefully to verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Reflecting key statements or gestures (“You seem to be saying. . .” and “You really feel angry about that, don’t you?”

Also, consider the prospect that the teen may feel guilty for his anger toward Mom and Dad. Help him acknowledge the bad and good feelings he has toward his parents and their behavior.


Seek to affirm the teen’s sense of value and worth without undermining the parents’ God-given place in his or her life. Author Dick Foth writes, “We need to hear over and over again that we are valued and valuable. Somethings fundamental happens when a person says, ‘Just being around you is a joy,’ or ‘When you come into the room, something exciting happens,’ or ‘You have a great smile.'” Display your esteem of the young person not only by your words but by your actions too.


Help the young person consider his or her options within a framework, such as the following:

  • Lead the teen into relationship with God, into a deeper relationship with Him, Lord of life, health, and peace.
  • Encourage the youth to turn to God in prayer and rely on Him for the resources he or she lacks.
  • She (or he) is likely to know that she is commanded to honor her father and mother; help her brainstorm ways to honor them (and, perhaps, understand them better) while still accurately viewing her own abilities and possibilities.
  • Guide the youth to open a respectful, non-threatening dialogue, if possible, with Mom and Dad; one way to accomplish this may be with the method suggested by Ron Hutchcraft, of the teen writing a letter (or series of letters) to express his or her love and appreciation for his or her parents and then respectfully voicing his or her concerns, frustrations, and even proposals for resolving differences between parent and child. Such a method, if it is done sensitively and respectively, can be extremely helpful in opening doors and breaking down walls.
  • Brainstorm ways the youth might prove his or her trustworthiness and capabilities to Mom and Dad and help him or her work toward those goals.


Strive to enlist the teen’s participation in the community youth group since this is likely to be a place where parents feel the young person is reasonably safe. Build a relationship with both parents and teen that might encourage Mon and Dad to allow the youth to try new experiences and test a new degree of independence under your supervision. Help the young person aim for improvement, not perfection, in his or her relationship with Mom and Dad.


If at any time you, as the concerned adult, recognize that the health or long-term well-being of the young person is threatened (by severe depression, panic disorder, eating disorder, etc), it is time to encourage the family to consult a professional counselor who is qualified to address these specific issues in a constructive manner.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe, comment and share with your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person who is struggling with overprotective parent.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery, livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.


A Guide to help Youth with Rejection

Sad teen rejecting help from her mother on a couch in the living room at home

Mrs. Tiwari cried softly; her daughter’s dairy lay open in her lap. She hadn’t intended to read it, but the dairy seemed to beckon her as it lay unlocked on Preeti’s desk. She recalled how different Preeti seemed recently, and she hoped the dairy would offer some clues to her daughter’s changes.

She wasn’t ready for what she read; it took her breath away and made her sick. Preeti’s diary described things – sexual things – that were hard for a mother to read.

Preeti’s mom knew that the family’s move last year from Allahabad to Mumbai had been hard for Preeti; the transition had left her deprived of friends and in a new school, perhaps too vulnerable to withstand the pressures of her peers. But Mrs. Tiwari had not suspected the lengths her daughter would go to in her search for acceptance and approval.

She tried hard to sound normal when her daughter arrived home from school that afternoon.

“How was your day?” she asked.

Preeti mumbled a response as she scoured the kitchen for a snack.

“We have something to talk about.”

“I have to call Rani.”

“I’m sorry, Preeti, but this can’t wait. I. . . I read your dairy today.”

You what? Preeti stared at her mother; her eyes filled with rage. Her face reddened as she ranted for several minutes about her mother’s shocking behavior.

Preeti finally quieted, and Mrs Tiwari ‘s eyes filled with tears. She didn’t look at her daughter as she spoke. “Did you . . . did you really think those kids wouldn’t be your friends if you didn’t do what they were doing?”

“You think I’m such a kid. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know. You don’t know.” Preeti began to cry, too, but between sobs she related a story of rejection and cruelty, of classmates’ hateful stares and heartless jokes, of being shoved into passage and doors, of passing students “spilling” food and drink on her as they passed her, seated alone in the school cafeteria.

“I couldn’t take it, Mom,” she cried. “I just wanted them to think I was cool.”

Problem of Peer Rejection and Persecution

For as long as parents have been raising children the problems of destructive influences outside the home have been met with both protestation and anger by loving parents. Most parents want, to protect their children as long as they need it, but many feel helpless to provide what kids need in order to withstand the relentless onslaught of temptation and pressure.

Despite parent’s best efforts, many teens are rejected and persecuted. This peer rejection and persecution may occur for variety of reasons: for religious beliefs, personal appearance, non-compliances to the group. drug use, academic competence (or incompetence), athletic limitations, compliance to authority, conformity to adult guidelines, language use, physical handicap, and virtually any conceivable behavior, word, thoughts, or deeds that identifies one as somehow different from the social norm. Some have rightly termed this the “tyranny of the norm.”

Even difference in dress between schools can lead to contempt and scorn. This is particularly problematic for teens displaced in the middle of the school year when wardrobes have already selected with sensitivity to the social norms from the previous school. What is stylist and acceptable in one school can be seen as juvenile and banal in another school – even one within the same city.

The pressure to conform varies from physical attacks on one’s person, from isolating and ostracizing the out-of-step teen to requiring perfect mirroring of the desired peer group. Due to the volatility of teen emotions, these attacks may continue for long periods of time or simply cease for no apparent reason.

Some of the least-enjoyed teens are both the bullies and the bullied. Bullies are often disliked for their cowardly attacks on their smaller or weaker victims. The bullied are often viewed with contempt because of their inability to fend for themselves. They are frequently characterized by an apparent weakness that keeps them from moving away from the role of victim.

Parents have long advised teens to stand up to adverse peer pressure, much like the anti-drug campaign “Just Say No”. Unfortunately, as the folks fighting the war on drug discovered, just saying no is a too-simple approach to a complex problem, one that is rooted in self-image and self-esteem, and complicated by the normal development of adolescence. The impact upon teens can be severe and long-lasting. Teens long remember the embarrassment and pain of peer rejection, abandonment, and grave injuries resulting from trying to fit in.

The common occurrence of teen banding together in groups based upon language, music, and dress testifies to the fact that belongingness need dominate the life of teens. Their fragile egos are ravaged by social failures and imprinted by grievous memories of rejection. Many times, the reasons for rejection and forced compliance have little to do with appearance . . . some of which are beyond the control of the teen.

Seeing the need for teens to have positive self-esteem and resilience during their teen years, many parents attempt to “peer-pressure proof” their children. By building in their disciplinary actions specific training to withstand outside influences, these well-meaning parents endeavor to equip their teens for the battle for their minds, wills, and emotions. While the research investigating in this area is not abundant, the results are disheartening. The data do not support the notion that we can guarantee our teens will manage peer pressure well in spite of our preventative measures. To the contrary, researchers have discovered that:

….by the time they reach high school, no matter how intact they are at 11, some girls will have lost chucks of their vitality and self-esteem, their resilience and their focus, as they realize that, in order to have relationships, they have to give up some central truths about themselves.

Even our relatively intact children are at risk. The pressure to fit in is enormous, and it can exact a heavy toll even on the healthiest teens. At times inexplicable behavior by heretofore well-mannered teens can only be explained and understood by the need to belong and fit into one’s peer group. The price of admission is often more than one can pay. Research has shown that social acceptance is critical factor in predicting emotional problems later on.

Peer rejection can wound young kids in such a significant manner that it contributes to feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and chronic tendencies towards depression.

Causes of Peer Rejection and Persecution

Many factors contribute to the problem of peer rejection and peer persecution. In order to fully understand the causes, one must examine the teens who are vulnerable to this problem separately from the teens who participate in the problem.

The Vulnerable Teen

Teens who tend to be more vulnerable to this problem range from apparently healthy teens to those who have been identified as high risk for many years by parents, youth leaders and teachers. The vulnerable teens who are seen as fairly healthy and intact are usually found, upon closer inspection, to have hidden emotional deficits. These are difficult to identify with a superficial evaluation except when they are under stress. At those times their deficits are more easily noticed. Vulnerable teens frequently have several factors in common that render them susceptible to the influences of others.

Social Factors

Teens most vulnerable to pressures and rejection tend to be found in two different categories. They either socially isolated and alone or are relating to groups of peers who are also vulnerable to pressure. These teens are seen by others as ineffective and unattractive, and frequently are the targets of negative attention. In relating to others, they find it hard to sustain long-term relationships, are poor at conflict resolution, and seem less likely to appropriately risk social contact due to their history of social failure, Teens with learning disabilities are especially vulnerable to these feelings of failure.


Positive self-esteem is one of the best insulators against negative peer pressure.

Teens who have self-confidence, a healthy identity, and accurate estimate of themselves are typically more discerning regarding social conformity. They generally are more capable of independent thinking than those who feel confused about themselves and their place in the world.

Ego Strength

Teens who show deficits in the following areas exposing ego weaknesses are more prone to engage in group behaviors without careful evaluation

  • Teens who are impulsive,
  • Teens who show difficulty delaying gratification,
  • Teens who demonstrate poor frustration tolerance,
  • Teens who have little ability to adapt and cope with changing circumstances,
  • Teens with poor ability to tolerate both negative and positive affects,
  • Teens with limited ability to think in terms of cause and effect,
  • Teens with limited ability to establish true peer relationships, and
  • Teens who have some distortion in their sense of reality.

The Participating Teen

Some of the teens who participate in peer rejection and persecution (as opposed to the victims) are identified early in life as they tend to draw school discipline upon themselves. Early identified teens are typically overt in their intimidation and influence on others; other teens are cleverer and exert influence in secret ways, thus limiting their exposure to authority figures. The following factors are common elements of both overtly and covertly controlling teens.

Family Factors

Families of teens who are controlling, both overtly and covertly, are usually characterized by leadership that is authoritarian, controlling and intimidating. The intimidation is expressed in both physical threats and abandonment threats to force the family members to obey and conform. Teens who use similar tactics seems to have identified with the aggressive parent and now seek to victimize others as they were once victimized. Thus, the cycle of control is passed on to the next generation.

The teens who are more overt are teens who found a way to maneuver themselves in their family to their advantage without suffering punishments. These families can also be characterized by limited boundaries and chaotic family structure. This can prevent children from exercising self-control and internalizing the value of others, which inhibits their concern for others. In a chaotic home, young people learn that first they must fend for themselves; therefore, they develop a more self-absorbed perspective on the needs of others.

Social Factors

Teens who exercise control and influence over others are typically charming, self-absorbed, and have social skills that enable them to convince and persuade others to accept their point of view. They seem to have an uncanny capacity to size up others and find ways to win them over. Many times, these teens are considered popular and desirable by the majority of other teens.

Teens who dominate by physical intimidation are generally limited in their social skills, not well-like by others, and generally have difficulty with authority figures.


These teens have underlying poor self-image. However, it often takes a careful analysis to discover this. They are frequently well guarded and deny that they have deficits in this area. Often their use of other teens is a means to boost their weak self-image rather than endure the pain and suffering required to resolve the nagging issue of self-doubt.

Superficially these teens look confident and happy. However, their self-appraisal is exaggerated, a defense that protects them from the truth. They are also characterized by constantly changing friends as they feel a need to attract new friends to provide newer emotional supplies when old friends become ordinary. Participating teens who are more physically intimidating have low self-images and are immature, shallow in relationships, and generally fearful of risking true peer relationships. They use intimidation to ward off awareness of the weaknesses they sense in themselves.

Ego Strength

These teens have the same general ego weakness mentioned above.

Effects of Peer Rejection and Persecution

The youth leader or mentor will note that the following effects of peer rejection and persecution are complex and will require careful assistance to accurately assess how to help. Some of the symptoms will no doubt be a consequence of issues that are only tangentially related to the problem of peer persecution and rejection.


Teens who are struggling with peer rejection and persecution will report feeling lonely, hopeless, and helpless.

They may say such things as, “I wish I was dead.” In their hopelessness they may take a self-destructive turn and justify their obvious life-risking actions with, “What difference does it make what happens to me? No one will miss me anyway.”

Since teens are behavior oriented, they will often express their depression with actions rather than words. They may appear angry and agitated rather than express themselves in wors indicating their inner turmoil. The following expressions of depression need to be particularly attended to:

  • extreme moods of crankiness, anger, irritableness, or sadness
  • irrational display of emotions
  • high level of intensity that are not congruent to environmental precipitators
  • self-loathing (hatred toward self) comments
  • increasing gloomy ideation and preoccupation
  • negative moods that last for weeks.

(see A Guide to Help Youth with Depression | LinkedIn)

Peer pressure, in its most extreme cases, has led teens to commit to suicide pacts. Though this is a rare occurrence, when it does occur it is usually driven by a leader who exerts power and influence over the others. The group members frequently have in common the above-discussed personal problem areas. An additional consideration one must keep in mind is the close friends of teens who attempt or complete a suicide. These teens are more at risk to attempt suicide than teens who are less close friends. (See Suicide – Bijoyful)

Social Isolation

Teens who have suffered from the persecution of peers often abandon efforts to get needs for affection, belonging, love, and acceptance met by their age peers. In dealing with this kind of loss, teens sometimes turn to what they consider safer “objects,” such as intense romantic attachments that are characterized by a fused relationship (in fused relationship, each participant believes they are compelled by the feelings – especially ‘negative ones’ and vulnerabilities of the other) that often blurs the distinctions between the couple, or by turning to less risky companions: animals.

The isolation they feel can be profound, as it leaves teen deprived of the necessary transitional objects (peers) to aid them in leaving their home and moving toward adulthood. In addition, it leaves them with scars of feeling inadequate, unlovable, and unwanted. These feelings can lead to poor choices for mates and future friendships.

Gang Affiliation

While gang members often refuse to admit the needs that make gang affiliation desirable, many if not most of the teens who join gangs do so for personal security, belonging, and a sense of family. They have failed to find ways to meet these needs in the normal, more healthy process of relating to their peers. They have thus given up developing real autonomy and adulthood for the short-term sense of power and belonging. They feel they have new power over their situation and a clear understanding of who is good and who is bad.

This help simplify a complex world for a confused and angry teen. However, the commonly associated criminal behavior, resistance by gang members to let a member leave the gang, and general denial of needs ill prepares the gang members for productive adult lives.

Drug Use

Many teens choose drugs use as a way to cope with painful emotions that results from negative peer pressure, persecution and rejection.

They numb personal pain with chemical rather than risk vulnerability in a relationship or a realistic awareness of their problems. Sometimes they experience a concomitant group affiliation that accompanies their drug use.

The use of personal names for beverages and drugs attests to the common effort to personalize the chemical as it masks interpersonal needs. Young people need a loving friend who would warn them when they are unruly, encourage them when they are fainthearted, help them when they are weak, and be patient with them always. Instead, they choose a counterfeit that more quickly and easily takes the pain away although not without a terrible price.

Drugs, have a seductive quality that enhances the teen’s sense that he or she does not need others, thus protecting the youth from the fear that he might become dependent if he acknowledges the need of others. This sense of omnipotence is almost hypnotic and renders teens nearly powerless to resist. Specialized treatment is frequently required to rescue a teen from drug use.

Research has shown that peer influences are different with different kinds of drugs. The more socially used drugs like alcohol and weeds (marijuana) seem to have greater peer influence with their use.

This influence is frequently misunderstood; however, Peers seldom push drugs with verbal bombardment but rather with a subtle influence, indicating what is acceptable and popular.

Positive influences with peers who are exposed to drugs have also been documented.

Researchers have found that peers who associate with non-drug-using peers have a much less likelihood of using drugs themselves.

Sexual Activity

In last few years information emerged out of a high school in South Mumbai where a group of male teenagers competed with each other to see who could “hook up” (form relationship) with most girls. This represents some of the worst effects of peer pressure. As the details of this activity became clear, it was evident that the competition provided acute self-esteem needs and encouraged group members to prey upon needy, less confident females. In other cases,

sexual contact is the price for relationship among teens.

It seems a costly price to pay, but it is an example of the power of teens over each other when the playing field is uneven; that is when a predator-like teens prey upon those weaker than themselves; when sexual pleasures substitute for real love, belonging, and acceptance.


Stress hits many children the day they march off to kindergarten minus Mon and Dad. As Kids grow, so do their levels of stress. They start worrying about grades, test scores, sport, and socializing.

Stress is the normal result of any circumstance that threatens (or is perceived to threaten) our wellbeing. Since peers are an important part of stress reduction and “stress sharing,” it is important that the peer group be healthy and supportive and not self-absorbed, robbing the group members of the benefits of grouping up together.

Young people who are vulnerable to peer pressure and rejection often find that the only groups they fit into exact a tremendous toll as they make use of the teen for their own purposes. Instead of mutual support, opportunity for practicing adult coping, and encouragement, teens can be used as scapegoats and all manners of blaming and projecting.

Rejection creates a high level of stress for teens who suffer the ambivalence of wanting to be accepted but finding the price is often giving up their integrity.

Response to the Problem of Peer Rejection and Persecution

Parents and youth workers who spend time with teens will not escape seeing the ravages of peer pressure and the cruelty of peer persecution and rejection. These teens will be injured and hurt in profound ways. Remember how important it is not to minimize their pain, but give them a chance, in a loving relationship, to express themselves without reproach on either the teen or his/her friends. The following steps should prove to be helpful:


Listen carefully to the young person. Try to help the teen identify the pain without asking too many questions. Remember these will be shameful and embarrassing issues for him or her to express. Be certain to withhold judgement of the persecuting or rejecting teens until you have made a connection with the teen you are helping. Rather than point out the cruelty of the peers, ask the teen how it felt to be left out, persecuted, or rejected. Expect him or her to be very reluctant to admit the social exclusion and embarrassment.


Young people need to know that you care about their pain. They are often convinced that no one really knows how they feel. However, they will appreciate your efforts if they can begin to see that you understand- even if you have little or no common experience. Be careful about jumping into your own history to try and relate too quickly. Teens are somewhat self-focused and aren’t sure that adults really can relate to them. They are more touched by your acknowledgement that you have some sense about what they are going through but will need their help to fully understand. Sometimes a statement about what you think they are going through will help them connect with you. A statement like “I can see how important it was for you to fit in,” can help them see you are understanding.


Be careful to affirm the teen’s value and worth. They don’t respond to casual statements, but they nonetheless need to experience your esteem. This will happen as they find you are not embarrassed or ashamed of their story. They will experience your affirmation by seeing your willingness to protect their worth as you offer them unconditional relationship. They will also feel affirmed if they perceive that you respect their opinions on the options opened to them.

Remember, teens are cautious about becoming vulnerable in exposing their needs. They feel they cannot remain dependent upon adults and fear any appearance of this. While they are correct that they must gain independence, they also will need to realize how inter-dependent we all are.


This part of the interaction will be one of the most delicate parts. Assuming you have been able to forge a relatively good relationship with the teen, now you must:

  • Offer your resources but do so in a way that is not experienced as parental and condescending.
  • Guide the teens towards open expression of their fears of not belonging, anger at the peers who hurt them, feelings of inadequacy, and the dilemma they face in returning to people and places when the risk of injuring is high.
  • Be slow to offer ways of handling their peers, but guide them to a realization of helpful techniques and strategies, which may include

Avoiding potential trouble spots. (Ask, “What can you do the next time trouble starts to develop?”)

Devising effective responses to defuse situations. (Ask, “How have you responded in the past? Can you think of any other/better ways to respond, things to say, ways to act?”)

Actively countering destructive feelings. (Ask, “Are there any relationships or pursuits you can think of that might help (e.g. developing new friendship, new interests, school activities in an area of proficiency, etc.?”)

Investing yourself. (Ask, “Is there any way you can think of to get your mind off your problems by serving others or helping someone else?”)

Seeking positive support. (Ask, “Who are the people who make you feel good about yourself? How can you be around them more? What are the situations that give you confidence? Can you think of ways to get more of that positive support?”)

(See Peer Pressure – Bijoyful)

  • Finally encourage the teen to turn to God in prayer and listen to Him; a thriving relationship with God is an invaluable, irreplaceable resource in times of troubles.


Help build the teen’s self-esteem by enlisting him or her in the problem-solving effort. Help the youth discover the causes that left him vulnerable to the problem but lead him also to find healthy ways to meet needs for love, acceptance, belonging, and understanding. He will probably not be able to simply avoid the problem teens but will need to find peers who will value him and be safe for him. Help him take inventory of the possible people who can be a resource. Teens will not be able to just resist destructive influences without healthy alternative to replace the old ways.


Teens who are involved with drugs and gangs nearly always require referral (with parental permission) to a counselling professional. Depressed teens who think about or threaten suicide also require immediate attention. Some of the other issues may require professional assistance, but many communities have effective youth groups that can be a great assistance. Teens who have been hurt by peer rejection and persecution will need a safe, loving, peer group to connect with. Youth groups are excellent places to provide safety for the social needs of teens. Research has validated that children who are involved in activities and get along with others (usually as a result of being involved in activities) are less likely to have the above-mentioned problems, whether the problems are the result of peer pressure, persecution, rejection or other factors.

Family involvement in the caring process is almost always required. Referrals for parenting classes are very helpful in assisting parents to create an environment most conducive to their teen’s growth and development.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe, comment and share with your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person who is struggling with peer rejection.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery, livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.

Peer Pressure

A Guide to help Youth in handling Peer Pressure

Rohit’s thirteenth year was his hardest. His family moved to a new town the summer before he started eighth grade, and Rohit entered a new school. He might have said no to cigarette he was offered on the walk from school – if he were still in his old school. But he was determined to make friends quickly here, so he took the cigarette and the three new friends that accompanied it. Still, he was careful to let the cigarette burn down between his fingers except when he sensed the other guys were watching him.

When Rohit’s new friends discovered that both his parents worked, leaving him home alone for several hours after school, they began walking home with him or dropping by soon after school let out. Rohit knew his parents didn’t allow him to have friends in the house when they weren’t home, but he always made sure everyone left in time for him to pick up and straighten the house before Mom and Dad arrived.

One afternoon, Deeraj, the boy who had first offered Rohit the cigarette, brought a six-pack of beer with him when he appeared on Rohit’s doorstep. Rohit was already frustrated at the way things were going but he didn’t want to tell Deeraj, so he and his friends smoked and drank beer in the house until Rohit pleaded with them to leave, warning them that his parents would be home soon.

Rohit managed to trash the beer cans before his parents arrived, but the house still smelled of cigarette smoke. His parents accused him of smoking, which he denied. A heated argument ensued, and Rohit’s father punished him.

Two days later, Rohit was arrested at the mall for shoplifting. His friends, who has pressured him into trying to sneak out of a shoe store wearing a pair of expensive boots, had disappeared when the store security person clapped a large hand on Rohit’s shoulder.

Problem of Peer Pressure

A disturbing proportion of youth -kids from good homes who are actively involved in community activity- are involved in inappropriate, immoral, even illegal behavior. A survey of 3795 teens in conservative communities throughout India reveals that in the past three months alone:

  • Two out of every three (66 percent) lied to a parent, teacher, or other adult.
  • Six in then (59 percent) lied to their peers.
  • Nearly half (45 percent) watched Netflix series at least once a week.
  • One in three (36 percent) cheated on an exam.
  • Nearly one in four (23 percent) smoked a cigarette or used another tobacco product.
  • One in five (20 percent) tried to physically hurt someone.
  • One in nine (12 percent) had gotten drunk.
  • Nearly one in ten (8 percent) had used illegal nonprescription drugs.

Much of this sort of behavior is influenced by peer pressure. Not all, certainly, but much of it. Teens face severe pressure to act in certain ways, to talk in certain ways, to dress in certain ways, to join certain groups, and to try certain things, and any deviation from what is considered the “normal” or popular thing to do can result in ridicule and rejection.

Dr. Bruce Narramore writes:

Few things strike more fear in the hearts of parents than the possibility of peer pressure.

We look at the adolescents around our neighborhood or in the local school and quake at the sight. We hear screeching tires as they pull out onto main street. We see a gang of untidy dressed youths hanging out at the local fast-food outlet. We notice some girls wearing seductive clothes or running around dropping a steady stream of profanity from their lips. And we also hear stories of wild parties and the ready availability of drugs on our high school and college campus. . . .

Even teenagers from “good” families concern us. We wonder about their moral standards, their spiritual commitment, their attitudes toward authority and their responsibility – or lack of it. And we wonder about their music, dress, and other current fads. We know, whether we like it or not, that what our teenagers’ friends say and do will soon influence them as much or more that what we say. . . . [But] teenagers may be just as worried about peer pressure as [their parents]. . . . Srijeet, a sixteen-year-old of junior college put it this way; “My friends want to do things that I know are not right, and it’s hard not to go along. I guess this means mu friends aren’t good for me, but knowing that doesn’t make it easier. No one likes to be the odd-man-out.” Jagruti, a vivacious fourteen-year-old chimed in,

“I know it’s stupid, but I end up doing things I’d never do by myself. I get caught up in the excitement and just don’t think.”

Causes of Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can be both negative and positive. Youth groups, or good friends and older siblings, for example, can exert positive peer pressure. They can “pressure” a teenage to act compassionately towards someone who’s hurting. They can “pressure” a young person to attend a hobby class. They can even “pressure” a young man or woman to consider the claim of being Child of God.

But the peer pressure can also be negative, and it is such negative pressure that concerns many parents, teachers, and youth leaders. The causes of negative peer pressure are varied and may be difficult to identify in a specific situation. Nonetheless, the contributing factors can be categorized as external influences and internal influences.

External Influences

Adolescents have always been influenced by peer pressure, but modern pressure, says Sharon Scott, former director of youth program, “can be stronger than the child who is not trained to take action to prevent or avoid trouble”, She cites “high-tech lifestyles [that reduce] the quality of adult interaction with children while simultaneously increasing the negative messages and invitations to children.” She implicates the influence of the social media, change in family structure, and societal shifts and expectations.

From our media, children learn more at earlier ages, and of course imitate what they see. The media also reinforces peer pressure: if you want to have a good personality and be popular, you wear a certain brand of jeans or use a particular toothpaste. . . .

Our children are not only being bombarded with outside messages and opportunities beyond control, but in many cases, they are not being reinforced sufficiently in the home to withstand negative pressures. Isolation [such as that created by mobile phones, internet and computer/televisions in children’s bedrooms] and lack of time for family communication, family work together, and family play is at an all-time high. Our technology has increased our mobility, and our isolation both outside and within the home.

Our children go place independently at earlier ages, so parents have increasingly reduced opportunity to guide behavior and control the environments of their not-yet-adult offspring. Additionally, the young driving ages and the fact that many families have several vehicles overbalance the amount of individual leisure at the cost of family activity.

In addition to the above influences,

psychological research also consistently reveals lack of family unity as a key factor in a young person’s vulnerability to peer pressure.

Teens who don’t feel understood or appreciated at home, whose parents fight, whose siblings mistreat them, whose parents “work all the time,” or whose mom or dad are uninvolved, or overbearing are apt to try to fill their needs for acceptance and approval through their friends – no matter what the cost.

Internal Influences

The survey of 3795 youth from conservative communities cited earlier revealed that parents are not among the primary counselor youth (ages eleven to nineteen) confide in or turn to for advice. Although the majority of the youth participating in the survey (73 percent) lived in stable homes with both parents and testified to a positive home environment (62 percent), only one in four (26 percent) said they frequently seek advice from their father, and two in five (40 percent) said they frequently seek advice from Mom.

Psychologist Bruce Narramore says that between the age of eleven and seventeen, the amount of time an average teen spends with Mom or Dad declines by half. Obviously, the teen years are a period of acute susceptibility to the opinions, attitudes, and influences of peers- more so than parents.

But this is a perfectly natural- even desirable – development. Narramore even calls it “a God-given process.” He writes:

The Bible says that every child will eventually leave his mother and father to relate to a mate (Genesis 2:24). Peers are one step in that direction, For years. . . . children have grounded their identities in their relationships with [parents]. What [their parents] said and did was pretty much what they accepted as right or true or proper. But the physical and intellectual changes set in motion at puberty are pressing them towards adulthood, in a sense, peers serve as a kind of way station or intermediate point between childhood dependency and adult independency and interdependency.

Teens who see themselves as unintelligent, unpopular, and unattractive are more vulnerable to peer pressure because of their hunger for a sense of acceptance and approval compels them to seek such things through conformity.

Another internal pressure that makes teens more susceptible to peer pressure is low self-esteem. Teens with poor self-concept also tend to choose friends or acquaintances who reflect or reinforce their own self-image, such as underdogs. drug users, and friends who dominate or bully them.

Effects of Peer Pressure

Parents and other adults who work with youth are certainly cognizant of the effects of peer pressure. Even young people themselves tend to have a reasonable grasp on those effects. Most, however, focus on the observable consequences: an arrest, an automobile accident, drug addiction, etc. Such visible consequences of peer pressure comprise just one of five primary results. Other effects include experimentation, fear and frustration, depression, and confusion.


Peer pressure typically prompts a teen to experiment with attitudes and behavior that he or she may not otherwise try. For many teens (and adults), the first puff of a cigarette, the first sip of alcohol, the first exposure to pornographic materials, and the first attempt at shoplifting were prompting by peer pressure. As fourteen-year-old Jisha said, peer pressure caused her to do “things I’d never do by myself.”

Fear and Frustration

Teens don’t like being vulnerable to peer pressure. They don’t enjoy being persuaded to do risky things. They fear discovery by parents or other authorities, and they experience frustration by their inability to control themselves and their surroundings. Like Rohit, the boy whose story introduced this article, they often don’t want to do the things their friends urge them to do, but they feel trapped into a trade – conformity for acceptance. The “trade,” however, results in frustration, because they seldom experience the acceptance they desire.


Repeated attempts to conformity (which tend to result not in fulfillment but in frustration) often send a teen spiraling into depression. They come to feel more lonely, more helpless, and more hopeless than before because they realize that their efforts to gain acceptance are not working. A subsequent sense of powerlessness, added to an already acute sense of worthlessness, can produce depression. Such depression may be expressed in gloomy behavior or in anger and agitation.


Sharon Scott tells the story of an intelligent and disciplined sixth grade student who talked and dreamed of being an astronaut. Unfortunately, however, his high graded and efforts to please the teacher earned him the ridicule of the other students in his class. This threat to “his natural need to be liked” prompted him to stop participating in class and start purposely missing questions on tests. Scott writes:

This child. . . . lowered his standards and reduced his chances to meet his goal, which he had once wanted badly to achieve. He became depressed and confused, because he was being offered an impossible choice between reaching his personal goals and achieving peer approval by fitting in.

Youth who succumb to peer pressure can become confused and alienated by the elusive promise of conformity.


Most adults and teens recognize the visible results of peer pressure. Few, however, think beyond the most obvious and immediate consequences to the true choice that’s being made, as author and speaker Bill Sanders suggests, He proposes that reluctant acceptance to negative peer pressure invariably involves a choice of what to:

  1. Act like
  2. End up like
  3. Be treated like by this group and others

If you choose cigarettes, you choose to: lose over eight years of life; cough; have bad breath, yellow teeth, and a greater chance of cancer.

If you decide to drop out of school you actually choose: a low-paying job; hard, long hours; ignorance in many areas; and the possibility of friends who can’t get ahead either.

If you choose crime, you actually choose disrespect; a possible prison term; a life of looking your shoulder.

Peer pressure promises acceptance and approval to young people, but it is an empty promise.

Response to the Problem of Peer Pressure

How can a youth leader, parent, or teacher help a young person handle peer pressure? The task may differ from teen to teen but it will begin with prayer and a humble dependence on God. Peer pressure is a challenge for everyone, and both youth and caring adult will do well to recognize that will power is not the answer, not are clever techniques, but a humble reliance on God and His guidance and power is the first and most important step toward handling peer pressure. Other steps will very likely include:


Some teens turn somewhat reluctantly to the influence of their peers (at least in some areas) because they don’t think Mom, Dad, or other adults every really listen to them. It is crucial, especially in early- and mid-adolescence, when reliance on peers reaches its peak, that the young man or woman have a parent or other positive adult influence who will actively and attentively listen to him or her.

You may help a teen talk about peer pressure by asking such questions as:

  • Do you have any friends that pressure you in positive ways? Negative ways?
  • Have you ever not tried in school or in sports in order to avoid being labeled or ridiculed?
  • Are there things you do (or don’t do) because of peer pressure? What things?
  • Do you ever feel pressure to make fun of someone or be mean to someone because of your friends?
  • Do you act differently around family or friends at community than you do at school or among other friends?
  • Do you feel like you can talk to your parent(s) about things in general? About things you feel pressured to do?
  • Do you ever talk to God about the things you feel pressured to do, say or be? Why or why not?

The above questions may suggest other ways to help a young person talk about peer pressure and its effects on him or her. As the youth talks be careful to listen closely, not only to verbal communication but to nonverbal communication and to the emotions that may lie beneath what is said.


Don’t be too quick to evaluate or criticize the way the teen is reacting to peer pressure; after all, how do you respond to peer pressure? Do you conform in certain ways in order to be accepted at work? Among friends? An honest appraisal of your own response to peer pressure may help you sensitively and compassionately view the young person’s efforts to fit in.

In addition, empathic concern can be communicated by:

  • Acknowledging the youth’s feeling without condemn.
  • Body language (leaning slightly forward in your chair, not folding your arms on your chest, nodding, making eye contact, etc.)
  • Reflecting key statements (for example, “Lets me make sure I understand what you’re saying. . . .”).
  • Waiting patiently through periods of silence or tears.


Like all of us, teens have a “tank” inside them that must be filled in order for them to combat peer pressure. Parents and other caring adults can help youth cope with peer pressure by filling that tank of acceptance, approval, affirmation, and affections. “A child who feels good about himself on the inside,” says Scott, “will have more inner strength and security to help him withstand the knocks of the sometimes harsh outside world. Encouragement for his efforts and praise for his successes are [important] tools [to] use to build his self-esteem.”

Affirmation can be offered by:

  • Providing a “safe haven” at home from the criticism and ridicule the youth may experience elsewhere.
  • Reinforcing the teen’s realization of his or her worth in God’s eyes (see Unhealthy Self-Esteem – Bijoyful).
  • Sincerely complimenting the youth for his or her capabilities and qualities.
  • Allowing frequent opportunities for the young person to develop competence and confidence. If he struggles athletically, for example, consider signing him to work on cars; if she is self-conscious about the effect of braces on her appearance, encourage her to develop her badminton game or tutor her in photography to help her feel good about other areas of her life.
  • Activity encouraging positive peer friendships and associations that will affirm the young person’s good qualities and subtly model attitudes and abilities he or she may lack.


In addition to listening, empathizing, and affirming, a caring adult can also offer suggestions and direction to a teen on how to counter peer pressure. Most importantly, gently urge the young person to turn to God, develop his or her relationship with Him, and depend on Him; He is “an ever-present help in trouble.” In addition, Alison Bell (writing in Teen magazine) offers these twenty suggestions:

  1. Ask 101 Question. . . .For example, if a pal pressures you to smoke, ask her why she smokes, how long she smoked, if she minds having ashtray breath. “Asking question puts the other person on the defensive,” explains Richard Mills, a consulting psychologist.
  2. Say No Like You Mean It. . . . Make eye contact, then say no forcefully, with authority. The more certain you are in your refusal; the less people will bug you.
  3. Back Up a No with a Positive Statement. . . . For example, if you’re turning down an offer to smoke pot (weed), say something like, ” I like my brain the way it is, thanks.”. . .
  4. Be Repetitive. Don’t hesitate to state your position over and over again.
  5. Practice Saying No. Practice saying no in safe environments, like when your big brother asks you if you’d like to Saturday night doing his laundry.
  6. Get Away from the Pressure Zone. Leave the scene. . . . Make your exit.
  7. Avoid Stressful Situations in the First Place. If you know there’s going to be alcohol or drugs at a party, make other plans. Or, if you’re going out with a guy, avoid being alone with him. . . . anywhere he might pressure you to get more physical than you want to be.
  8. Use the Buddy System. . . . Find a friend who shares your values and back each other up.
  9. Confront the Leader of the Pack. The best way to handle a peer-pressure bully is to nab [him or] her when the two of you are alone and explain how you’re feeling [and ask her to] get off your case.
  10. Consider the Results of Giving In. . .Take a moment to think about the consequences of your actions.
  11. Look for Positive Role Models. Ever notice that the real popular and successful kids at your school are the ones who aren’t afraid to say what they like and don’t like? . . .
  12. Don’t Buy the Line that Everyone’s “Doing it”. . . .
  13. Seek Support. Talk out any peer pressure you’re experiencing with other friends who are also feeling the squeeze. It can be reassuring to know that you’re not the only one. . .
  14. Be Your Own Best Friend. . . . Remind yourself every now and then that you’re special and keep at bay negative statements.
  15. Find Ways to Excel. . . . Challenge yourself to do your best. . . .[Focus] your attention on following your personal goals instead of the goals of a group.
  16. Don’t Pressure Others. Watch out for any subtle forms of pressure you may be exerting. . . .
  17. Speak Out! Fight peer pressure by taking the side of the underdog. . . .Supporting other’s opinions will send the message that you think for yourself.
  18. Watch Your Moods. Be aware that your moods can [affect] your sensibility. . . .
  19. Evaluate Your Friendships. If your friends are always bugging, you to do something you’re not comfortable with, remember that true friends like you for who you are, not who they want you to be.
  20. Find New Friends. If you’ve decided that your friends don’t have your best interests at heart, search out new friends who share your values and interests. . . .


Enlist the young person’s participation in battling peer pressure, perhaps by using the technique Scott recommends in her book PPR: Peer Pressure Reversal

  1. Check Out the Scene. (Notice and Identify trouble.)
  2. Make a Good Decision. (Understand and choose consequences.)
  3. Act to Avoid Trouble. (Take effective action.)


Take advantage of all available resources. As with any area of teen’s development, the enthusiastic and sensitive involvement of his or her parents is critical. Parents of youth who are struggling with pressure can profit greatly from support groups and informal interaction with other parents of teens. Teens who are struggling with peer pressure can profit from the positive peer pressure of a thriving community and a supportive youth group. Concerned parents may also consider turning to a counseling professional for further help.

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Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery, livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.