It seems that almost everybody knows a troubled teenager these days - often within one's own family. Usually these kids have been in trouble more than a few times, sometimes with serious repercussions. Many parents and schools ask me about what to do about them. How should we treat or educate tough, emotionally troubled teenagers? It's a great question and here is my answer: We should immediately make them leaders.

"Are you kidding?," you may ask.

No, I'm not.

"How can these kids lead when they haven't yet learned to follow?"

Well, as it turns out, many troubled teens learn to follow by leading first.

This is because:

Leadership is the antidote to apathy, not a reward for compliance.

For many kids, (boys especially), compliance feels dull and apologetic. What I mean is that the opportunity to lead is an opportunity for status, acknowledgement and confidence. These are the "drugs" of success. Once a teen gets a taste, he or she almost always wants a little more. In essence, what I'm suggesting is that we try to get troubled kids hooked on success - after all, being a leader feels good! If we wait until they have been obedient or compliant enough, we may miss the opportunity to get them "hooked." Thus I'd like to make the radical suggestion that we immediately take our most troubled, difficult, tough kids - and make them leaders. Let's encourage an alliance with adult values rather than opposition. That alliance can only occur if we give these kids a chance to shine, and to feel the thrill of what it's like to have constructive authority.

The idea is somewhat provocative at first because most of us have been raised with the premise that respect is earned. I know I was. Years ago, when I first began working with troubled youth, I did my best to convey this principle - and it fell on deaf ears. I learned I had to make a choice between standing my ground and succeeding with the kids I was trying to help. I chose success, which meant rethinking my therapeutic priorities and approach. The first step was allowing myself to be taught something by these teens - giving them the respect of being my teacher in some important ways.

We all learn best by teaching others. For years, therapists have understood the value of this insight, and have often made older troubled kids mentors for younger troubled kids. When a teenager has to coach a younger child about behavior or self-control, it helps the adolescent learn himself, by putting these important principles into words. When a young person learns to explain the "cause and effect" of a principle, that principle begins to sound more logical and familiar. It takes deeper root in a young person's psyche.

We can probably agree that some kinds of leadership will, by necessity, need to be supervised and structured - no problem. And while common sense dictates that we don't put troubled teens in situations where they can hurt themselves or others, we need to find situations that offer the chance for real performance and authority. When we're called upon to make a leap of faith and put such kids in a leadership position, we have to remember how powerfully motivating it can be for them to have a chance to experience the positive regard and respect of others - without feeling that one has "capitulated."

The key is that all kids need a chance to lead somewhere in their lives. Many have heard the saying, "the world is flat." In my work with kids, I take this to mean that the old days of elitist leadership are over. Today, all kids will be leaders at some time or in some place. In my Mighty Good Kids programs, I insist that kids define where in their respective lives they can and will lead.

There are important social differences in how genders express leadership. Pre-teen and adolescent girls are often pressured by peers to be circumspect about their desire to lead and achieve, and tend to pursue status through social networks. So we need to be aware that being placed in a hierarchical leadership position may have unintended social liabilities for some girls. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't offer troubled girls opportunities to lead others, but it does mean that we need to thoughtfully consider how we intervene, so that leadership feels good and powerful.

Boys, on the other hand, are often reinforced for emulating iconoclasts and rebels. Clinical work has taught me that many boys find "compliance" highly unstimulating, if not downright dull. For strong-willed boys, it can even feel apologetic. These are psychological states inconsistent with the way boys want to feel about themselves. If we try to force-feed the message of compliance, we will surely encounter resistance and closed minds.

Instead, let's catapult these individuals into "tough jobs," positions of leadership where accountability is regularly assessed. I'm not suggesting we turn the welfare of others over to troubled teens, at least not at first. But I am suggesting that we give them meaningful authority and responsibility to generate ideas, set an example, or be of service. The acknowledgement and respect derived from these opportunities are the best performance enhancing drugs our society knows.

Instead, let's catapult these individuals into "tough jobs," positions of leadership where accountability is regularly assessed. I'm not suggesting we turn the welfare of others over to troubled teens, at least not at first. But I am suggesting that we give them meaningful authority and responsibility to generate ideas, set an example, or be of service. The acknowledgement and respect derived from these opportunities are the best performance enhancing drugs our society knows.

Parenting & education expert Dr. Adam Cox is author of "Boys of Few Words: Raising Our Sons to Communicate & Connect" & "No Mind Left Behind-Understanding & Fostering Executive Control: The 8 Essential Brain Skills Every Child Needs to Thrive." Get your questions answered at http://www.dradamcox.com0x0000007b Bsod,Bsod 1e,Bsod On Startup,Capita Bsod,Page Fault In Non Paged Area Bsod
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