It seems that many adults do not really understand what children want from them. It also seems from what I have seen and heard that many adults do not understand that children are not bad. Children are not born bad, typically we make them bad by how we treat them. Yes you can have a child with loving parents and a loving family who makes very poor choices in their lives. As a result, they may end up in jail or living on the streets. Some children are born with psychiatric issues such as schizophrenia or Bipolar disorder and some children regardless of how much love they receive still choose to make poor choices. While these situations do happen, they are not the norm.
The most important relationships in a baby’s life is his/her relationship with his/her parents. A baby wants love and to feel wanted by their parents. Parents are a baby’s safety net. As long as Mom and Dad are okay then they are okay. If their parents are not okay, then a baby’s safety and life is in danger. Children cannot tolerate this fear. Therefore, if their parents have a problem instead of seeing their parents with problems, a child changes the situation so their parents are great and the baby is the bad person.
I have seen this many times with foster children. Their parents are usually great people and Social Services are being mean to their parents. They can be living is the best foster home in the world and if you ask them if they want to return to their natural parents, they say yes. They are desperate for that validation from their parents.
The problem is many parents do not know how to express love to their children because they never experienced it themselves as children. Therefore, they do the best they can do and feel they are good parents because they are better than their parents. However, when they hear their children asking for more, they get mad at their children. The parents get upset because they would have liked what their children are asking for too, when they were children. Also at times parents want their children to validate them for being good parents. They do not understand that a child doesn’t have the cognitive abilities to do so and that the children do not understand their parents need. However, it is a normal desire to be validated by someone and people will seek this validation from where ever they can find it.
Therefore, a child tends to feel unloved, unwanted and form a belief they are useless. They tend to hang around people who reinforce this belief. They are afraid of people who might love them. They are afraid these people will discover the truth about them and leave them. They feel safer with the people who tell them they are worthless.
Walking around with this feeling can hurt a great deal. As a result, kids start to do drugs, alcohol and hang out with gangs. The drugs and alcohol help to numb out the pain of feeling worthless while at the same time it reinforces the belief that they are worthless.
Most often these kids act out at school and tend to get arrested for stealing or drugs. Some people try to help but the child pushes people away. It is better to leave someone than to be left. Most people get tired and say there is nothing else they can do and give up. Once again, reinforcing the child’s belief.
These are the children and teenagers who really need our help. The harder they push us away, the harder we have to say we won’t go. There have been many times that I have had to Juvenile Hall to do sessions. The teenager is shocked! I tell them that I told them they can push as hard as they want, but I won’t believe they are bad or walk out. At times this is difficult because they often test me over and over to see if I am for real. If they see I am for real, I am only one person, they need other people in their lives to stay.
What I have seen in working with teens who act out for over 20 years, is they are looking for someone to say I care and you are important. They prefer that it comes from their biological parents, but once they accept their biological parents cannot provide this, they look to other people or substances.
Those of us who work with acting out teenagers as therapists, teachers or foster parents need to understand how severely these children have been hurt by their biological parents and the hard work it takes helping them over come that wound.
Extended family such as aunts and uncles, you too need to understand how deep the wound is for these kids. If you are not dealing with your own wounds, they need you to be in it for the long run.
This may seem like I am asking for a great deal, but look at how many teens are dying from suicide, drug overdose, shootings etc. When you see the number of young lives being lost you can see that it is worth the effort.
Yes it takes a great deal of effort but when you communicate to a teen that yes you are worth something, you are love able and I care about you. Watch how they go out into the world and help others and share love with others. So the price is worth seeing a teen full of life and going out and sharing it with the world. On You Tube search for an organization called Challenge Day. Watch some of Challenge Day’s videos to see how a teenager can change if we give them love and validate them.
Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience working with high risk teenagers & foster children and is an expert in this area. For more information on Dr Rubino visit his website at www.rcs-ca.com or follow him on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.