There are many reasons why teens end up “in the juvenile justice system.” Abuse, neglect, mental illness, unstable family situations, and bullying could all form the basis for juvenile crime. Successful youth rehabilitation programs should teach the following three life skills for troubled teens involved in juvenile justice.
Teens involved in the juvenile justice system have a lot of things to be angry about, not the least of which is confinement itself. They may bring considerable emotional and psychological baggage with them. Healthy relationships that include solving problems through discussion and compromise may not have been part of their life experience.
Anger management is a critical life skill for teens involved in juvenile justice. Unless they learn anger management skills, teens run the risk of recidivism. Uncontrolled anger can lead to violence and crime. Incarcerated teens may never have had an example of how to address conflict appropriately. Whatever the source of their anger, someone must teach teens how to address their feelings in socially appropriate ways. Giving teens a safe space to express their feelings, techniques for calming themselves, and problem-solving skills, plus plenty of opportunities for positive and healthy physical activity, provides teens with chances to practice strategies that may help them cope with anger.
Communication and Social Skills
The teenage brain is still developing. Frustration and anxiety can result from being unable to find the right words or means of identifying or expressing how they’re feeling, what they want, or what’s upsetting them. At the same time, teens may be listening for criticism where there isn’t any and hearing perfectly benign statements as displays of aggression or disapproval. Skills like self-advocacy (“I need more time to respond to that”), active listening, or the ability to give and take in discussions can help teens gain confidence in their ability to express themselves and voice doubt or disagreement in a socially acceptable way. Journaling and role-playing are some techniques that tend to work well to foster appropriate communication skills. For additional ideas on how to help teens at risk of entering the juvenile justice system, look at Arise Foundation’s curriculum on helping high schoolers and young adults.
Rewarding positive achievements rather than focusing on imposing consequences for negative behavior is a technique that can help build self-confidence. Helping a teen who doesn’t believe they have value and abilities to recognize their talents and identify their areas of interest can build self-confidence. This may lead to more proactive participation in things like job training and independent living skills training. To develop new skills, a teen must believe that they can do it, that gaining skills is worth it, and that the skills they learn can have a concrete positive impact on their future.
There are many different approaches to helping juvenile offenders. While these three life skills for troubled teens involved in juvenile justice can help young offenders get back on the right path, it would be better if these young people never landed themselves in the justice system in the first place. Education that helps keep at-risk youth on a positive life path can begin in middle school or younger. Look into targeted, age-appropriate life skills packages from the Arise Foundation.