When to get treatment for your troubled teen

Is It Time To Get Help?

Learn the warning signs that suggest it is time to intervene or seek treatment for your teenager.

When To Seek Treatment for Your Troubled Teenager

As a loving parent, it's difficult to know when to seek help for your troubled teen

“Trust your instincts” recommend adolescent counselors at the Elk River Treatment Program. A parent's first responsibility is to keep their children safe - and sometimes that means they must become an investigator, counselors advise. Not all negative behaviors define troubled teens. A certain amount of rebellion may simply mean that your adolescent is trying on new identities to see which one fits. Absence or distance may be a sign of independence, which should be the ultimate goal of a parent.

Extreme behaviors that suggest your child may need intervention include:

  • Sadness, withdrawal or severe mood changes at home and/or school. Crying spells, anger outbursts or sudden disinterest in things they used to care about and enjoy are other warning signs.
  • Behavior changes that include physical fighting, unusual interest in weapons, running away from home or expressing a desire to hurt others are warning signs.
  • School problems such as dropping grades, excessive tardiness, and truancy, and other disciplinary actions at school are often seen.
  • Physical harm including suicidal thoughts or actions to self-harm. Watch for lacerations, especially on arms and legs.
  • Substance abuse: Often alcohol or drugs (over-the-counter, prescribed or illegal) are used by teens and adults alike in an attempt to numb their feelings or escape reality.
  • Secretiveness: Red flags should go up if your child suddenly starts to keep information from you or evade questioning about what they are doing on a daily basis.

Elk River professionals can arm your family with the tools to address and often reverse maladaptive behaviors. For more than a decade, ERTP has successfully treated troubled teens that have struggled with behavior problems, mental health challenges, learning differences and/or substance abuse.

Call one of our admission counselors today at 866-906-TEEN (8336) or complete the confidential inquiry form on this web page.

Helping Troubled Teens Recover

Attention Deficit Disorder (​ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

There has been a long running debate concerning Attention Deficit (ADD) or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some argue that it is an over diagnosed condition. Others argue that it is often misdiagnosed. Others are split on whether to use medication or halt medications in the summer months. But if your teen suffers from ADD or ADHD, you will feel its effects. These children may present with difficulty sustaining attention in class and may have problems with short-term memory function. Others will be in constant motion, unable to sit for any length of time. They will talk out in class and exhibit impulsive behaviors. Most children with an ADHD diagnosis will demonstrate both inattentiveness and hyperactive-impulsive behaviors. ADHD has been shown to be a risk factor for the development of poor academic functioning, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, substance use and a myriad of other behavioral problems.

​Abandonment and Adoption

Many adopted children have a fear of rejection resulting from the separation from their birth parents. They may lack a sense of security and place that would provide them with more self-confidence. Abandonment fears typically stem from a loss in childhood, such as the loss of a parent through death or divorce, but they can also result from inadequate physical or emotional care. Early childhood experiences result in fear of being abandoned by the significant people in one’s life. While some degree of abandonment fear may be a normal part of being human, when the fear of abandonment is severe, frequent, and impossible to comfort, it can cause significant impairment, particularly with regard to developing healthy relationships.

​Divorce and Family Issues

Adding a divorce to the existing roller coaster of emotions that a teenager is experiencing can lay the track for a series of negative behaviors. One of the most common emotions that a teen will experience from divorce is anger. They may begin to lash out at family members, friends or teachers. Or they may begin to withdraw from those same people. Often children feel partially responsible for their parents divorce. Overcompensating at home or school is another negative effect on teens. They feel if they only try harder, their parents will get back together. When they realize that their efforts aren’t effective, they often become depressed and begin to self-medicate.

​Anger & Defiance

Erratic teenage behavior is an age-old concern for parents. But in the wake of violent events such as theater or club massacres or school shootings, many parents find themselves taking their teen’s dark moods very seriously. Is this “normal” teenage behavior or a sign of a problem with depression or anger?

When a teen is experiencing out-of-control anger or rage that escalates to violence, it is a cause for concern. Anger is not the answer to life’s challenges. Sometimes it is necessary to remove a teen from his or her comfort zone – away from family and friends and the fear of being judged if they reveal what is truly angering or frightening them. Teens soon discover that Elk River is a safe place where they can work with others in group settings or in individual counseling sessions to uncover the source of their negative behavior. With 24/7 supervision, ERTP’s residential setting allows professionals to get a clear diagnosis, and help families begin the healing process.


Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and every child goes through phases, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. A phase is temporary and usually harmless. But children who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, and shyness, and they start to avoid places and activities. Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.

​Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects a child's behavior and ability to communicate. The symptoms generally appear within the first two years. Individuals with ASD may be very bright and capable, but may also have serious difficulties with social interaction, or have unusually low tolerance for loud noise, bright lights, crowds etc. As indicated in its name, Autism Spectrum Disorder, the symptoms may range from mild to severe. Elk River Treatment Program has successfully treated boys and girls with mild ASD (formerly referred to as Aspergers). Generally these clients have experienced difficulty communicating, recognizing social cues and handling disappointments. The mental health professionals at Elk River Treatment Program can develop an individualized treatment plan to meet the needs of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

​Bipolar Disorder

One of the most misunderstood syndromes in child mental health is Bipolar Disorders. Traditionally, Bipolar Disorder or Manic-Depressive Illness is considered a mood disorder with alternating episodes of extreme euphoria/mania and dysphoria/depression. These moods cycle unpredictably and often abruptly with no obvious, observable cause being discernible to the client’s life. Bipolar Disorder is poorly defined in children and adolescents. Often clients who are severe examples of Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder are misdiagnosed as Bipolar Disorder. The mental health professionals at Elk River Treatment Program can assess, evaluate and develop an individualized treatment plan for children with a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis.

​Conduct Disorder

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), conduct disorder refers to a group of behavioral and emotional problems in youngsters. Children and adolescents with this disorder have great difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. They are often viewed by other children, adults and social agencies as “bad” or delinquent, rather than mentally ill. Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including brain damage, child abuse or neglect, genetic vulnerability, school failure, and traumatic life experiences.

Children or adolescents with conduct disorder may exhibit some of the following behaviors: Aggression to people and animals (bullies, physical fights, cruelty to animals); Destruction of property (fire setting, destroys property); Deceitful, lying or stealing; Serious violations of rules (ignores curfew, runs away from home, truant).

Upon admission, all clients of the Elk River Treatment Program (ERTP) receive a comprehensive evaluation by an experienced mental health professional. Many children with a conduct disorder may have coexisting conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, ADHD, learning problems, or thought disorders which can also be treated at ERTP.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is characterized by a pattern of negative, hostile and defiant behavior lasting at least six months. ODD is an externalizing behavior problem, i.e., it affects parents and others by making them uncomfortable. Most often, the teen with ODD feels that these externalizing behaviors are normal and acceptable; everyone else is out of line. Essentially, an ODD adolescent will present with non-compliance to adult requests, disrespect of adults and peers, anger management problems, and a failure to accept responsibility for these behaviors.


Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood and thoughts that affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. The signs and symptoms of depression include: loss of interest in activities; loss of appetite with weight loss or overeating with weight gain; loss of emotional expression; a persistently sad or anxious mood; feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, social withdrawal; low energy level; trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions; unusual restlessness or irritability. Alcohol or drug abuse may also be signs of depression.

​Disrespect Towards Parents, Siblings and Peers

Disrespect can range from mild to severe. Mild behaviors may include things like eye rolling or saying, “Whatever Mom!” when reprimanded. More serious disrespectful behaviors include things such as total disregard for rules, name calling, even physical violence. Sometimes even when parents address disrespectful behavior, it may worsen over time. Disrespect is frequently a partner to other negative behaviors.

Teenage ​Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Many of our clients are admitted by their parents after discoveries of drug or alcohol abuse. The staff at ERTP recognizes that substance abuse is a symptom of another problem. Treating negative behaviors is important but uncovering the source of negative behavior is the key to recovery.

Dual Diagnosis in Teens

Dual Diagnosis is a diagnosis of an emotional disorder and a developmental delay, drug and alcohol use or a mental illness in the same person. The professional Treatment Team at Elk River Treatment Program specializes in treating not only the symptom but identifying and treating the source.

​Impulsiveness and Recklessness

Teenagers react more impulsively to threatening situations than do children or adults, likely because their brains have to work harder to rein in their behavior. Research reveals that adolescents gravitate toward risk taking and exhilarating experiences due to an enhanced release of dopamine that starts in early adolescence. The enhanced natural dopamine release can give adolescents a powerful sense of being alive when they are engaged in life. It can also lead them to focus solely on the positive rewards they are sure are in store for them, while failing to notice or give value to the potential risks and downsides. ERTP uses a positive peer culture and group therapy to imitate real life situations that clients will likely experience when they return home. Every day that passes while in a safe environment gives your child’s brain an opportunity to further mature – and allow for better decisions at home.

Learning Differences

Learning Differences refer to a number of disorders which may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. Examples are ADD or ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Low Self Esteem

Low Self Esteem is often a symptom of depression. Teens may assume blame for negative events or circumstances like their parents’ divorce. A teens suffering from low self-esteem may feel like they are never “good enough.”

Teen Obesity

Obesity is the state of being far above one’s normal weight. A person has traditionally been considered to be obese if they are more than 20 percent over their ideal weight. That ideal weight must take into account the person’s height, age, sex, and build.

Online Gaming Addiction

Online gaming addiction is an addiction to online video games, role-playing games or any interactive gaming environment. This addiction has increased dramatically in the U.S. Gaming stimulates the brain’s “reward centers” which stimulates the same high a drug addict or alcoholic feels. Signs and symptoms include: restless and irritable when doing other activities, eating meals at the computer while gaming, inability to keep track of time spent gaming, increasingly defensive about game playing habits, declining school performance, skipping class to continue game play, defiant, isolation from family and friends.

Poor Peer Relationships

Teens have a strong need for acceptance, approval, and belonging. A teenager that feels isolated or rejected by their peers is more likely to engage in negative behaviors in order to fit into any group. Peer pressure can impair good judgment. Teens who already struggle with learning differences are often rejected by their peers due to their age-inappropriate behavior. Clients of ERTP practice a positive peer culture and learn to better interpret verbal and non-verbal communication.

​Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a rare but serious mental health condition in which infants and young children are incapable of establishing healthy bonds with parents or caregivers. Basic needs for comfort, affection, nurturing and stimulation that weren’t met, resulted in children who never learned how to create loving and caring attachments with other people. They are unable to give or receive affection.