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Teens in Dysfunctional Families

by Anna Green

Teens who grow up in a dysfunctional family might adapt by adopting unhealthful or aggressive behaviors. Furthermore, teens in such families often have few models for positive social interactions so they might struggle to maintain healthful relationships with peers. Because of the stress present in the home environment, teens from dysfunctional families also frequently underperform in academic settings.

Abusive Families

Teens who grow up in abusive families are more likely to display an array of negative responses. While many are resilient and overcome the effects of the abuse, others perpetuate the abusive behaviors through bullying or by displaying violent, controlling behaviors in their early romantic relationships, according to psychotherapist Arthur Becker-Weidman, writing at the Good Therapy website. He explains that research has found, "Clear links between neglect and abuse and later psychological, emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal disorders." Teens growing up in abusive families are more likely to exhibit signs of depression and anxiety. They also have an increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse. The organization Child Help found that, "as many as two-thirds of the people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children."

Substance Abusing Families

Teenagers who live with families struggling with drug or alcohol abuse respond in many different ways. Some teens try to compensate for their family’s dysfunction by showing perfectionism or by trying to protect the substance-abusing family member. Others try to detract attention from the dysfunctional family dynamics by acting out and drawing the focus on themselves, according to the Office of Alcohol and Drug Addition at the University of Notre Dame. While some teens from families who abuse substances reject alcohol and drugs, because of genetic influences, other teenagers become substance abusers themselves, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Enmeshed Families

Enmeshment "can mean being entangled within another person whereas you become dependent upon them for your emotional needs. It is when you are so close to someone you don’t know where you end and where another person begins," according to mental health counselor Tamara Wilhelm, writing at the website for Imagine Hope Counseling Service. In enmeshed families, individuals lose their own identity and are over-involved in each other’s problems. In such dysfunctional families, teens often have difficulty asserting their autonomy and maintaining age-appropriate peer relationships because of their overly close connections to their parents and siblings, Wilhelm explains.

Negligent Families

Neglect can take several forms. They include physical neglect, or the inability of a family to provide food, clothing and shelter, and emotional neglect, where parents are uninvolved in their children’s lives and do not provide love, comfort, support and other emotional needs. Teens who grow up in families who neglect their basic needs are more likely to have difficulty realizing the same scholastic, cognitive and social potential as non-neglected peers, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. "Research shows that neglected children are more likely to have cognitive deficits and severe academic and developmental delays when compared with non-neglected children," according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway's 2006 report. Furthermore, the Mayo Clinic explains that adolescents who experienced extreme neglect as young children may also display aggressive behaviors and be unable to form close and meaningful bonds with either adults or peers.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

Photo Credits

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