How To Turn Around Troubled Teens


Have you ever asked yourself how to turn around troubled teens?  I have, plenty of times.  After a lot of research into what is proven to work and what is proven to not work, I discovered that there are three scientifically proven-successful ways to help turn a troubled teen around.

So.  How do you deal with troubled youth?  Here are the proven methods:

  • mentoring troubled teens;
  • troubled kids volunteering in their community, and;
  • programs that rely on Restorative Practices to heal victims, troubled youth and their community.


  • A combination of Restorative Practices, mentorship programs, and teen volunteerism has proven to be the most effective tools for turning around troubled teens.
  • “Scared Straight” programs not only don’t work but they have also been proven to increase incarcerations in teens that have participated in them.
  • Giving teens opportunities to repair the harm they’ve done brings healing to the teens and those they victimized.  Volunteerism and mentorship programs create paths to acceptance by their communities for teens.

Table of Contents


Restorative Practices

Mentorship Organizations

Teen Volunteerism

Youth Job Corps

Why Teens Need All Three Approaches

Why Scared Straight Programs Don’t Work

Alternatives to Troubled Teen Programs


Introduction: How to turn around troubled teens

I’ve not only researched programs that are proven to help teens on their rocky paths, I volunteered with Restorative Justice for nine years as both a fundraiser and as a Circle Keeper after going through the circle keeper training.

I’ve seen what restorative practices can do; I’ve seen the tears, the hugs, the heartfelt apologies of teens, and the forgiveness of those who have been victimized.  And I’ve watched “so-called” troubled teens turn their lives around after wholeheartedly repairing the harm they caused and volunteering in their communities.  Especially if they’ve had the guidance of a mentor.

I got involved when a friend of mine asked me, “How can I help my troubled son?” and I had no answer for him.

Over the past several decades, the juvenile justice system in the United States has become increasingly more punitive.  Young people who break the law are often seen as criminals, rather than children in need of guidance and support.  This is especially true for young people of color, who are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system.

Restorative practices are an alternative approach to dealing with troubled teens that focus on repair and reconciliation, rather than punishment.  Mentorship and volunteerism are two key components of restorative practices.  By providing troubled teens with positive role models and opportunities to give back to their community, we can help them turn their lives around.

Restorative Practices: The goal of restorative practices is to help repair the relationship between the victim, the offender, and the community

Restorative practices aim to help repair the relationship between victim and offender.  By facilitating dialogue and encouraging understanding, restorative practices can help those involved in a dispute move forward.

In many cases, the victim and offender are known to each other, which can make the process of resolving the conflict more difficult.  Restorative practices provide a framework for how to have these difficult conversations in a productive way.

In some cases, restorative practices may also involve bringing in outside parties to help mediate the situation.  These third parties can provide impartial perspectives and help facilitate communication between victim and offender.

Ultimately, the goal of restorative practices is to promote healing and understanding between individuals who have been involved in a conflict.  By addressing the harm that has been done and working towards resolution, those involved can begin to move forward.

The Benefits to Mentorship Organizations – Big Brothers and Big Sisters

Mentorship organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters provide a number of benefits to the troubled teens they work with.  Perhaps most importantly, these organizations can help teens feel connected to a supportive adult who can offer guidance and advice.

Volunteerism and community service opportunities offered through these programs can also give teens a sense of purpose and belonging, helping them to see that they have something positive to contribute to the world.  Finally, restorative practices such as conflict resolution and victim-offender mediation can teach teens important life skills that will help them to avoid future problems.

The Benefits to Teens in Volunteerism

There are many benefits for teenagers who choose to volunteer their time to causes they care about.  Volunteerism can help teens to feel more connected to their community and develop a sense of civic responsibility.  It can also provide them with opportunities to learn new skills and gain valuable work experience.

Teens who volunteer their time to causes they care about often report feeling a greater sense of purpose in their lives.  They may also find that their volunteering experiences help them to develop empathy and compassion for others.  These are important qualities that can help teens to succeed in life, both personally and professionally.

Volunteering can also provide teens with a chance to make new friends and establish positive role models in their lives.

Contributing to Society Through Opportunities in the Youth Job Corps

The Youth Job Corps is a government-funded program that provides job training and education to young people between the ages of 16 and 24.  When it comes to how to turn around troubled teens, the program has been shown to be effective when coupled with other forms of support and guidance.

Perhaps you’d like to volunteer?  There are plenty of volunteer opportunities available with the Youth Job Corps.  Volunteers help with job training, tutoring, and mentoring.  They also help with after-school programs and activities and provide transportation to and from job sites.

Volunteering with the Youth Job Corps is a great way for adults with wisdom, guidance and time to give back to their community and make a difference in the lives of troubled teens.  Don’t hesitate to step up by contacting your local Youth Job Corps office.

Why teens need all three of these approaches for real success

Most teens go through a rebellious phase during their teenage years.  They may experiment with drugs or alcohol, engage in risky behaviors, or get involved with gangs.  While this is normal behavior for many teens, it can lead to problems if not managed properly.

Teens need mentors to help them navigate these difficult years.  A mentor can provide guidance and support during this time of transition.  They can help teens make good decisions and stay on track.

Volunteering is another way to help troubled teens turn their lives around.  By giving back to the community, they can learn responsibility and gain a sense of purpose.  Volunteering also gives them the opportunity to meet new people and build positive relationships.

Restorative practices are another approach that can be used to help troubled teens.  This approach focuses on repairing the harm that has been done rather than punishing the offender.  It can help teens take responsibility for their actions and make amends for the harm they have caused.

Restorative practices can also help build positive relationships between offenders and victims and improve communication within families and communities.

As I related in the introduction, I experienced first-hand how powerful Restorative Practices can be, not only for the offender, but also for the person victimized, who often never get to ask the offender, “why them?” when things are handled through the court system.  The court system often leaves victims feeling frustrated and isolated.

Why Scared Straight programs and programs that put troubled teens together don’t work

It’s no secret that our country has a problem with juvenile delinquency.  Every day, we see stories in the news about teens who have been involved in violence, drugs, or other criminal activity.

In response to this problem, many people have suggested that we need to do something to “scare” these teens straight.  The thinking is that if they see the consequences of their actions, they will be less likely to engage in delinquent behavior.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that these types of programs work.  In fact, every follow-up study done on “scared straight” programs has shown an increase in incarcerations for teens who were exposed to the programs.

The reason why these programs don’t work is that they focus on the wrong things.  They look at what the teen has done wrong and try to scare them into changing their ways.  But this doesn’t address the underlying issues that led to the delinquent behavior in the first place.

Additionally, when teens who committed crimes after going through a “scared straight” program were interviewed, they admitted being terrified by the felons.  But after getting over their fright, they realized they wanted that power; they wanted to feel that respect of being feared.

Scaring them had simply reinforced their feelings of powerlessness, the exact opposite of what you want to do if you want kids to become productive members of society.

A better approach is to focus on mentorship, volunteerism, and restorative practices.  These approaches help troubled teens by giving them positive role models, opportunities to give back to their community, and a chance to repair the harm they have caused.

Most young people regret their crimes and would give anything to take it back.  But once they are tagged with a felony conviction and sent to prison where they are only surrounded by other victimizers, the opportunity to repair the harm is gone.

There is evidence that these approaches can make a tremendous difference.  Mentorship programs have been shown to reduce juvenile recidivism by up to 50%. And restorative practices have been shown to reduce school suspensions by up to 80%.

If we want to turn troubled teens around, we need to focus on approaches that actually work.

Alternatives to troubled teen programs

If you are thinking about enrolling your troubled teen in a military school or groups, classes, or schools that put troubled teens together, there are many better options to consider.  After learning the costs of some of those options, you may even be wondering where to send troubled youth for free.

Not only can these options be costly, but they can often become breeding grounds for worse behavior as the kids are surrounded by other troubled teens.  There are a number of alternatives that have been shown to be effective in helping troubled teens turn their lives around.

Mentorship Programs:

Mentorship programs pair young people with positive role models who can provide support and guidance.  These programs can help teens build self-esteem, improve academic performance, and develop positive social skills.

Many mentorship programs also include service-learning components, which provide an opportunity for teens to give back to their community.


Engaging in volunteer work is another great way to help troubled teens turn their lives around.  Volunteerism provides an opportunity for teens to learn new skills, meet new people, and make a difference in the lives of others.

It can also help them build self-confidence and feel good about themselves.

Restorative Practices:

Restorative practices emphasize repairing the harm caused by problem behavior, rather than punishing the offender.  This approach has been shown to reduce recidivism rates among juvenile offenders and helps foster a sense of responsibility and remorse in those who have caused harm.

Restorative practices can take many different forms, but often involve bringing together the parties involved in conflict to discuss what happened and how to make things right.


If you are working with troubled teens or want to become a helping troubled youth volunteer, consider using mentorship, volunteerism, and restorative practices to help them turn their lives around.

These methods have been proven to be effective in helping teens build positive relationships, develop a sense of purpose, and repair the damage that they’ve done.

By using these techniques, you can give troubled teens the tools they need to lead successful and fulfilling lives.


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