Teenagers - they need help just as much as children

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As part of the NSPCC and Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Boards’ Neglect Matters Campaign, the NSPCC’s Local Campaigns Manager Emma Motherwell talks about teenagers who are neglected – a problem that is often overlooked…

Teenagers. They sometimes get a bad reputation for their lifestyle choices, but a person’s teenage years are their time to increase independence, explore boundaries and take risks as part of normal development towards adulthood.

Because teenagers naturally behave in a certain way, it can lead to their actions being written off as ‘typical teenage behaviour’ or ‘acting out’, and as a result, neglect and other types of abuse are often not recognised as the reason for any unusual behaviour.

Sadly, unlike younger children, it is too often assumed that teenagers have a natural resilience to neglectful parenting, and there is a lack of awareness about how neglect can lead to issues developing as they enter early adulthood.

Teenagers are more likely to be blamed for their own behaviour at a risk of overlooking the factors that may be the root cause and as a result, a neglected teenager may even enter the juvenile justice system rather than the child protection system.

Back in 2015, our Hurting Inside Report revealed that of the 23,037 children reported by the public or referred by the NSPCC helpline, police or children’s services, only 16 per cent of calls were regarding children aged 12 to 18.

Potentially thousands of adolescents may not be receiving the support they need at a crucial time in their lives, and child protection professionals are concerned there may be an underreporting of older children suffering from neglect.

So, how does neglect affect teenagers? Research shows neglected teens are at a much higher risk of a variety of problems that affect their physical and mental health and wellbeing.

For example, they may be more likely to be the victims of dating violence, and neglected teenage girls may be more likely to be physically assaulted. Older neglected boys may also turn to committing minor crimes.

Emotionally neglected teenagers do not express confidence in their future; they have high levels of daily stress, including anxieties relating to school, work, health, and finance. Neglected boys tend to engage more in school, while neglected girls tend to engage less in school.

Compared with similar age groups in the community, neglected teenagers are more likely to experience depression, particularly if they are younger than 15 years old.

They are also more likely to be withdrawn, anxious, depressed, angry, experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms, or sexual concerns, and some may develop alcohol problems in their early or late teens.

So, what can be done about this problem? A better understanding of teenage neglect may enable teenagers to get appropriate help earlier– and getting help as early as possible gives the best chance of a good outcome for the teenager and their family.

While early recognition and intervention are vital, it is never too late to help a child or teenager. If concerns about possible neglect or emotional abuse arise, take action as soon as possible – regardless of teenager’s age.

Neglect can happen at any age, and it is never the young person’s fault. They shouldn’t have to deal with it alone.

If you’re worried that a young person is being neglected, adults can contact the NSPCC Helpline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0808 800 5000, or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

Young people can contact Childline any time of the day or night on 0800 11 11 or at www.childline.org.

If you’re a young person and you’re worried you might be being neglected, have a look at our neglect guide, which has been developed in collaboration with young people in Luton: http://lutonlscb.org.uk/neglect-matters