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How to Get a Job Working With Troubled Teens

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If working with young people is your idea of a fulfilling career, you have lots of ways to plug in. Troubled teens often receive interventions at school, through referrals from their parents, or through the juvenile justice system. Since there are so many possibilities, you'll need to narrow down your options by thinking about the setting in which you want to work, and considering what level of education you're willing to pursue.

Psychologists and Other Mental Health Workers

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If a teen has been identified as having issues such as addiction or a behavioral disorder, he'll often be referred to a mental health specialist of some kind. A teen's parents might refer him to a psychologist to deal with mental health issues, or a teen's school or local authorities might mandate that the teen work with a substance abuse counselor, for example. As a professional in these fields, you'll need good communication skills, patience and strong problem-solving skills. Psychologists, who diagnose and treat mental health disorders and provide therapy, typically earn a bachelor's degree followed by a master's or doctoral degree. They'll also typically need to pass a rigorous exam to be licensed in the state in which they work. Mental health and substance abuse counselors, meanwhile, typically have a master's degree and must pass an exam to practice in the state where they live or work.

Become a Teacher

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Middle school and high school teachers as well as special education teachers also work directly with troubled youth. They may have them in a larger classroom in a regular high school, or work with them one-on-one or in smaller groups in self-contained special education classrooms, juvenile detention centers or alternative high schools. In any case, teachers in public schools are required to have a bachelor's degree in teaching or a subject related to the subjects they teach, as well as a teaching certificate from the state in which they work. Obtaining the teaching certificate involves passing an exam and demonstrating that they've taken the necessary courses in pedagogy, child psychology and behavior management. Like other positions working with troubled youth, teachers need good communication and problem-solving skills.

Teen Programs

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Outside school or counseling environments, troubled teens often receive help through programs aimed at building character, teaching skills or preparing them for life as independent people. If you're looking for a job working with teens that doesn't require as much extensive education, this may be the option for you. Jobs in this field might include work at summer camps, teen centers or wilderness therapy programs such as Outward Bound. These jobs require resourcefulness, a positive attitude and excellent communication skills. If you're working as a summer camp counselor, you may not need a college degree, and you'll typically be trained on the job. For management positions or more full-time employment, you may be required to have a degree in outdoor education or a related field.

Juvenile Justice

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When teens get in trouble with the law, they're often put into the juvenile justice system, and sometimes into juvenile justice facilities. While they're in custody, correctional officers are the people responsible for the teens' care. Correctional officers are generally required to have a high school diploma, and some attend a corrections academy to learn the job. Others are given on-the-job training. These jobs can require physical strength, solid judgement and good negotiation skills. Inside juvenile facilities, you may also find counselors and teachers helping to provide support and therapy for incarcerated youth. Besides juvenile justice facilities, teens are often put into group homes or foster care homes. Working in a group home often requires a background in counseling, while a position as a foster parent may require training through your state's human services department.


Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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