Sometimes we learn that negative things in our past can provide new lessons or meanings for who we are today. Such realizations help us understand who we are. The self is built from others, feelings, body, actions, behaviors, attitudes, spirit, history, ancestors, roles we play (i.e. daughter, student, teacher, etc.), society, thoughts, beliefs, and other aspects that contribute to who we are and who we become.

The Past

We will be going through a journal activity for troubled teens to look at how they got where they are today. The past is an influential component to how we (and troubled teens) make decisions in the present. Our memory helps us place meaning on the past. We cannot recall every detail about our past actions and decisions because we selectively remember what is important to us. In this way, we also selectively forget details of our actions and behavior. The past does not exist without a thought or memory of what has happened. The past is what you create in your mind as you place a present meaning to the experience. The past and our history can change as we change our present meaning of that narrative account.

Step #1

Reach back to a memory that you have changed the meaning of in your mind.

Describe your old account of this memory.

Now explain your new outlook of this memory in a journal.


One of the worst, most hopeless, and most helpless feelings is that life will not change. When trapped in this state of mind, troubled teens often think, “Bad things will always happen to me” or “I never have luck on my side”. In this mind frame, people focus on being stuck without being able to relate.

Step #2

Before we say, “I want to change”, we have to realize that we are already changing. We are not static in our being: cells die, hair grows, we age. Nor are we static in our identity. We are constantly changing and this includes our relationships with self, others, earth, spirit, mission, and purpose. As dynamic persons (spiritually, emotionally, and physically), we are not fixed things that do not change. With this in mind, ask your troubled teen to journal about the following questions:

As I change, who will I change into?

How can I have choice in the change of who I am?

How do patterns manifest themselves?

How do we choose to change patterns?

How do we change?

What parts need to change?

What can we change?

Spend at least 15 minutes dedicated to each question. If they voice that nothing new is coming up, give them time to think and dedicate one question per day to their journaling activity.

Why Troubled Teens Make Bad Decisions

At our therapeutic boarding school for girls, we believe that the most fundamental fear a person has is the fear of being alone. Being alone may take the form of not relating, being rejected, feeling unaided, or experiencing loneliness. For example, rejection means being removed from relationships; in other words, it is being alone and being unable to connect. Rejection may take the form of not being accepted by others and thus being isolated. Another example (and something that some people fear greatly) is death, which may be associated with the underlying fear of being separated from another and no longer being in a relationship.

This is where emotional pain and wounding stems. A troubled teen’s reaction forms the next steps in their meaning and choice. For now, remember that if your troubled teen has hatred in their heart, it affects all of their relationships.

If we constantly feel anger, fear, worry, or hatred, it impacts everything about the self. Fortunately, we have choice, which guides our ability to change in the way we aspire.

Step #3

What current memory or part of your life could you find new meaning in? Have your teen dedicate a journal entry to this question alone. Let them take some time to ponder the questions above, looking for better ways to understand how hardship, loneliness, anger, rejection, or some other less-than-positive aspect could be reinterpreted to give inspiration or new meaning to your life mission.

These are great activities to help troubled teens build awareness around the decisions they make. If you’re curious how we incorporate this work into our therapeutic boarding school for girls’ philosophy, give us a call today at 1-877-788-8422