Select Page

A Self-Reg Reframe of a Teen “At-Risk”

My teenage years remain a blur. I was one of the troubled ones. I was “THAT” teenager—the at-risk kind of kid that neighbours whispered about and relatives avoided asking about at family gatherings. I was THAT kid.

My deep interest in understanding resilience, combined with what I have learned through Self-Reg, have helped me to see my “thatness” differently, with softer eyes. I also know that Self-Reg has the power to help all of us reframe how we see and understand the teenagers we care about and worry about. The ones we imagine poor trajectories for, or give labels like “at-risk.” It’s so important to be able to remove our cognitive blinders so we can see, not just the “at-risk” kid, but also just how competent and capable these young people often are, and how much resilience is there. It can also help us see how a relationship with even one person—maybe one of us—could make a huge difference.

When I was a teenager my father once told me that I never finished anything.

These were only words; there were no sticks, no stones involved, but I can assure you that these words hurt. And they haunted me for many years, ringing especially true in moments of struggle when I felt more vulnerable and less resilient.

My dad had little control over my actions from about the age of fourteen, when I first ran away (for two months and he didn’t come looking for me). He would use the only weapon he had: words. My dad’s verbal sticks and stones came flying at anyone who wasn’t complying with or recognizing his authority, especially when he was overstressed. He was quite masterful at mean labels and questioning my integrity, intelligence, or backbone. Sometimes his verbal stones would come in the form of expressions of disgust that made you feel that he couldn’t bear to even look at you anymore. Once there was the silent treatment, a “you don’t exist,” version of sticks and stones that went on for well over a month. He had a way of shackling my sense of value as a person and filling my backpack with stressors that followed me through my life, hobbling me in vulnerable moments, bringing out the resilience in me in others.

My dad was struggling with his own self-regulation and my family paid the price.

For years, I had anxiety dreams about “not finishing anything.” There were the dreams about the exam I missed, or the ones where I got mixed up on my degree requirements and somehow missed a full course. The worst ones involved the anxiety of forgetting something and not being able to remember what it was. They don’t sound like nightmares, but they felt awful. I’d wake up feeling sick every time.

5 Steps of Shanker Self-Reg

The day my dad told me that I was a quitter who never finished anything, I pulled off a classic fight-or-flight response with my limbic brain in full self-protection mode. My mouth was obeying the red brain command center and yelling back at him equally hurtful assaults. I had a friend tell me once that I could become a “junkyard dog” when I was hurt. This was my survival brain kicking into gear.

It’s been six years since my father’s passing and I am now able to see him and memories like this with slightly softer eyes thanks to an understanding of how the brain-body stress system can wreak havoc on vital relationships of those stuck in a stress cycle.

There was also some truth to his point about my quitting, giving in and not sustaining. My childhood and adolescence was filled with peaks and valleys, highs and crashes. As I think back to all the “unfinished” business in my teenage years, my question is “why” and “why then?” And what are the connections to resilience that I might be able to share with others who have their own speckled stories of ups and downs and so many circles left unclosed?

Looking back, I wonder, did I lack resilience? Did I not have “the goods” to endure the tough knocks and so, when things got too hard, I split? Well, I dropped out of high school twice, was a so-called at-risk teenager who got into lots of trouble all the time. I found the “outlets” for coping through drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships, the “in” crowd. Lack of resilience, right?

But there’s another side to my story. I also held down part-time jobs from the time I was 15 and babysat three to five nights a week starting when I was 11 years old. My bosses always really liked me because I was so hardworking, dependable, and polite. Resilient, right? High school teachers kicked me out of classes in the morning all that time (math class especially) and then a few hours later I was a teacher’s assistant leading the class research study (sociology) and all in the same day.

So was I resilient or lacking resilience?

Did I have the tough upper lip, good citizenship, and hard work goods to be successful in life? Or was my trajectory on a downward spiral?

Well, if you’d asked my dad or my math teacher you’d get a very different answer than you’d have gotten from my sociology teacher or my boss at the clothing store where I worked. And this was all happening at the same time. Was I different people, putting on different faces under different circumstances? No. This was all part of the incredible complexity of being a teenager who was struggling, striving, and over-stressed. Resilience is not a fixed trait in an individual. It’s context-dependent, and looking at it through the lens of the five steps of Self-Reg explains the “why” and “why now” of not just my own behaviours, but also those of my father, the teachers who influenced me, and the peers who at the time were the center of my world.

Self-Reg can help us navigate this complexity so we can see, support and appreciate the strengths of the teenagers (and anyone else) we worry about. It can also help us share their journeys with more compassion, more enjoyment at times, and a lot less stress for all.

Looking to Learn More?

Share Self-Reg learning with the youth in your care with our Feeling Stressed: A Self-Reg Course for Teens.

And for the parents who would like to learn Self-Reg themselves, we also have our Self-Reg Parenting Course.

Self-Reg Seeds Learning Journey Symbol of a seed sprouting 2 leafs

What is Self-Reg?

Self-Reg is a pathway to calm, resilience, motivation, learning, & well-being.

Early Years



The Shanker Method

5 Domain Framework

Free Self-Reg 101 Webinar

Our Mission & Values

About Stuart Shanker

Self-Reg Sunrise Learning Journey symbol of a sunrise over a leaf

Explore how learning Shanker Self-Reg can help your approach to behaviour, dysregulation, emotions and any of the challenges that brought you to Self-Reg as a someone who cares.

Level 1 Certificate Programs

*NEW* Education Assistants

Early Childhood Development

Self-Reg Foundations

School Leadership

ASK Courses

Reframing Bullying

Enhancing Resilience

Self-Reg Parenting

Learning for Teams

On-Demand Webinars

Upcoming Events

Summer Symposium

Book a Presenter

Self-Reg Quilt Learning Journey Symbol of a leaf in a patch of a quilt

Self-Reg can be practical, community based and woven with other initiatives, movements or priorities. How can you bring Self-Reg to your community or context?

What is Applied Self-Reg Knowledge?

Blogs & Vlogs


Webinars & Upcoming Events

School Leadership Certificate

Learning Facilitator's Certificate

Living, Learning & Linking Certificate

Self-Reg Schools Handbook


Mentoring & Consulting

Self-Reg Haven Learning Journey Symbol of two hands holding and nurturing a leaf up

Havens are our dream for all! A Self-Reg Haven is a place where everyone feels safe in every way: physically, emotionally, socially, and culturally.

I Know a Haven When I Find One

5 Self-Reg Haven Look Fors

Havens 101: Group Learning

RADAR Project Planning Tool

Self-Reg Schools Handbook

a far off silhouette of 9 people looking into a stormy sunset

Enhancing Resilience In Children & Youth

Resilience is a STATE, not a TRAIT - Certificate Program Starts June 20th

Facilitated Certificates

Self-Directed Courses

On-Demand Webinars

Events - Live & Online

Tools & Strategies

Speakers & Presentations

Books & Publications

Blogs & Vlogs


Graphics with Blogs



Translated Resources

Media Releases

Meet Our Team


Contact Us