Dealing with Troubled Teens in a Post-Collapse World- Part 1, by Credo in Deum

The collapse has happened. You thought you were prepared for just about any challenging circumstance. Do you have enough food? Check. Enough water? Check. Enough guns and ammo? Check. Are you ready to deal with unexpected guests, including lazy, rebellious, criminal, troubled teenagers? You better check!

Why do I bring up this issue, you may ask? Maybe it’s because in my own line of work as a substitute teacher, I come into contact with quite a few teenagers. Before I retired, I taught in elementary school, middle school, and even adult school. After retirement, I’ve had the unique opportunity to substitute teach, not only in most public school grades but also several different charter schools, continuation schools, and even at court schools, or schools that operate inside juvenile hall, right next to the cells where teen criminals are locked up.

I have taught the best and the worst. I have taught in a classroom full of teenagers who have been convicted of murder and will, when they reach 18 years of age, most probably be sent to the local jail or state prison to finish serving their sentences. Many of them are looking at a life sentence with no possibility of parole. After all this contact with some of the toughest, most manipulative, and violent teen criminals in society, I’ve been pondering lately how well these young people will deal with a post-collapse world. In short, most will not do too well.

Let’s go back to the scenario I described at the start of this story. Suppose you think you’re well prepared for a grid-down situation, with plenty of food, water, weapons, and other supplies. Suppose your teen children are responsible and reasonably well-behaved. But what if a good friend or relative shows up at your bug-in or bug-out location, hungry and desperate? What if his or her family includes a teen-aged boy and girl, one or both of whom are going through horrible withdrawals from a lack of methamphetamines? What if the girl is a habitual runaway who has repeatedly done time in juvenile hall for armed robbery to support her drug habit? What if she has a screaming baby born with fetal alcohol or drug syndrome? What if the teen-aged boy is a gang member who has participated in multiple drive-by shootings?

Let Them In or Not?

The first thing you will need to decide is, do I even let them in or not? If the safety of your own family or group is in danger of being compromised by including known troublemakers or criminals, you may need to be strong enough to tell them they’ll have to find somewhere else to go. Or, you may decide to let them in but under strict conditions. Any violation of these conditions should have consequences; I have more on that later. On the other hand, suppose you let a family into your group, but the rebellious and/or criminal behavior doesn’t show up until later? In either case, you will need to have clear and strict guidelines, and you will absolutely need to enforce them.

When I first started subbing at juvenile hall, the student inmates tested me repeatedly to see what they could get away with. For example, at the end of each class, every court school teacher is required to collect and count all pencils, because they could be hidden and later used as a “shank” or homemade knife. So, when a pencil is missing, I immediately call the probation officer stationed outside the classroom. If the pencil doesn’t materialize, each inmate is searched until it is found. A few times, the students also have tried playing con games, such as passing pencils to the front, in which case it would be difficult to determine who was hiding the missing pencil or pencils. So, I was forced to post a rule on the board, stating: “Hold onto all pencils and papers until I collect them.” So, at the end of each class now, I collect each pencil, one by one. Sometimes, a student will lie to my face and claim, “I already turned it in.” I will immediately respond, “all right, I’ll have to call the officer.” Usually, they immediately produce the pencil. If they don’t, they are searched and punishment is administered.

So, what is the point here? The point is that with criminals and habitually defiant teens, your rules need to be very specific. You need to be sure they understand the rules, and if they are broken the consequences need to be swift and severe. I’ve sometimes had to call an officer to remove a student who is refusing to do his or her work, bullying others, or attempting to steal school property. The teen is immediately taken to a special “lock-up room,” and/or there is a loss of privileges. Once the word got around that I take immediate action due to violation of rules, most of the students quickly sobered up. Now that the inmates know me as a tough but fair teacher, they rarely try to flaunt the rules.

Rules Will Be Important

In a post-collapse world, your rules need to be announced to everyone in your group, posted, and enforced. If necessary, additional rules may need to be added or changes made to existing rules. If a rebellious teen or anyone else protests, you can always tell them, “if you don’t like it, you’re free to leave.” However, this also may require some re-thinking. If a troublesome member leaves your group and joins another group, especially a violent, criminal group, he or she will be able to share valuable intelligence about your group, its habits, armament, members, movements, and weak points. I can’t tell you what to do, but this certainly is a potential concern.

One example of a necessary grid-down rule would be: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Long-gone will be the days of lazy teens lounging around and stuffing their faces from the fridge as they blissfully indulge in video game marathons and cruise the Internet. Now, everyone, including those potentially defiant kids, will have to pull their weight by doing whatever duty is asked of them. It may be planting seeds, watering, weeding, or caring for animals. When mealtime comes, if they haven’t worked, they don’t eat, period. Anyone who shares their food with a slacker loses their next meal or whatever consequence you deem appropriate.

In addition, when mealtime arrives, someone will need to keep close track of who gets fed and make sure an equal share is doled out to all. One thing I have learned about teen criminals is that they are always trying to get something extra and will use whatever wiles they can to do it. Don’t be surprised if one of these kids gobbles down his full meal around the corner of the shed, trashes his plate, then returns and swears that he didn’t get fed yet. You may need to keep a notepad with the names of all group members and place a tally mark next to their name after they are issued a meal. You will also need to keep all food stores securely locked up and/or strictly limit access to food storage areas. There should be consequences for violations of this policy.

Absolutely No Favoritism

Another thing I have learned from dealing with troubled teens is that you absolutely cannot play favorites. For example, at the end of each class in juvenile hall, I announce that if they all follow the rules and do their work, they’ll all get a piece of candy. Yes, I know it’s bribery, but so what? It works, and when you’re a sub, you need all the help you can get! I have tried giving extra candy to one or two students doing an especially good job. In a normal, non-criminal classroom, the students accept this and try especially hard to get “bonus rewards” for good work or excellent behavior. However, at juvenile hall, when I have tried to give out bonus candy, several young inmates have immediately and loudly complained, “What about me? I’m doing good work! That’s not fair!” So I now rarely use this technique.

So, how does this translate to the members of your post-collapse location? When people are deprived of something, especially as attractive as food or candy, they will sometimes commit what most of us may consider totally irrational acts to obtain such goodies. This is why so many teens who have grown up in a poverty-deprived atmosphere have learned to rob at an early age. For them, it’s a survival mechanism. Growing up, they quickly learned that if they don’t steal, whether from their own family or someone else and sometimes violently, they won’t eat or get those material things they so desperately desire. The truth is, many so-called “normal” people, when thrust into a food-deprived post-collapse world, will turn into criminals and rob, maim, and kill to get food, weapons, and other stuff they want. So, you will need to treat everyone equitably and fairly, or run the risk of resentment building not only inside those with criminal backgrounds, but even the so-called “socially well-adjusted” people who could be driven past the boundary of civility and into criminality.