It’s no secret that the teenage years can be tumultuous for both parents and teens. There are common behavior changes and problems that most teenagers struggle with. But some deeper issues can indicate you have a troubled teen to contend with.
Knowing the difference between typical behavior for a teen versus behaviors that may be pointing towards struggles is important.
What to expect from the teen years?
No two teenagers are going to display the same behaviors. However, there are some common behaviors seen in most teens, including:
- Confusing mood swings. With fluctuating hormones, emotions running high, and stresses at school, teen mood swings can be quite common. They may seem like they are irrational to your more mature adult mind, but it can be quite normal for a teen to experience highs and lows. The key is to recognize whether the highs and lows are excessive. Does your teen seem to shift from feeling down to feeling elated without apparent cause? Remain calm and clear-headed; try to encourage your teen to communicate with you.
- Peers are prioritized. The majority of teens will start to place more importance on their time spent with friends over time spent with their family. Most adolescents and young adults will have an increased sensitivity to their social lives and the approval of their peers. This could include an increased distancing from parents and siblings.
- Strong drive for independence. Most teens will crave freedom from their family and the rules of the family. They want the ability to make their own decisions and do what they want to do, versus being told what to do.
- Rule breaking. An increased need for independence can often mean testing boundaries and breaking some of the family rules.
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits. According to the CDC, teens should get between 8 to 10 hours of sleep each day. It’s fairly common for teens to nap after a busy day at school or to sleep in on the weekends. Their bodies are growing rapidly and need rest. Eating habits can also change. Teen boys are notorious for being voracious eaters. There are some key differences between normal and expected changes and signs that you have a troubled teen.
There is also the increased potential for more confrontation as your teen begins to feel the need to be more of an independent individual versus a child.
Signs of troubled teens
How can you determine whether your teen is struggling with normal and expected behaviors or whether he is in real trouble? Some of the signs of trouble can look very much like normal teen behaviors. The key difference is the extremes of behavior exhibited, including:
- Sudden personality changes. Your once always vibrant child could now be showing signs of aggressive behavior, depression, and anxiety.
- Signs of self-harm. This could be as visible as cutting or burning themselves but could also include talk about wanting to harm themselves.
- Suddenly withdrawing from things that they once enjoyed. This could include sports, dance, gymnastics, and other activities.
- Anger and bullying. The anger and bullying may be exclusively at school, or it may extend to their younger siblings. Siblings often become the target of troubled teens.
- Issues with stealing and missing items. You may start to notice you’re missing money from your wallet or that personal items have started to vanish from your home. Your troubled teen could be using the money for several things, including buying alcohol and drugs.
- Signs of alcohol and drug abuse. This can look different in every teen. Studies have shown that teens are experimenting with drugs and alcohol at ages younger than parents would expect. Your teen may also begin to smoke cigarettes.
- No longer caring about personal hygiene. Some teens go to extremes with their appearance and personal hygiene. Others may completely neglect it. This does not always indicate depression and other mental illnesses, but it is a factor to consider.
- Skipping school and dropping grades. Schoolwork is unlikely to be a priority for troubled teens. They may skip school or classes completely. You may not be aware of it until you receive a call from the school. Report cards may also indicate trouble if your teen’s grades begin to dip without apparent cause.
- Promiscuity. It’s considered normal for teens to experiment with sexuality, despite what we want for them. Teen pregnancy rates have been steadily on the decline. However, that is not the only concern when it comes to promiscuity. Beyond the emotional concerns to be aware of, there are issues with STDs.
- Being secretive and telling lies. If your once chatty child is now hiding things and telling apparent lies, it can be a major red flag. The occasional fib is expected, but major lies
- Changes in eating habits. Going on a diet, skipping meals, or binge eating can all be signs of trouble for teens. Seeing fluctuations in weight can be a red flag that your troubled teen struggles with an eating disorder.
You know your teenager better than anyone. If his behavior appears to be out of the norm for him, it’s important to address it as soon as you are able.
How can you help a troubled teen?
Helping your teenager through some of the most difficult experiences they’ll have to face can be difficult for parents to navigate. The good news is that you don’t need to take this on alone.
There are several steps that you can take to help your troubled teen:
- Keep calm, don’t lose your cool. That is often easier said than done when dealing with frustrating situations. However, losing your temper can only lead to further inflaming the situation. Take a moment away from the stress to gather your wits if needed.
- Stay involved, but respect boundaries. Boundaries and privacy are important to every teen, regardless of what they are facing. Learning their boundaries is important as a parent, but it’s just as important to stay involved with their lives.
- Communicate, skip the judgment. Ensure that your troubled teen knows that they can speak to you about anything without judgment. You may still judge them and their behaviors, but it’s so important that your teen feels comfortable and safe speaking with you.
- Get help from mental wellness professionals. As much as you may feel that your family can work through difficult situations, there is so much value to be found in reaching out to professionals. This could include individual or family counseling.
Another option to consider is a residential treatment center. At Help Your Teen Now, we can connect your family with the resources that troubled teens can benefit from. A residential treatment center and the guidance of mental health professionals can offer significant benefits for the teen in crisis.