Signs to look for

As teenagers begin to assert their independence and find their own identity, many experience behavioural changes that can seem bizarre and unpredictable to parents. These, unfortunately, are the actions of a normal teenager.

As the parent of a troubled teen, you’re faced with even greater challenges. A troubled teen faces behavioural, emotional, or learning problems beyond the normal teenage issues. They may repeatedly practice at-risk behaviors such as violence, skipping school, drinking, drug use, self-harming, shoplifting, or other criminal acts.

Or they may exhibit symptoms of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. While any negative behavior repeated over and over can be a sign of underlying trouble, it’s important for parents to understand which behaviors are normal during adolescent development, and which can point to more serious problems.

Changing appearance. Keeping up with fashion is important to teens. That may mean wearing provocative or attention-seeking clothing. Avoid criticizing and save your protests for the bigger issues.

Changing appearance can be a red flag if it’s accompanied by problems at school or other negative changes in behavior.

Increased arguments and rebellious behavior. As teens begin seeking independence, you will frequently butt heads and argue.

Constant escalation of arguments, violence at home, skipping school, getting in fights, and run-ins with the law are all red flag behaviours that go beyond the norm of teenage rebellion.

Mood swings. Hormones and developmental changes often mean that your teen will experience mood swings, irritable behavior, and struggle to manage his or her emotions.

Experimenting with alcohol or drugs. Most teens will try alcohol and smoke a cigarette at some point. Many will even try drugs. Talking to your kids frankly and openly about drugs and alcohol is one way to ensure it doesn’t progress further.

When alcohol or drug use becomes habitual, especially when it’s accompanied by problems at school or home, it may indicate a substance abuse issue or other underlying problems.

More influenced by friends than parents. Friends become extremely important to teens and can have a great influence on their choices. As teens focus more on their peers, that inevitably means they withdraw from you. It may leave you feeling hurt, but it doesn’t mean your teen doesn’t still need your love.

Red flags include a sudden change in peer group (especially if the new friends encourage negative behavior), refusing to comply with reasonable rules and boundaries, or avoiding the consequences of bad behavior by lying. Your teen spending too much time alone can also indicate problems.

Red flags for violent behavior in teens

It only takes a glance at the news headlines to know that teen violence is a growing problem. Movies and TV shows glamorize all manner of violence, many web sites promote extremist views that call for violent action, and hour after hour of playing violent video games can desensitize teens to the real world consequences of aggression and violence. Of course, not every teen exposed to violent content will become violent, but for a troubled teen who is emotionally damaged or suffering from mental health problems, the consequences can be tragic.

Warning signs that a teen may become violent include:
• Playing with weapons of any kind
• Obsessively playing violent video games, watching violent movies,

or visiting websites that promote or glorify violence
• Threatening or bullying others
• Fantasizing about acts of violence he’d like to commit

If your teen becomes increasingly judgmental, overly-critical or aggressive towards others, these are serious signs that indicate that they are being influenced by external factors, either on-line or through their peer groups.