Troubled Teens

When Typical Teen Behavior Becomes Troubled Teen Behavior

Typical Teen Behavior

Warning Signs of a Troubled Teen

Changing appearance. Keeping up with fashion is important to teens. That may mean wearing provocative or attention-seeking clothing or dyeing hair. Unless your teen wants tattoos, avoid criticizing and save your protests for the bigger issues. Fashions change, and so will your teen.

Changing appearance can be a red flag if it’s accompanied by problems at school or other negative changes in behavior, or if there’s evidence of cutting and self-harm or extreme weight loss or weight gain.

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 behaviors 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.

Rapid changes in personality, falling grades, persistent sadness, anxiety, or sleep problems could indicate depressionbullying, or another emotional health issue. Take any talk about suicide seriously.

Experimenting with alcohol or drugs.Most teens will try alcohol and smoke a cigarette at some point. Many will even try marijuana. 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.

TIPS FOR HELPING TROUBLED TEENS

HELPING TROUBLED TEENS TIP #1: CONNECT WITH YOUR TEEN - HELPGUIDE.ORG

Whatever problems your teen is experiencing, it is not a sign that you’ve somehow failed as a parent. Instead of trying to assign blame for the situation, focus on your teen’s current needs. The first step to doing this is to find a way to connect with him or her.
It may seem hard to believe—given your child’s anger or indifference towards you—but teens still crave love, approval, and acceptance from their parents. That means you probably have a lot more influence over your teen than you think. To open the lines of communication:

  • Be aware of your own stress levels. If you’re angry or upset, now is not the time to try to communicate with your teen. Wait until you’re calm and energized before starting a conversation. You’re likely to need all the patience and positive energy you can muster.
  • Be there for your teen. An offer to chat with your teen over coffee will probably be greeted with a sarcastic put-down or dismissive gesture, but it’s important to show you’re available. Insist on sitting down for mealtimes together with no TV or other distractions, and attempt to talk to your teen then. Don’t get frustrated if your efforts are greeted by nothing more than monosyllabic grunts or shrugs; you may have to eat a lot of dinners in silence, but when your teen does want to open up, he or she will have the opportunity to do so.
  • Find common ground. Trying to discuss your teen’s appearance or clothes may be a sure-fire way to trigger a heated argument, but you can still find some areas of common ground. Fathers and sons often connect over sports, mothers and daughters over gossip or movies. The objective is not to be your teen’s best friend, but to find common interests that you can discuss peacefully. Once you’re talking, your teen may feel more comfortable opening up to you about other things.
  • Listen without judging or giving advice. When your teen does talk to you, it’s important that you listen without judging, mocking, interrupting, criticizing, or offering advice. Your teen wants to feel understood and valued by you, so maintain eye contact and keep your focus on your child, even when he or she is not looking at you. If you’re checking your email or reading the newspaper, your teen will feel that he or she is not important to you.
  • Expect rejection. Your attempts to connect with your teen may often be met with anger, irritation, or other negative reactions. Stay relaxed and allow your teen space to cool off. Try again later when you’re both calm. Successfully connecting to your teen will take time and effort. Don’t be put off; persevere and the breakthrough will come.

HELPING TROUBLED TEENS TIP #2: MAKE HEALTHY LIFESTYLE CHANGES

The tips below can help put balance back in your troubled teen’s life, no matter the exact diagnosis of his or her problems:

  • Create structure. Teens may scream and argue with you about rules and discipline, or rebel against daily structure, but that doesn’t mean they need them any less. Structure, such as regular mealtimes and bedtimes, make a teen feel safe and secure. Sitting down to breakfast and dinner together every day can also provide a great opportunity to check in with your teen at the beginning and end of each day.
  • Reduce screen time. There is a direct relationship between violent TV shows, movies, Internet content, and video games, and the violent behavior in teenagers. Even if your teen isn’t drawn to violent material, too much screen time can still impact brain development. Limit the time your teen has access to electronic devices—and restrict phone usage after a certain time at night to ensure your child gets enough sleep.
  • Encourage exercise. Even a little regular exercise can help ease depression, boost energy and mood, relieve stress, regulate sleep patterns, and improve your teen’s self-esteem. If you struggle getting your teen to do anything but play video games, encourage him or her to play activity-based video games or “exergames” that are played standing up and moving around—simulating dancing, skateboarding, soccer, or tennis, for example. Once exercise becomes a habit, encourage your teen to try the real sport or to join a club or team.
  • Eat right. Healthy eating can help to stabilize a teenager’s energy, sharpen his or her mind, and even out his or her mood. Act as a role model for your teen. Cook more meals at home, eat more fruit and vegetables and cut back on junk food and soda.
  • Ensure your teen gets enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can make a teen stressed, moody, irritable, and lethargic, and cause problems with weight, memory, concentration, decision-making, and immunity from illness. You might be able to get by on six hours a night and still function at work, but your teen needs 8.5 to 10 hours of sleep a night to be mentally sharp and emotionally balanced. Encourage better sleep by setting consistent bedtimes, and removing TVs, computers, and other electronic gadgets from your teen’s room—the light from these suppresses melatonin production and stimulates the mind, rather than relaxing it. Suggest your teen tries listening to music or audio books at bedtime instead.

HELPING TROUBLED TEENS TIP #3: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF

The stress of dealing with any teenager, especially one who’s experiencing behavioral problems, can take a toll on your own health, so it’s important to take care of yourself. That means looking after your emotional and physical needs and learning to manage stress.

  • Take time to relax daily and learn how to regulate yourself and de-stress when you start to feel overwhelmed.
  • Don’t go it alone, especially if you’re a single parent. Seek help from friends, relatives, a school counselor, sports coach, religious leader, or someone else who has a relationship with your teen. Organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, and other youth groups can also help provide structure and guidance.
  • Watch out for signs of depression and anxiety, and get professional help if needed.

THIS WON’T LAST FOREVER

It’s worth reminding your teen that no matter how much pain or turmoil he or she is experiencing right now, with your love and support, things can and will get better—for both of you. Your teen can overcome the problems of adolescence and mature into a happy, successful young adult.

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