The teenage years can perhaps be best described as a time of physical, emotional and social tumult. Changes happen so rapidly in adolescence, that neither child nor parent really knows how to cope. Knowing the signs your teen is in trouble is absolutely vital if you want to turn your angst-ridden teen into a healthy, happy adult.

Teenagers typically become more detached from their family during the teen years. The reality is, parents become less important in their teen’s eyes, as they begin to explore new and different interests outside the family.

This is a normal, natural, and healthy part of development. But it ain’t for the parents. They must be able to let go of their children while still recognizing the warning signs of teen depression, anxiety, or more. This can be tricky because some moodiness is normal during the teenage years.

Signs Your Teen May Be In Trouble

1. Mood Swings


Moodiness is normal for teenagers, but one of the signs your teen is in trouble are severe and frequent mood swings that seem to appear out of nowhere.

Thanks to the brilliant cocktail of hormones suddenly sweeping through a teen’s body, it’s actually quite normal for them to have mood swings.

So how do you tell what’s normal and what is a sign of mental illness?

This is where parental instincts kick-in. You know your kid better than anyone so you are in the best position recognize sudden and significant shifts in their mood. Sometimes a tell-tale sign are mood swings that seem to have no root cause. Particularly look for mood shifts that seem to have no root cause.

2. A Change in Behavior


Sudden and “alarming” behavior changes in teenage years is one of the signs your teen is in trouble.

It is normal for a teenager to have a certain kinds of behavioral change. Normal changes include challenging authority a bit more while claiming their independence by seeming to argue or disagree with you basic point of view. While this may be annoying at times, and even downright infuriating at others, this is a normal part of teenage development.

What is NOT normal is for your child to suddenly start presenting as a completely different person to you. This can be a sign of depression and needs to be addressed. Things like not wanting to spend ANY time with family, extremely risky behavior like disregarding family rules or the law, or sudden changes in energy levels like sleeping all the time or not at all should NOT be ignored and treated with seriousness.

3. Substance Abuse


Substance ABUSE is definitely one of the signs your teen is in trouble. Substance USE is something else entirely and a different conversation.

Most teens experiment with drugs and alcohol. This is not necessarily cause of alarm. But if your teenager is chronically abusing substances and coming home drunk or high on a fairly regular basis, this IS cause for alarm and needs to addressed – ESPECIALLY if your family has a history of substance abuse. Find a well-trained therapist or counselor you like and trust to help.

4. Self-Harm


Self-harm is perhaps one of the most alarming signs your teen is in trouble.

Teens experiencing significant emotional turmoil may choose to take their emotions out on themselves by cutting, hitting or hurting themselves in some other manner. This is NOT to be taken lightly and needs to be addressed. However, it is critical that it’s done from a place of love and compassion, NOT from a place of discipline, authority, criticism, or contempt. This type of emotional reaction on your part will only make things worse.

5. Talk of Suicide


Any kind of talk of suicide needs to be addressed seriously and could be one of the signs your teen is in trouble.

It’s no secret that teens are prone to drama and overreacting to events, however no parent should ever ignore talk of suicide. With teen suicide rates on the rise, particularly among girls, any mention or attempt should immediately result in professional help. Period. This is when your teen’s choice and independence gets taken off the table and you take over as the responsible adult. Again, approaching this from a place of love and compassion will heed much better results than doing so from a place of contempt, anger, frustration, or discipline.

Raising kids is tough stuff. Parenting teenagers is something else entirely. Don’t try to brave it on your own. Create a support system of people who share your values and connect with them frequently. If this isn’t enough (or possible), find and awesome well-trained therapist you like and trust to help support you through the process.

James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in Greater New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.