It might be hard to tell the difference between a normal teen, aloof and embarrassed by his or her parents, and a troubled teen. In this quiz, we'll examine some of the behaviors that should serve as red flags, as well as some that can be ignored.
Your former straight-A student comes home with two B's on a report card. Should you worry?
There's no need to worry about a few bad grades, but if you notice that your teen's academic performance continues to slip, talk to your teen. A drastic decline in grades or an absence of interest in school could indicate that something's going on.
Your teenager sleeps until 11 a.m. every morning, and stays up until 2 a.m. every night. Should you worry?
If you notice a marked change in your teenager's sleeping habits, then something might be wrong, particularly if the sleep habits interfere with daily activities.
Your teen threatens to run away. Is this normal?
If your teen threatens to run away, take him or her seriously; such a statement is a warning that something is wrong in your teen's life. Explain that such behavior will have serious consequences, such as a call to the police.
Your child comes home with a purple Mohawk. Should you worry?
You may not like your kid's hair or clothing, but these are small forms of rebellion that you should allow. Your teen is trying to find a style, and you should permit a little space to let that happen. Unless drastic changes in appearance are coupled with other disturbing signs, you shouldn't worry.
Your daughter claims that she has no friends. Should you worry?
Teenagers can have some crazy mood swings. They may go from feeling like the center of the world to feeling like no one understands them. In the height of such a mood swing, teenagers may dramatically declare that no one loves them and that they have no friends. This is normal, as long as it becomes clear later on that such a statement was false. If you do suspect your daughter has no friends, then it's an issue worth following up on.
You find a lighter and a handle of liquor in your teen's room. What should you do?
Drug and alcohol abuse is a major red flag of a troubled teen. If you find drug paraphernalia or alcohol in your child's room, you should talk to him or her about it. You may have an especially serious problem on your hands if the drug and alcohol use is combined with a drop in school performance, changes in weight or a lack of interest in friends.
Your daughter's friend comes to you and claims your daughter has an eating disorder. What do you do?
Take signs of disordered eating very seriously. Some red flags may include excuses about why the teen won't be eating with the family, excessive exercise, obsession with food, ill-fitting clothing, sudden weight loss or weight gain or a withdrawal from regular social activities.
Your teen claims that his or her curfew isn't fair. What should you do?
Your kids may not think your rules are fair, but that's too bad. It's important to set rules and be consistent in enforcing them. If your teen consistently breaks the rule, deliver consequences or revoke privileges. And while you can expect a normal teen to grumble about curfew, take note if your teen responds violently or aggressively, as that's a sign the teen needs help.
Your teen won't eat, won't leave his or her room, and based on the music you hear at 2 a.m., doesn't appear to be sleeping. Is this normal?
While teenagers can be temperamental and subject to mood swings, there comes a point when extreme behavior must be addressed. If you've noticed a pattern of depressive episodes in combination with decreased appetite, difficulty sleeping and poor performance at school, take your teen to a doctor. It's possible your teen needs medication or therapy to make it through these tough years.
What's a good first step to take when you suspect your teen is troubled?
Trust your gut -- if you think your teen is troubled, then you're probably right. But there's no need to send the child off to a boarding school yet, as that's often a last resort. First, try to talk to your teen, but be ready to hear that he or she would rather talk to someone else, like a counselor or a family friend.
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