The teen years can be a tumultuous time for both kids and parents. There are normal teenage behaviors and problems that all kids struggle with during this season, but some kids display deeper problems. Here’s a list of 15 common signs of a troubled teen.

What is the typical teenage behavior?

Obviously, no two teens are alike, but there are common teenage behaviors. As a parent, you may wonder if what your child is going through is typical for their age. Common teenage struggles include these things:

  •  Mood swings: Teenage mood swings may seem irrational and petty to a parent. The highs and lows of this season are normal for a teen.
  •  Peers become very important: Most teens want to hang out with friends more than their family. Studies find that during this period of life, teens have a heightened sensitivity to social evaluations and approval of others. It’s like their brain is overloaded, busy assigning values to social information more than it will in any other time of their life.
  • Strong desire for independence and freedom: Kids at this age crave freedom. They desire to do what they want rather than be told what to do all the time. Ironically, too much freedom at this age can scare a teen.
peer pressure
School counselors explain how to tell if your child faces peer pressure.

Parenting reactions to troubled teens

As a parent, it’s difficult to watch your child struggle through things. You may be tempted to either overreact or under-react when your child is having a hard time. Here are the two reactions parents display when they realize their child is displaying signs of trouble.

 Fearful, reactionary

Parenting a teen can feel like an out-of-control experience, especially if your child is having trouble. It’s confusing and frustrating. You may not know what to do. It’s easy to give in to fear and stress out about everything your child does. You may overreact to even normal behavior assuming the worst-case scenario.

 Ignoring the obvious signs

When their teen is having trouble, they refuse to believe it’s a big deal for other parents. They ignore warning signs, hoping their teen will grow out of it. They chalk everything up to normal teen behavior when there are blaring signs in front of them that their teen needs help.

As a parent, you hope your child will never struggle with trouble, but it’s important if this happens, you don’t overreact or under-react to them.

Signs of a troubled teen

You feel like you know your child. After all, you’ve raised them since they were infants. But if your teen is troubled, you may feel like you have a stranger living in your home. It can be hard to understand what they’re going through, but it’s important to keep an open eye on these signs as a parent. Here are some common signs of a troubled teen never to ignore.

1 – Suddenly secretive and deceitful

If your child is normally open and talkative but suddenly starts lying to you and hiding things, you should be concerned. Teens can struggle to share their feelings with their parents, but secretive, deceitful behavior isn’t healthy. They could be involved with drugs or other behavior that causes them to react this way.

2 – Sleeping all the time

Teens need extra sleep. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention says that teenagers aged 13 to 18 should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every 24 hours. But if your teen is sleeping all the time, they could be struggling with depression.

3 – Sudden failing grades

A teen that is a good student but suddenly starts showing disinterest in school or failing grades could be struggling. It’s important to get to the root of the problem. NIH indicates that this behavior may indicate a troubled teen or depression.

4 – Sudden change in appetite or eating patterns

Skipping meals, avoiding food, binge eating, or emotional eating are all signs of trouble. Parents sometimes miss these signs assuming all kids go through this, but if these eating patterns last for several months, it should be a cause for concern. Your child could be smoking pot, fasting, binge eating, or struggling with anorexia, which causes them to avoid food.

5 – Excessive isolation

Teens often like to hang out in their room by themselves, but if your teen refuses to join the family for meals, outings, or conversations, it could be a sign there’s more going on for them.

A 2020 article in BMC Psychiatry notes that once someone becomes withdrawn, they slip into a cycle of reduced mental health that’s hard to break. This is an easy sign to miss since it’s easy to lose track of how much time they’re spending alone. They could be struggling with depression, shame, or fear. Don’t ignore this sign.

Other common signs to a troubled teen include the following behaviors:

  • Stealing
  • Promiscuity
  • Ignoring personal hygiene
  • Skipping school
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Withdrawal from things they normally love such as sport, music, or extra-curricular activities
  • Body image issue
  • Self-harm like cutting, wanting to hurt themselves, and self-loathing
  • Bullying

If your teen is displaying any of these signs, it may be time to get some help. These could be signs of a drug or alcohol problem, mental illness, abuse issues, or an eating disorder.

Getting help from a therapist

troubled teen
If your teen is struggling, it may be wise to find a good therapist to help your teen. Many therapists work solely with teens. Here are some things you should think about when you’re looking for a therapist for your teen.

  • Find a therapist that has experience working with teenagers. Please find out how long they’ve been working with teens. Get referrals, if possible, from someone who knows this therapist and their work with teenagers.
  • If you’re looking online in your area, read the reviews on their website. Learn everything you can about this therapist and their practice. If it’s not specific enough for you, call their practice and ask questions.
  • Check to see if they are a licensed therapist in your state. Even religious therapists should have a license. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use other resources besides the therapist for support like your pastor, youth minister, or school counselor.
  • Research to see if your insurance company will pay for therapist sessions. This is important since therapy can cost thousands of dollars out of pocket when insurances don’t cover the costs.
  • Understand what type of therapy they use. Please get familiar with the different types of therapy and understand why they’re using this therapy in this situation.
  • What qualities do you wish for in a therapist? Will your teen respond better to someone who is more straight to the point? Will your teen be more comfortable with a woman or a man? Finally, will they do better with an older person or a younger person?

How to support your struggling teen?

When you have a troubled teen, life can feel heavy. You may feel like you don’t know what to do to help them. Here are some simple ways to support your teen during this difficult season.

Encourage them to share their feelings with you.

Even if they’re avoiding you and don’t want to talk, make an effort to talk to them. Check-in with them daily. Ask about their day. What was hardest about the day? Invite them out to lunch or to join you while making dinner. They may not want to be around you, but reaching out makes a difference. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Remind them you’re always there for them, and you want to help them. You may feel like your words are falling on deaf ears, but they’re listening.

Be understanding

Try to remember what it was like to be a teenager: the social pressure, peer pressure, and all the questions about life. When your teen does share, don’t wax philosophical, but listen. You can say something like, “That sounds hard.” or  “I understand, that must be hard for you.”

Notice when they’re doing good

It’s easy to focus on all the problems your teen is going through, but when they’re doing something good, point it out to them. Saying something like, “Thanks for playing with your little brother. I know it means a lot to him.”

Work through conflicts when possible.

Listen to your teenager’s views on things. If you have a conflict, try to sort out your differences or at least agree to disagree. Your teen may feel strongly about something today, but in a week, a month, or a year, they may feel totally different.  Remember, you are on a journey with your teen, and things don’t get solved overnight. Be true to your convictions, without belittling what they believe. Try to avoid getting angry at your teenager. It won’t help your relationship with them. Don’t get into power struggles with your teen. Of course, there are some things worth fighting for, but for the most part, pick your battles with them.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

It’s stressful for parents when their teen is showing signs of trouble. Your life can turn into sleepless nights, never-ending conflicts with your teenager, and agonizing decisions about how to help them. The turmoil can get to you, causing you to feel anxious. Here are some ways you can take care of yourself.

  • Find someone to talk to: You must find a friend to talk to during this stressful time. Don’t try to go it alone. Talking can help relieve stress rather than internalizing everything. Choose someone you trust who will listen and give good advice.
  • Get exercise: Exercise helps reduce stress. Your mind and body need an outlet during stressful times with your teenagers.
  • Eat a nutritious diet: Eating a healthy diet is critical to help you through stressful times. Junk food is comforting, but it will make you feel sluggish.
  • Keep a journal: Writing down all your thoughts and concerns is therapeutic during stressful times.

troubled teen
Final thoughts on identifying and helping your troubled teen

The teen years can be tough on kids and their parents. Most kids go through moodiness, peer pressure, and a craving for independence. These are typical behaviors for the teenage years, but some kids struggle beyond this, leading to troubling signs that parents should never ignore. If your child shows signs of troubling behavior, don’t overreact or under-react. Take the necessary steps to help your teen through their difficulties.