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When to Seek Teen Help

What are some of the signs that you may have a troubled teen who needs help? How does troubled teen behavior compare to normal teen behavior? How do you know when to seek teen help? This article will help you know when to seek teen help.


Parents are usually the first to detect changes and problems in their teenager. When these changes seem beyond your control, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. You may be battling your own feelings of frustration as well as worry for your child. How do you know when to seek teen help?

Knowing the difference between normal teenage behavior and understanding when it is time to seek help for a troubled teen can be a very delicate thing. The problem lies in the fact that the teen years are fraught with changes, and sometimes teenagers who are acting normally can appear to be troubled, especially to parents who have enjoyed a good relationship with their child until he or she became a teenager. Knowing when intervention of a professional kind is necessary if an important part of being the parent of a teenager, and it requires careful vigilance and the ability to recognize when a teen's behavior is appearing to get out of hand, or when his or her life appears to be unraveling.

Signs that you may have a troubled teen who needs help

While most teenagers go through a period of time in which they do not want to interact as much with their families, there are some signs to look for that could indicate that your teen's behavior goes beyond normal teenage wishes for independence and experimentation: 

  • Changing friends abruptly, or becoming a loner. 
  • Anxiety and depression, beyond normal ups and downs. 
  • Dramatic change in performance at school, and a desire to constantly miss school. 
  • Behavior that can be considered destructive (hurting self or others, cruelty to animals, vandalism) and preoccupation with death. 
  • Signs of teenage alcohol or drug abuse. 
  • Obsession with weight or being "fat," even when weight is considered normal. 
  • Constant complaints about physical unwellness. 
  • Difficulty in coping with daily life. 
  • Dramatic changes in sleeping habits or eating patterns. 
  • Mood swings. 
  • Increasingly argumentative, defensive and violent.

It is important to note that normal teenage behavior does include some feelings of being an outsider and arguments with family members. The key is to look for an increasing occurrence of the troubled teen behavior, and to look for signs that some of the behavior could be related to teen alcohol or drug abuse, or to the emergence of a mental or psychological disorder.

Distinguishing between normal and troubled teen behavior

It can be difficult to distinguish between normal teen behavior and troubled teen behavior. This is because so often teenagers begin changing into their own people, and because some of what they do and listen to seems alien to parents. One thing you can do is to observe current teenage trends at the school your teenager attends. For instance, one or two body piercings, on the tongue or navel especially, may not indicated troubled behavior. These are popular styles now. When you drop your teenager off at school or attend parent-teacher conferences, make sure you observe the styles.

If your teen's style is mostly in line with the popular peer-group, chances are that he or she is exhibiting normal teenage behavior. If, however, you notice a dramatic drop in quality of schoolwork accompanying the physical changes, it could be a sign of troubled teen. If your teen is involved with alcohol and drugs abuse, or if your teen appears to be suffering from anxiety or depression, however, it is important to get help from a professional. Talk to your teen about how you are concerned for him or her, and would like find out if there is a way that he or she can be helped by a third person. And then seek a professional evaluation.

When to Seek Teen Help Main source material:

  • "Troubled Teens," UCI Medical Center. University of California, Irvine. [Online.]

Related Article: Programs for Troubled Teens >>

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