Are you worried about your teenager?
Many parents find that their children act differently during the teenage years.
It is common to worry that they may be affected by mental health
issues such as depression or eating disorders, or be involved in risky behavior such as taking drugs, abusing alcohol, having unprotected
sex, or committing crimes.
Teenage behavior can be erratic and unpredictable, so it can difficult to distinguish when they are just ‘being a teenager’ and when something more serious is going on. But, as a parent, there are certain warning signs to look out for.
As a parent what you can do is look out for unexpected and persisting changes.
Have they changed in any way that is particularly out of character
for them? For example, if your teenager is usually very sociable – and
he or she withdraws socially to a large degree – there could be a
If they’re normally very chatty and they become completely uncommunicative, it may be worth exploring whether it’s due to more than just teenage angst.
Most teenagers become moody and uncommunicative from time to time.
This is often due to hormonal changes, which make the teenage years an
emotional time. Many teenagers haven’t yet developed the skills to talk
about emotions, so communication becomes very difficult.
Teenagers also have to go through a process of setting themselves physically and emotionally apart from their parents.
However, if you’re worried about them, you may be able to encourage them to open up. Direct questioning can make them feel very threatened, so a more subtle approach is more effective.
If you’re having trouble getting them to open
up to you, be available to them as much as possible. Take every
opportunity to be there for them at times when they feel comfortable about
A great example is to provide a taxi service – being in the car is a
non-threatening situation for them because you’re not looking at one
Have meals together whenever you can – perhaps take them out
for a pizza, for example.
If they refuse to talk to you and you are worried that something more
serious is going on, you may need to open up other channels of
communication for them.
Be honest and explain that you’re worried that they’re going through something difficult, and if they can’t talk to you, that’s fine, but they should talk to someone.
Try offering helpline numbers, or suggesting a doctor or a friend of the family.
Allowing them to make a decision about how and where to seek help can also be beneficial. If you’re very worried, whether about drugs or an eating disorder, you can try offering them what’s known as a ‘forced choice decision’.
Present them with two choices, both of which represent a positive step. For example, suggest they talk either to your doctor or to a named family friend. That way, they feel more in control.
Many of the symptoms listed below can often be attributed to normal teenage behavior. However, if you’re worried, it can be helpful to know the signs of a possible problem. You may then choose to discuss your concerns with your teen, or get advice from your doctor.
Noticeable symptoms of depression in teenagers can include:
Signs of eating disorders can include:
People who self-harm usually try to keep it a secret from their friends and family and often injure themselves in places that can be hidden easily by clothing.
If you suspect that your teenager is self-harming, look out for any of the following signs:
Many of the helplines listed on our suicide prevention page, will also give advice if you are still worried.