As teenagers begin to assert their independence and find their own identity, many experience behavioral changes that can seem bizarre and unpredictable to parents. Your sweet, obedient child who once couldn’t bear to be separated from you now won’t be seen within 20 yards of you, and greets everything you say with a roll of the eyes or the slam of a door. As a parent, if you thought the “terrible twos” were bad, teenage years can be even worse in terms of your child fighting for their independence. Your teenage may engage in troublesome activities and exhibit poor moods that may seem unimaginable to you however at times, it can be difficult to decipher if these are just normal growing associated with teenagers or if these moods and behaviors are turning into warning signs of a troubled teen.

Typical teenager behavior versus troubled teenager warning signs

Changes in mood: Temporary mood swings are normal in teenagers due to their hormonal and developmental changes. Your son or daughter may seem more irritable that usual. This vastly differs from a teenager who is experiencing troublesome behavior. Troubled teenagers will exhibit persistent sadness and anxiety, a decline in academic performance, violent mood swings, and rapid changed in personality.

Drug and alcohol use: Teenagers are likely to experiment with alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana and although this is normal teenage behavior, it is still important to talk to your son or daughter about the effects of this behavior. However, becoming irate about finding one marijuana joint in your teenager’s sock drawer or discovering your teenager drank at a party, can result in trust issues between you and your child. Therefore it is important to stay calm and keep an open dialogue when you discover this type of normal behavior. Troubling signs related to substance abuse include habitual use of drugs or alcohol or when this use results in trouble at school or at home.

Changes in appearance: Fashion trends change daily and teenagers are always trying to fit in with the latest styles. It is not abnormal for teenagers to dress provocatively or try to make a statement by their clothing. They may even dye their hair and try different types of makeup. However when a teenager completely changes their appearance and starts seeking out tattoos and piercings, this can be a sign that they may be spiraling downhill.

Arguments and rebellious behavior: Teenagers are going to argue and rebel in order to seek out their independence and see how far they can push their limits. Breaking curfew, talking back and eye rolling are very frustrating but normal behaviors among teenagers. Warning signs suggesting something is wrong include ditching school, legal trouble, getting in fights, and constant escalation of arguments are all behaviors that go beyond normal teenager rebellious behavior.

Influence from friends: Teenagers usually have a strong social network and are highly influenced by their peers. It is normal for your son or daughter to want to spend more time with their friends than with you. Warning signs that your teenager may be heading for trouble include a sudden change in peer groups, hanging out with the wrong crowd, or disrespecting all boundaries and rules at home.

Seek advice and ask questions

Before jumping the gun and assuming your teenager is on his or her way to hitting rock bottom, meet with other trusted adults to see if they are experiencing similar moods and behaviors with their teenagers. It is also a good idea to meet with your son or daughter’s teachers to see if they are exhibiting this same behavior in school. It is always important to try to gain insight and background before you start to address any potential red flag behaviors with your child.