While there is no universal tipping point that sends teens spiraling during adolescence, it is vitally important that parents look for signs throughout their child’s developmental years to determine whether they should seek professional help.

There are many ways in which parents can determine whether their child is in need of assistance. In his book, “Boundaries with Teens,” world-renowned clinical psychologist, leadership consultant and best-selling author Dr. John Townsend identifies many key indicators of teens in trouble, including:

  • Disrespectfulness
  • Self-absorption
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Explosive anger
  • Lack of motivation in school
  • Detachment from family and friends
  • Physical aggression or violence
  • Lying
  • Drug abuse
  • Sexual activity
  • Mood shifts
  • Disobedience
  • Negligence

Parents should seek help when these problems begin to add up and affect multiple aspects of their teen’s life. It is also important to look for help if a teen presents risk of harm to themselves or others.

According to Townsend, even “healthy teens” may display some of the above-mentioned indicators such as mood shifts and some level of disrespectfulness, but they also often exhibit the following, and do not necessarily warrant professional help. These include:

  • Connect with others.
  • Show responsibility. They complete required schoolwork, chores and other family duties.
  • Accepts reality. While they may be perfectionists or be demanding at times, they generally accept that people make mistakes and that no one is perfect.
  • Make mistakes regularly, but are not constantly “in crisis.”
  • Explore and gain interest in friends and the world outside their immediate family while remaining connected at home.
  • Make friends. While parents may not 100 percent approve of their teen’s friends, the friends do not pull the teen into major trouble.
  • Hold values. These values may not be completely in line with their parents’, but they are beginning to establish decent morals, ethics and spiritual beliefs.
  • Question authority while thinking for themselves and not creating major family problems.

According to Compass Rose Academy director and licensed mental health counselor, Mike Haarer, all teens act out to a certain degree for a variety of reasons. Most often, a teen’s frustration and angst comes down to a desire for acceptance and validation. Teens want to know they are “good enough” and that they “fit in.” When they feel that they are not accepted, they may completely withdraw from others or find a peer group who understands them.

“This drive to be accepted and liked combined with a desire for increased freedom results in more risky behaviors like drugs, sex and what often seems like a general lack of emotional and behavioral control,” Haarer said.

Adolescence in particular comes with many changes for young people, including new sexual feelings, greater independence, exploring and questioning personal values and experiencing increased influence from their peers. Many teens also experience other major events such as entering a new school, the loss of a friend or loved one or a traumatic event. Haarer says parents should always try to be tuned in to significant events in the lives of their teens and offer guidance, nurturing and limitations whenever necessary.

For additional information or to speak with a licensed mental health counselor about your family’s situation, please contact us.