The teen years are challenging for many families. Problems at home, at school and even with the law can threaten a child’s long-term success and limit his or her life potential. More important, though, these behaviors can be warning signs — early indicators of other larger emotional and behavior problems.

It’s common for children to face hurdles in life from time to time. However, it’s important to be able to identify what behaviors should be a serious red flag for parents.

Drug use is one of the most important signs that your child is heading into serious trouble. You may first notice changes in their appearance: red eyes, poor balance or a diminished interest in how they look or dress. Other signs are more subtle. Look for the presence of lighters in your teen’s room or belongings, suspicious phone calls, major changes in your teen’s emotional disposition, changes in appetite and sleep habits, and major shifts in interests.

Also, be alert to changes in interactional style. Most adolescents want to keep portions of their life private, but the drug-using teen has more to protect and can appear much less honest or forthcoming than he or she previously had been.

Underachievement is another red flag to take seriously. This does not necessarily mean a teen is earning failing grades, merely that she is failing to live up to her natural ability. The source of underachievement is often not academic — she could be bored, unmotivated, overinvolved in activities or sidetracked socially. If it’s a chronic problem, consider testing to assess whether learning disabilities or other educational factors are at play. If none exist, look at your child’s motivations and consider whether her underachievement is a passive aggressive form of defiance. It’s often a sign of a larger, more serious problem.

Parents should also be on the lookout for kids giving up. In addition to the aforementioned academic underachievement, they may give up on post-graduation goals (or graduation itself) or their school commitments, such as sports or club activities. Sometimes, teens give up when the task becomes too hard or takes too much time away from social or leisure pursuits. Other times, abandoning goals and activities can be a self-worth issue. When kids feel like they are a failure, they sometimes reject more opportunities to be proven correct.

Other signs that warrant action include:

  • Loss of interest in peers, isolative behavior
  • Changes in weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Markedly dramatic mood swings
  • Signs of self-harm (cutting or burning, pulling out hair, etc.)
  • Talk about suicide

However, while it’s critical to take these warning signs seriously, it’s also important to remember it’s totally normal for teens to make abrupt changes in their lives as they go about the business of discovering who they really are. Suddenly changing her hair color to pink isn’t a warning sign, unless it is combined with other warning signs, such as evidence of self-harm or a new group of friends.

To learn more about when to seek help for a troubled teen, contact Compass Rose Academy today.