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Recognizing Telltale Signs of a Troubled Teen

Experts say it’s normal for teens to be moody, act out, and test their boundaries as they’re adjusting to the challenges of growing up. Stress in high school, peer pressure, raging hormonal changes, and still developing brains can cause teens to behave in irrational or just plain dumb ways as they test their desires for more independence.

But there’s a difference between normal teen rebelliousness and behavior that indicates that a teen is truly troubled, and possibly headed for trouble. Moms can learn about recognizing the signs of a troubled teen and when it’s time to seek professional help.


Teens seem to have a bottomless reservoir for arguing and challenging the rules. But when argumentative behavior becomes destructive, it’s a sign your teen has bigger problems than disappointment about not being allowed to attend a party on a school night. If your teen is engaging in violent behavior, breaking things, punching holes in walls, harming themselves (cutting), or physically threatening you, it’s time to get help.


One moment they can’t seem to get enough attention by wearing provocative clothing, rolling their eyes at you, or slamming doors. But when that noise suddenly reverses itself and your teen begins to isolate themself from the family, refuses to come out of their room, severs relationships with peers, and spends inordinate amounts of time alone, it can be a sign they’re struggling and need help.

Substance Abuse

Teens will experiment with alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. Have “the talk” about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Underage drinking and possession of controlled substances, or worse, selling drugs to other teens, can send a teen into the juvenile justice system.

If substance abuse becomes a habit, and your teen suddenly starts hanging around with a new peer group that has a negative influence and probably lying to you about it, you should be concerned. Seek professional advice from counselors or therapists.

Sudden Decline in Grades

When a teen who has been doing fine in school suddenly loses interest or starts to bring home failing grades, something is seriously wrong. Teens sometimes can’t find the words to identify what’s bothering them, so they act out in ways parents will notice as a signal that they need help, even though they behave as if they don’t want to talk about it.

If you recognize signs of a troubled teen in your child, reassure them that you love them very much and that you want to know what’s going on and how you can help. At the same time, seek professional advice from a counselor or mental health professional who specializes in adolescent behavior.


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