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Oregon Family Magazine

Signs Your Teen Might Be in Trouble

02/26/2010 ● By Anonymous
Teenagers can behave in strange ways that often mystify adults. For some parents their teen's moods or actions keep them up at night.

The key is knowing how to recognize signs your teen may be in real trouble and not just experiencing normal difficulties of the age. Moreover, learning how to better communicate with your teen will go a long way to being able to help him or her.

"Sometimes your child's behavior just doesn't seem to make sense and trying to talk about it gets you nowhere," says Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., counselor, and author of the new book, "The Identity Trap: Saving Our Teens From Themselves."

"Most of the time you needn't worry. This is the age when a child tries on different identities to test them out," says Nowinski. "One month your teen may be dark and dressing somberly, and the next month he is an outgoing athlete or star in the school play. This is all part of growing up."

However, according to leading child psychologists, parents should worry if behavior is too erratic or dangerous, or if a teen's moods are too extreme and persist for too long.

According to Dr. Lisa Boesky, author of "When To Worry: How To Tell If Your Teen Needs Help - and What To Do About It," it can be tough to recognize signals of serious problems. Almost all troubling behavior -- such as apathy, lack of focus, weight obsession, slipping grades, mood swings, irritability, or experimentation with alcohol -- can be due to typical adolescence or can be signs that something is wrong.

"These years are filled with volatile periods of enthusiasm and giddiness, as well as sadness or despair. Teens can be extremely passionate about personal beliefs, music or the opposite sex. This is all normal," stresses Boesky. "What can be a sign of real trouble, however, is if lows or highs last for too long and are not triggered by any situational factors, or if a teen's behavior results in difficulties at home, in school, or with friends."

Just a few changes in how you communicate with your teen can go a long way toward helping him or her. Here are some tips from Dr. Boesky on effective teen relations:

  • Talk less, listen more. Teens have a lot to say to someone who truly listens. Let the phone ring, put down your magazine or serve dinner late.
  • Most teens find brief interactions with parents who listen more satisfying than lengthy talks with many interruptions.
  • Teens are less likely to open up if you sit them down to "talk." Instead, converse when riding in the car, eating a meal, shopping or playing basketball.
  • Talk about trivial matters to connect. Over time, initiate talks about tough topics, such as smoking, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.
  • The goal is to help teens feel understood by accepting how they think or feel - particularly when they are upset or angry.
  • Brief nonjudgmental questions ("Then what happened?") can keep conversation flowing.
  • Teens can feel less understood if you invalidate their problems. Don't deny or disagree with their feelings by telling them their problems aren't a big deal. Don't try to pacify them or philosophize by telling them "life isn't fair." And beware of offering too much advice when it isn't invited.
  • Don't attempt to communicate if either of you is angry at the other.
  • Prepare for an important talk by deciding on the outcome you are trying to achieve so you aren't distracted by unrelated topics.
Above all, remember you don't have to have all the answers to fix your teen's problems. Listening supportively goes a long way. And for the bigger problems, don't hesitate to turn to your doctor, a child psychologist or teen counselor.

For more information about how to tell if your teenager is heading down the wrong path or simply being a normal teenager, read the new books, "The Identity Trap" and "When To Worry."

Offered by Statepoint Media