Whether as a parent or a peer, you will see teenagers go through a variety of problems. While frustrating, many of these problems are generally benign. Feelings of awkwardness, questions of personal identity, and having no idea how to talk to talk to the opposite sex are common and occur with everyone. When some teenagers turn to substance abuse, risky sexual habits, or violence in order to resolve their internal problem, it can be a heart breaking sign that something has gone very wrong. Here are some telling signs that a serious problem is at hand, and how to tell the difference between normal, teenage dilemmas:
1. Serious Threats of Physical Violence: Most common in young men, a threat of physical reprisal for a given action can be a serious indicator of something wrong. Some threats are made in jest, and can be an act of male bonding. An actual act of aggression or violence is usually very different. If the threat is made in anger, or while trying to physically restrict retreat from the situation, it is an obvious and unquestionable indicator that something is hideously wrong.
2. Substance Abuse: While most parents will never look forward to it, most also know that their children will attempt to experiment with forbidden vices. As such, it is not uncommon for teenagers to try cigarettes, alcohol, or even marijuana. It’s a very common behavior; teenagers from all walks of life do these very same things as they try to figure out what all the fuss is about. The act of experimenting isn’t an issue so much as the act of escalating these experiments. If your child or peer is constantly pursuing and drinking larger quantities of alcohol, that is a problem. If they’re constantly on the pursuit of heavier and more extreme drugs, that is also an issue.
3. Risky Sexual Activity: Much like drugs, teenagers seek out things that are taboo and forbidden by adults. Combined with a volatile cocktail of developing hormones, many teenagers explore sexuality in circumstances their parents would rather they didn’t. This isn’t surprising, considering that a majority of parents wish that their children wouldn’t explore sexuality until sometime during their mid-30s. Where this becomes a problem is, again, with excessive or dangerous actions. Sex practiced without concerns for STDs and pregnancy is not only foolish, but also suggests that the people involved aren’t concerned with their own physical and mental well-being. This should be a huge red flag.
4. Self-Destructive Behaviors: While all of the actions above are destructive, this category is meant in a far more literal sense. While some may find it troubling to consider, anyone who is physically harming themselves is exhibiting extremely disturbing behavior. Activities like cutting oneself or purposely inflicting burns are a big problem; treat them as such. There are no examples of this that shouldn’t be concerning.
While these are the biggest considerations for a troubled mind, they are by no means the only ones. Anything that seems out of place for the person you know should be examined, especially if many such actions occur in a row. Symptoms like these are huge indicators that something or someone is negatively impacting the teenager in question. It doesn’t matter if you are the parent that brought this child into the world or simply a concerned friend; behaviors like this indicate a strong need for help. Ignoring the behavior won’t make it go away, and will often make it worse. If you really need help, you should consider talking with professional counselors who might provide more insight.