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Is My Child a Troubled Teen?

Updated 02 July 2016 Written by Clint Mally
It can be disorienting and frightening when the child that you watched grow up suddenly seems like a stranger. The kid you taught to ride a bike now uses language you don’t understand, wears clothes that make you cringe, and behaves in ways that leave you scratching your head. It can be difficult to determine what is normal teenage behavior and what indicates a more serious problem. It is normal for teens to experience greater intensities of emotion, to be preoccupied with peer relationships, and to push boundaries. And yet, taken to an extreme, these qualities can also become problematic. How do you know when your child has crossed over from developmentally appropriate teenage behaviors to being a so-called troubled teen?

Is your teen…

  • Out of control?
  • Experiencing legal problems?
  • Struggling academically?
  • Struggling to maintain a positive social group?
  • Taking excessive risks?
  • Consistently struggling with authority?
  • Using drugs and alcohol?
  • Promiscuous?
  • Extremely secretive?
  • Failing to attend therapy?
  • Lying and/or manipulating?
  • Cutting / self-harming?

We are often told that what troubled teens need is more discipline and structure. Perhaps someone has told you that your troubled teen needs boot camp or some other military-type intervention. However, the evidence repeatedly shows us that taking a purely punitive approach to your teen’s challenging behaviors is at best only a short-term fix, and at worst can create a rift in your relationship and actually make the problem worse.

Here are some tips on addressing problem behaviors in your troubled teen:

Be curious

While it is natural as a parent to have a knee-jerk reaction to your once-familiar child embracing a culture that you don’t understand, see if you can suspend judgment and get curious. What does your child like about the music they listen to? How do they like to use social media and what do they see as the pros and cons? What do they value about their friends? If your teen generally experiences you as being open and curious, they are more likely to share and to value your input when they are struggling.

Lead with your care and concern

While it is completely understandable to be angry at your teen, often just below that anger is fear, concern, and care for your child. When addressing problem behaviors, lead with a statement about your concern. Your child is more likely to hear you out if they know that you are motivated by your care for them.

Look for the root cause

Most problem behaviors of troubled teens are motivated by an underlying cause such as poor self-esteem, difficulty relating to peers, depression or anxiety. Both you and your child will better be able to understand and address their destructive behaviors if you understand the root cause of the behavior.

Get professional help

If your teen’s behaviors have progressed beyond normal teenage angst or you are not sure if their behaviors are normal, seeking a mental health or substance abuse evaluation can help you better understand what they are dealing with and how to help.

Concerned your teen or young adult may be headed down the wrong path? Looking for programs for troubled teens in Denver or Boulder, Colorado? Have questions about whether your loved one might need treatment? Contact the staff at Sandstone Care. We look forward to assisting you and your family.