Worried about your troubled teen?

Maybe you should be worried about your troubled teen

Coloured image of young black teenager appearing troubled
Worried about your troubled teen? — Image by dreamstime

Have you noticed any recent change in mood or behaviour in your teen or young adult? Has anyone else, like their teacher or a family member, pointed it out? Has your teen mentioned feeling angry, sad or any other negative emotions? Do you talk with your teen about emotions and feelings? No? You may have a troubled teen and you should be worried. But don’t despair, we can work this out.

The term troubled teen is used to define a wide range of behavioural or emotional problems among adolescents. And, while we’re particularly looking at teens and young adults, the suggestions in this post might be helpful for most troubled others.

Was I a troubled teen?

I was a troubled teen — Image from Dreamstime

Do you remember your teens? I do, and things were very different way back in the seventies, but I wish someone had noticed my pain and tried asking about it.

I’m guessing, depending on your age, that your parents didn’t ask you about your emotions either. It just wasn’t done back in the day. No one told you what to do when you felt sad or angry, and how to let go of those negative feelings. We (or I) didn’t really talk about emotions with friends much either, other than if we were angry at our parents or a teacher — that was acceptable and cool even.

Sometimes I wonder how i got through it…

Oh my word, this post just triggered various emotions, mainly one that’s leaving the empty pit at the bottom of my stomach. Oof! — and breathe. You know, when I think back over the traumatic events in my life, I do wonder how I got through it all. The sadness, low self-worth, emptiness, guilt, shame, anxiety and hopelessness — locked in for decades.

However, despite all the badness, there’s been a lot of good and I’ve learned a lot from my troubled teens. I learned how not to parent, how not to teach, and how not to manage teams. I learned how to cope with adversity and how to listen and communicate effectively.

What symptoms might you see in a troubled teen?

Coloured image of female dressed in punk style, wearing red tights, short skirt and DM's - bovver boots
Sudden change of dress style, music or films — Image from Dreamstime

Not every teen is angry or troubled, but most will experience some of the common teenage angst. However, it’s easy to write this angst off as teenage behaviour, and you might miss an obvious sign that something’s terribly wrong. So, now’s a really good time to see and be more aware of what’s going on in your teen’s life. Spot whether your child is into drugs or other risky behaviours —before it’s too late.

What you might notice in your teen

  • mood swings or rapid changes in mood; possibly sad, low and withdrawn or loud, OTT and overly boisterous
  • changes in personality and attitude i.e. not recognisable as your son/daughter, going from timid to tough or bullish
  • sullen, insolent or defiant and dismissive of your concerns
  • isolating, staying away from you and their siblings
  • missing classes, and not completing school work
  • dramatic changes to their appearance; in the way they dress or what films or music they’re into. They might suddenly like all things goth or rap these days, either to fit in with or avoid peers
  • using foul language and disrespecting your house rules
  • hanging around with a different crowd who maybe smoke, take illicit drugs, or cause trouble in the neighbourhood
  • changes in sleep patterns; playing online games, staying up well into the night, unable or refusing to get up in the mornings, early morning waking could be a sign of depression
  • telling lies or omitting truths like if they’ve been stopped by the police
  • red or glassy-eyed, and pupils unusually large or small might indicate drug use
  • unable or unwilling to account for their movements, staying out all hours or running away
  • unable or unwilling to account for expensive gifts they’ve received, and new clothes
  • Stealing, money going missing, or overspending like buying expensive computer games

This list is in no way exhaustive and you might notice a variety other signs that indicate your teen is troubled.

What about when your teen won’t listen?

Pretending she can’t hear you — Image from Dreamstime

You’ve probably witnessed when they

  • pretend they can’t hear you
  • turn their music up or the volume on t.v.
  • stare at their screens and won’t raise their eyes to meet yours
  • refuse to give any eye contact or you get that eye roll
  • give you that “Whatever” condescending sneer
  • don’t acknowledge that you’ve said something or are expecting a reply
  • tut, grunt or huff and puff in your direction

Remember, it’s in their job description, they’re teenagers and they do it because they can. They can’t tell you not to speak to them, they don’t (or shouldn’t) have that control. But they can sure as heck decide where to focus their attention when you’re speaking to them, knowing you can’t force them to listen. So that’s what they do, because they know it winds you up.

How should I react?

Stay calm, don’t raise your voice, and never get into an argument or power struggle with your children. What you say goes and while you can inform them of why you’ve set particular rules (like to keep them safe), don’t debate them. Otherwise, they might think they’re debatable.

State what you mean clearly, and mean what you say. Let your troubled teen know you will only say things once, so if they don’t pay attention and break the rules because they didn’t hear them, there will be consequences.

You must ensure you follow through with the consequences. If they whine on or start banging around huffily, repeat that they knew the rules and the consequences, then leave the room. Your troubled teen will soon start listening. Your teen knows that tutting, eye-rolling and banging about, winds you up — so don’t let it — remain calm and leave the room.

What you can must do to support your troubled teen

Coloured image of african mum and teen sitting in front of laptop
Mum and teen daughter — Image from Dreamstime

Here are some suggestions that will help you get your teen talking about what’s going on in their life

  • Ask them every day how they are, how was school or work. Even ask about their friend Holly or Daisy and how’s she been, what she’s up to. You might find out Daisy’s being a pain or she’s in trouble at school, which may give you a clue as to how your own child feels about Hayley’s problems and behaviours.
  • If they come home in a bad mood and storm straight to their room, give them space. Sometimes the more you go on, constantly asking “What’s up?” or “What’s wrong with you?”, the further they retreat or clam up. Allow them some time to think things through, and you might find they’ll approach you to tell you what’s going on in their lives.
  • I know how easy it is to think that we, as parents, have upset them in some way. What I used to do if one of the boys came home in a mood, is ask “Have I upset you Sunshine?” If the answer was no, all I could do at that moment was accept it to be true, and be happy it wasn’t me he was cross with. He’d spend some time in his room and over dinner, he’d tell me what was bothering him — in his own time and when he was ready.
  • Ask them directly if there’s a problem like “you look unhappy/angry lately, do you want to talk about it?”, “Have you ever been bullied?”, “What do you do when you feel sad/angry/scared”, or “What do you think about safe sex, teen pregnancy?” Don’t be afraid of asking the hard questions, an open chat over your evening meal might get the ball rolling, and your teen might start talking. Let them know they can always come to you, and that you’ll listen, without judgement.

How to move forward

  • Always listen, really listen, without interrupting, scoffing, or laughing inappropriately. Be encouraging and supportive, let them know you’ve got their back.
  • Help them develop strategies for problem-solving. Sharing some of your life stories and mistakes with wisdom is a great way to introduce your teens to problem-solving. If they’ve got a problem, ask them how they plan to fix it. Help them devise problem-solving plans, breaking the problem down into small steps so your teen can manage them.
  • Foster independence! Just as we helped them when they started cycling as toddlers, we eventually stood back, letting them try on their own. They slipped and wobbled for a bit, but they eventually mastered the art of cycling, by themselves. Teens are going to make mistakes but by standing back a bit, they’ll learn from them and thrive.
  • Of course, your teens are going to push the boundaries at times. Your job is to stay calm and focus on the incident, rather than shouting about them not listening, not caring or doing things deliberately to wind you up. Stick to the topic, and calmly remind them about breaking the rules and the consequences.

What else can I do to support my troubled teen?

Coloured image of african mum trying to talk to her teen who has turned away
Teens can be difficult at times — Image by Dreamstime

Of course, there are many more ways you could support your teen, I’ve just given you a few more up-to-date suggestions to get the ball rolling.

If you’ve been parenting in the old way, you might need to think about changing your parenting style. It probably won’t be easy for you, and it won’t be easy on your teen either. It’s a good idea to sit them down, tell them you’ve been making mistakes like being too easy-going about the rules and you need to make changes.

Tell them that things are going to be different from now on, explain how and why, as in you’ll set be setting boundaries and you expect her to adhere to them. More importantly, you must stick to these new rules and consequences. Children need consistency, not confusion.

“Mama, I like it when you tell us about the rules and why, because it makes me feel safe and I know you care about me.”

My now adult son

Over to you

Large red question mark with a little white character man leaning on it.

Any thoughts or suggestions for readers? Do you think some of these suggestions could be helpful for others i.e. with troubled partners or friends? I look forward to your comments and any questions, as always.

Related: Reaching out to “Troubled” Teens (1). Help for parents with troubled teens (2).

Author: mentalhealth360.uk

Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

27 thoughts on “Worried about your troubled teen?”

  1. This is a great guide. I like how you said it’s in the teen job description to eye roll lol, it was definitely in mine. I was an emotionally troubled kid and teen and we never talked about emotions. I’m hoping I can do better with my kids one day, this guide will definitely help. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you Maria, glad you like it. If we’ve been a troubled teen, I think we can go either way i.e. learn from it all and move forward or ignore/forget it and carry on and pass these behaviours onto your children.

      Fortunately I learned and used every ‘trick’ I new of to support my sons. They’d laugh and ask “Wow come you know all this mama?” and I’d reply “Cos I did it all myself.”

      It’s so much easier if you start when they’re young, obviously giving them ‘age-related info like showing them pics of the different emotions and getting them to recognise their own.

      1. Yes I think starting them on emotional literacy when they’re young is really the key! Well done for you and your sons, that’s lovely you found lots of ways to support them and not pass troubled behaviors on to them!

  2. This post is full of thoughtful, actionable advice to help guide your troubled teen. Emotions were not really talked about in my family, so I am intentional with my daughter about talking about and walking through difficult emotions.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Andrea. I’m glad you agree in that we need our children to able to talk to us, no matter what. But we also need to be able to listen too. Sad, but I think some parents, particularly some of the ones i know, just don’t have the skills to impart,

  3. I just don’t remember much about my interactions with my parents, as it pertains to healthy exchanges. I’m sure there were a mixture of both actually, but it all escapes me now. Ha!

    1. I love my mum and we all turned out well, but she didn’t have the skills or knowledge back then. She just did what she was taught and sometimes it was tough, but we always knew where we stood.

      Mind you, I pushed all the boundaries and got away with it 😉

      1. Oh, I’m sure I pushed boundaries as well lol. My parents did what they were taught and no one effectively broke the cycles, until so came along. Now, things are different… and, I have no kids so. Oh well! 🙂

  4. In recent years, I’ve learned that my mom and dad’s parenting styles stem largely from how they were raised, but not because they liked it! And even though they weren’t sure of their own emotional intelligence, they did express support in discovering mine. They admitted their shortcomings as people – something I think is difficult for parents to do with their children. Just my thought!

    1. Thanks for your well-thought out comments. You’re right, I don’t think anyone back then even knew about EI, let alone know how to use it lol.

      No, it’s not always easy admitting your shortcomings or mistakes to your children. However,the boys laughed at a lot of my misdemeanors and it’s been a great way of allowing the boys then to open up and talk of their own struggles.

      They’re grown now, and I love that they’ll still call me when they’re struggling emotionally.

  5. A really great post, I read it with pleasure. A lot of things have changed over the years but the need to share thoughts, ideas and emotions always was there and always will remain. I’m glad that parents are encouraged to talk more with their t(w)eens.

    1. Thank you Kacha. I’m glad things have started to change. I just think lots of people have to catch up with some of our more forwarding thinking ideas about parenting styles.

      Some are still parenting ike back in the 60’s and 70’s, screaming and yelling at them. Urgh!

  6. I LOVE your suggestion to give teens space. Cool down time is important, then they will be ready to have a discussion!

    1. Thank you. It worked for me and my boys. By letting them go off to their rooms, but acknowledging that you know something’s up and that you’re willing to listen without judgement, they soon open up — but on their own terms lol.

  7. I don’t have advice on what to do, only what NOT to do. And that would be:
    1) Don’t abuse the fuck out of your teenagers for basically being ordinary teenagers.
    2) And house rules have to be clear and reasonable: Don’t change them on a whim and expect your teens to magically know what’s the new rules!

  8. These are some good tips! It’s important that we neither dismiss any troubled behavior as just “being a teen” nor leap on every display of rebellion or moodiness as a problem. Teens need to know someone cares. Sometimes that means asking questions and sometimes that means giving them privacy.

    1. Thank you. Yes, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. They need to know that someone cares and they’re able to take a step back, allowing the teen to make (minor lol) mistakes and learn from them.

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