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Troubled Teen Warning Signs and Risk Factors

Do you get the feeling that your teen is dealing with behavioral or emotional problems beyond the scope of what most teenagers deal with? Every teen will have struggles, but it is your job as a parent to determine if the issues your teen is facing have reached a point where intervention is necessary. Try not to compare your teen to others, but rather assess based on what you know of your child if they are acting in a way that is putting themselves and/or those around them at risk. Parenting a troubled teen is no easy task, but the team at Crosswinds is here to help.

The following are some troubled teen warning signs and risk factors that indicate you may have a troubled youth in need of some extra help:

  • Extreme moods: Teens are going to be moody—their bodies and hormones are changing and this is natural. But extreme fits of anger, long bouts of sadness, seeming hatred towards family members and a consistently disrespectful attitude are perhaps warning signs that something deeper is going on. Pay attention to your teen’s mood swings to try to determine what some of their “triggers” are. If the extreme moods continue for months in the absence of logical triggers, it may be time to explore the possibility of a mental health disorder or more complex behavioral problem.


  • Unexplained large sums of money: Is your unemployed or minimum wage-earning teen showing up at home with expensive jewelry, new gadgets or fancy clothes you’ve never seen? Unexplained money, coupled with a withdrawn and defiant teen, can often be the sign of a more serious issue like drug dealing or stealing. Teens living this lifestyle may also seem to lose money or valuables very quickly, as they trade it for drugs or are in unsafe situations where they have things stolen.


  • Unhealthy obsession with new friend group: When your child enters middle school and high school they will inevitably meet new friends. This is good. But is your teen changing their behavior, appearance, or values to fit in with a new group of friends? This could be a sign of unhealthy or dangerous friendships, especially if the group your child is trying to fit in with seems to have questionable values.


  • Self-Harm: Are there signs that your teen is cutting, burning or in any way mutilating themselves physically? If so, get help now. This is a common precursor of violent or suicidal behavior. This is not a warning sign that should be taken lightly!


  • Consistent dishonesty: Lying once to go to a party is one thing, but consistently lying about where they have been and who they have been with may be a sign that your teen is headed down a dangerous path. Clearly there is a reason they don’t want you as the parent to know where they’ve been. When you catch them in a lie, try to get to the bottom of what they were trying to hide


  • No remorse for actions: This is a big one. All teens will make mistakes—some small, some big. But how do they react when they are caught? A teen that shows no remorse or guilt for their mistakes has crossed a dangerous line. If your teen is blatantly defying the rules you have laid out and doesn’t seem to care if they get caught, these are serious warning signs. It is definitely time to seek help.


Following are some factors that may put your teen at risk for the dangerous behaviors outlined above:

  • Previous victim of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or bullying: Victims of abuse often have low self-esteem and self-worth, making them more susceptible to troubled behavior in their teen and adult years.


  • History of violence or anger: It is not uncommon for a violent child to grow into a violent teen. If your child has a history of aggression or anger, watch them closely to see how they handle themselves in stressful situations as they grow older.


  • Stressful home life: Divorce, financial problems or violence in the home are all factors that put a teen at risk for rebellious or “troubled” behavior.


  • Substance abuse: Use of drugs and alcohol heighten the risk of every behavior listed above. Even if your teen is “just experimenting,” it’s best to treat these as serious warning signs and be vigilant in working to curb these activities.


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