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Home|Mental Health|What Are the Red Flags in Teenage Behavior?

When a child morphs into a teen, parents know they need to buckle up. The teen years are an emotional roller coaster ride from which few parents are spared. Adolescence is often rife with moodiness, angry outbursts, social struggles, and pushback toward authority.

How then do parents know when their teen is just being a teen, versus struggling with something concerning? When do the red flags in teenage behavior signal a more serious problem?

Is Something Going On with Your Teenager?

Parents know their kids well and are very familiar with their usual moods and behaviors. This is why it can be alarming when the teen begins acting out or behaving in ways that are not typical.

At first, a parent might think their teen’s behavior is due to not getting enough sleep or eating enough healthy foods lately. They may whisk them off to the doctor for a complete physical to see if there is a health issue.

If the doctor finds no health problem, they may suggest the teen see a therapist. The therapist is trained to know the right questions to ask and can hopefully get to the bottom of it. The therapist may ask about their social life, school, and grades if they are being bullied or if they are self-harming. These types of questions can lead the therapist toward the source of the red flags being exhibited in the teen’s behavior.

The important point here is that parents who are tuned into their teenager will be more aware of any abrupt changes. Being aware can help nip the problem in the bud, versus ignoring the signs while it escalates.

Red Flags in Teenage Behavior

There is a wide range of possible red flags that may point to a problem going on with a teenager. Some of these include:

  • Isolating behavior.
  • Sneaky behavior.
  • Drug paraphernalia in their room.
  • Mood swings.
  • Expressing anger and even violent acts.
  • Truancy
  • A sudden drop in grades.
  • Rebellion; breaking rules or laws.
  • Signs of self-harm, such as wearing long sleeves in the summer.
  • Hostility
  • Irrational fear.
  • Trouble concentrating or completing schoolwork.
  • Engaging in risky behaviors.

Causes of Teen Red Flag Behaviors

The warning signs your teen exhibits may imply a mental health or substance use challenge. The sooner your teen is evaluated by a mental health expert, the sooner they can receive targeted treatment.

Here are some of the possible causes of their troubling behaviors:

  • Substance use disorder or addiction. Teens who are experimenting with substances may become addicted. Some of the signs of substance use disorder include:
    • Change in the mood.
    • Secretive behavior.
    • Hanging out with another group of friends.
    • Sudden weight change.
    • Money going missing from parents’ wallets.
    • A sudden drop in grades.
    • Physical signs of substance use.
  • Anxiety disorder. Teens who struggle with anxiety may have these signs and symptoms:
    • Irrational fear and worry.
    • Isolating
    • Insomnia
    • Muscle tension
    • Self-harm.
    • Frequent headaches or stomachaches.
    • Mood swings.
    • Trouble concentrating.
    • Irritable
    • Nausea, shaking, sweating when anxious.
  • Depression. Teen depression should be taken very seriously. Symptoms of depression include:
    • Persistent sadness
    • Despair and hopelessness.
    • Fatigue
    • Sleep problems.
    • Feelings of guilt or shame that aren’t warranted.
    • Trouble concentrating.
    • Skipping school
    • Loss of interest in usual activities.
    • Weight changes.
    • Slowed or agitated movements and thinking.
    • Thoughts of suicide.
  • Bipolar disorder. Teens with bipolar disorder exhibit extreme shifts in mood, from depressive mood to manic mood and back. As well, teens with bipolar are prone to substance use disorder.
  • Oppositional defiant disorder. ODD is a behavioral disorder that has these symptoms:
    • Hostile
    • Defiant
    • Rejects authority.
    • Spiteful
    • Argumentative
    • Negative attitude.
    • Angry outbursts.
    • Refuses to follow rules.
    • Uncooperative.
  • Gender issues. Some teens grapple with gender identity or gender dysphoria, which is referred to as transgender. Signs of transgender may include:
    • Incongruence between the biological gender and the gender they identify with psychologically.
    • Strong desire to be the other gender.
    • Strong desire to prevent puberty or alter their physical sexual traits.
    • Strong desire to be treated as their preferred gender.

Teen Psychological Evaluation and Assessment

If the teen’s concerning behavior persists for more than a few weeks, it is time to have them assessed. During this step, the teen will chat with a therapist and share what is troubling them. This interview helps guide the types of assessments and screening tools needed to determine a diagnosis.

If the teen is struggling with substance use disorder, then that evaluation is a little different. The questions will pertain to which substance they are using, how long they have been using the substance, how much they consume, and how the substance use disorder has impacted their daily life. Also, the teen may present with both a mental health issue and substance use disorder.

Once the diagnosis is made, a tailored treatment plan is devised for the teen. If they have a substance use disorder, they will start with a medical detox followed by treatment. If they have a mental health disorder, parents will be advised as to the proper level of care.

Treatment Solutions for Teens Showing Signs of Distress

Treatment for teens struggling with mental health or substance use challenges is available in either outpatient or residential settings:

Outpatient. Outpatient treatment allows the teen to live at home with their parents during the treatment period. There are two levels of outpatient care, including:

  • IOP. The IOP offers a more intensive level of treatment than a private practice therapist or psychiatrist can provide. IOP involves three days of programming lasting three hours each.
  • PHP. The PHP is the highest level of outpatient treatment and involves programming five days per week for about six hours each.

Residential. Residential treatment for teens involves the teen living at the treatment center for the duration of treatment. This provides a much more intensive level of care than outpatient, offering 24-hour support and monitoring. In addition to the many therapies and treatment activities, the teen will receive academic support via an assigned tutor. This allows the teen to keep up with his or her schoolwork while receiving treatment.

BNI Treatment Centers Provides Outpatient and Residential Treatment for Teens

BNI Treatment Centers is a physician-owned teen mental health treatment center with both outpatient and residential programs. If you are seeing red flags in teenage behavior, please reach out to us today at (888) 522-1504.

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