How do you know if your teenager needs help?

Mar 9, 2022 | Blog, Adolescent Treatment, Mental Health

Adolescence is often a challenging time for families. Teenagers frequently test new limits and parents have to adjust to changing expectations and requests for more freedom. While most teenagers navigate this time without major problems, some experience enormous distress and may become involved in destructive life patterns. The challenge for many parents is determining when their teenager is OK and when their teenager is At-Risk. Some of the differences between normal and At-Risk behavior are highlighted below.

Question Authority vs. Defy Authority

Questioning authority and challenging the status quo is normal for teenagers. Openly challenging authority and defying others who make them comply with the rules is not. At-Risk teenagers tend to get into conflicts with parents, teachers, administrators, or anyone else who is in a position of authority.

Test Limits vs. Ignore Limits

Teenagers frequently test limits to see what they can get away with but respond appropriately when limits are set. At-Risk teenagers tend to ignore limits and push the boundaries. They often will respond to limits with anger and defiance.

Spontaneous vs. Impulsive

Teenagers are naturally spontaneous and open to new possibilities. At-risk teenagers, on the other hand, are impulsive and often ignore potential consequences. They leap first and then make excuses later.

Seek Independence vs. Avoid Family

Teenagers often seek independence from their families, which allows them to further define who they are as a person and to develop their own goals and direction in life. They use home and family as an anchor to help them stay grounded, while they explore the possibilities of life. At-Risk teenagers, on the other hand, tend to avoid spending any time with their family or with other adults who might provide supervision. They see adults as “the problem”, rather than as a role model or support.

Sexually Aware vs. Sexually Acting Out

While it is normal for teenagers to become more aware of their sexuality and to begin to develop an interest in sexual relationships, it doesn’t mean that they will automatically begin to act out sexually. Conversely, At-Risk teenagers often get involved in risky sexual behavior and pursue multiple sexual partners without regard for consequences.

Socially Involved vs. Substance Abuse

It is normal for teenagers to want to spend time with friends. Developing healthy friendships is an important milestone of adolescence. For some, however, socializing often involves drinking or doing drugs. While most teenagers are exposed to drinking and drugs, it is not true that “everyone is doing it.” There are many teenagers that socialize with friends without using drugs or alcohol. At-risk kids tend to seek out alcohol and drugs and over time tend to socialize only with other teenagers that are using alcohol or drugs. The purpose of getting together with friends is to “party” and “get high”. As a result, friendships become secondary to drugs and alcohol.

Moody at times vs. Mood Swings with Intensity

It is normal for teenagers to have a variety of moods. The changes in their mood often mirror the stressors that they experience (physical, emotional, social, etc.). Generally, teenagers work through these moods fairly quickly. At-Risk teenagers, however, tend to have intense mood swings that are greater than the situation that they are in. They often exhibit destructive or inappropriate behaviors during these times, which might include isolation, running away, destruction of property, cutting, or other self-harming behavior.

Hopeful vs. Hopeless

Most teenagers are hopeful about the future which they see as limitless in its possibilities. At-Risk teenagers, conversely, tend to be more pessimistic about the future. They may express thoughts such as “Why try? It won’t matter anyway,” “Nothing ever works out,” “I hate my life,” or “I wish I were dead.” These types of statements should be a warning flag for parents that their teenager is struggling with deeper emotional issues.

If your teenager is struggling emotionally, don’t wait to get them help. Teenagers can be very resilient and with the proper help, they can develop the skills they need to thrive rather than struggle.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit to learn more.