How Do You Know the Difference Between a Troubled Teen and a Teen Who is Just Going Through Adolescence?

troubled teen covering faceBy: Tim Gilleand, MA

Not a child anymore

Adolescence is a very confusing time for teenagers and parents. Your baby is no longer a child, but also not an adult. What are they? What freedoms do you allow and what do you still try and control? This stage of life brings parents many questions such as these, but it also brings another slew of questions to the teenager themselves. Who am I? Who do I want to become? What are these new feelings and what do I do with them? Because these questions affect all of us going through this, it can be difficult to determine the difference between normal growing pains and having a truly troubled teen.

To understand what constitutes a troubled teen, we need to define what we mean. Amy Morin, LCSW with defines a troubled teen as one experiencing significant behavioral problems, mental health issues affecting their functioning, substance use, learning difficulties, and/or social integration problems.

Upset, not necessarily troubled

All teens are going to face trials of life adjustments. This is normal. They are going to challenge authority with their behavior to test their boundaries. That is different from a pervasive pattern of dangerous or unacceptable behavior. Most teens will also experience some symptoms common with anxiety or depression as they are maturing. Many teens will learn how to manage these themselves with some help from their peers and supportive adults in their lives. They become mental health concerns when they begin affecting their daily functioning and/or physical health (eating, sleeping, etc.).

Substance use can also be distinguished between curiosity/experimentation and addiction or illegal behavior. Learning difficulties can be natural with your teen’s personality or cognitive level, but it can also be a sign of other factors possibly present or developmental issues. Social anxiety also has a healthy component as we learn what is socially acceptable. Where it becomes needing of attention is when it starts affecting their ability to function and fulfill their role as a student or member of the family.

Know the difference, and take action if needed

Doing a personal inventory of your teen on these different factors can help you start to determine if your child is experiencing normal adolescent trials or fitting the definition of a troubled teen in need of help. At Crosswinds, we have experience working with youth at all stages of childhood through adolescence into adulthood. We work with those just beginning to show some symptoms and those who are in full-blown crisis. We hope to elicit change in that critical phase of life before issues are able to seed them too deeply.

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