Adolescence is a time of rapid growth and change, both physically and mentally. It’s a period marked by self-discovery, increased independence, and the pursuit of identity. While many teenagers navigate these developmental challenges successfully, some may exhibit behaviors that raise concerns. These behaviors, often called “red flags,” can indicate underlying issues, including mental health struggles.
However, due to their age, sometimes it may be difficult for a parent to differentiate whether this behavior is the sign of a larger issue or if it’s just their child being a “moody teenager.” In this blog, we will help try and differentiate between the two, as well as discuss some of the most common red flags in teenage behavior.
What Are Red Flags in Teenage Behavior?
Red flags are warning signs or indicators that something may be wrong or cause for concern. In the context of teenage behavior, red flags refer to behaviors and actions that deviate significantly from typical adolescent development and may suggest underlying problems, specifically as it relates to mental health.
As we touched on in the introduction, during a person’s teenage years they undergo a number of both physical and mental changes. Not only that, but also as they age they find themselves facing added pressures academically and socially, all while trying to navigate not just the person they currently are but the person they ultimately want to become.
As you can imagine, all of this can lead to a multitude of mental health struggles, many of which can continue to get worse if they are not addressed properly in a timely manner.
Why Is It Important to Monitor These Red Flags?
As we also touched on, because of the age range of teens, it may be difficult for a parent or loved one of the teen to determine if their child is struggling mentally or if they are just being a “moody teenager.”
Being able to properly differentiate between typical teen behavior and something more serious is important for a number of reasons including:
- Early Intervention – Identifying red flags early allows for early intervention and support, increasing the likelihood of addressing issues before they escalate into more significant problems.
- Overall Mental Health Awareness – Teenagers are not always equipped to articulate their feelings or problems, making it important for parents and loved ones to know the potential signs of mental health struggles.
- Preventing Long-Term Issues – Untreated mental health issues during adolescence can have long-lasting consequences, affecting a person’s overall well-being and future.
- Strengthening the Parent-Child Relationship – Monitoring red flags opens lines of communication between parents and teenagers, fostering trust and understanding.
The 12 Most Common Red Flags
We have talked about what red flags are and why it is important to know how to properly identify a red flag. Now, it’s time to go over some specific examples of red flags to be on the lookout for.
Below are 12 of the more common red flags in teenage behavior:
Teenagers are known for their mood swings, but abrupt and extreme shifts in mood can be a sign of deeper issues. If your teen goes from elation to deep despair without apparent cause or experiences persistent irritability and anger, it may be time to investigate the underlying factors contributing to these mood swings.
In fact, these extreme mood swings may be a sign of a number of mental health conditions such as an anxiety disorder, depression, or teen bipolar disorder.
While spending more time alone is a typical part of adolescence, excessive social isolation can indicate underlying problems such as depression, anxiety, or bullying.
Pay attention to changes in your teen’s social behavior, including withdrawing from friends and family, especially if they have typically been a very social person in the past.
A sudden drop in grades or a consistent decline in academic performance can be indicative of various issues. This might be related to mental health struggles, substance abuse, or difficulty coping with school-related stressors.
If your child is experiencing academic issues, especially if they don’t have a history of academic problems, it’s essential to address these issues promptly in order to prevent them from turning into more significant issues.
Experimentation with drugs or alcohol is not uncommon among teenagers. However, when it escalates to regular use or abuse, it becomes a significant concern.
Watch for signs such as changes in friends, secretive behavior, loss of interest in activities, and physical or emotional changes that could be linked to substance use.
A change in eating habits isn’t automatically a cause for concern. After all, as we age our pallet can change, which can lead to a change in eating habits. However, eating disorders can often emerge during adolescence as well.
So, if your teen exhibits severe changes in eating habits, such as extreme weight loss or obsessive calorie counting, it may be a sign of a larger issue that needs to be addressed professionally.
Self-harming behaviors like cutting, burning, or hitting oneself are alarming indicators of deep, emotional pain.
Open communication and support are essential in helping your teen find healthier coping mechanisms. It is also important at the first sign of any attempt at self-harm in young adults that professional intervention be done immediately.
While irritability is typical during adolescence, excessive anger, aggression, or violent outbursts may indicate an underlying issue.
If these outbursts continue even after you have talked to your teen about them then it may be time to seek guidance from a mental health professional.
Physical symptoms like chronic headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue can sometimes be manifestations of emotional distress or anxiety.
If your teen is constantly complaining about physical issues without a clear medical cause, consider consulting with their healthcare provider or a therapist.
While some risk-taking is part of adolescent development, extreme or dangerous behaviors, such as reckless driving, substance abuse, or unprotected sex, can indicate impulsivity and a lack of judgment.
Behaving in a reckless manner can also be a sign of a larger mental health issue such as anxiety and depression. Depression rehab for teens can help teens learn to manage their mental and emotional health.
Striving for excellence is commendable, but when it turns into an obsession with perfectionism, it can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
If you fear that your teen is taking their perfectionism to an unhealthy level, be on the lookout for signs of extreme self-criticism, excessive fear of failure, and avoidance of new challenges.
While screen time is common among teenagers, excessive use that interferes with daily life and responsibilities can be a red flag for addiction or escapism, leading to issues such as social isolation, sleep disturbances, and decreased physical activity.
As a parent, it is important to set reasonable limits and encourage a healthy balance between online and offline activities.
Persistent insomnia, nightmares, or a significant change in sleep patterns can be associated with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
Monitor your teen’s sleep habits and seek help if they experience chronic sleep disturbances.
How Can I Tell the Difference Between These Red Flags and Typical Teenager Behavior?
While it may seem easy at times to confuse some of these red flags for typical teenage behavior, doing so can have some very significant, and severe unintended consequences.
So, how can you tell the difference between the two? Here are some factors to keep in mind:
Red flags often persist over an extended period and are more intense than typical teenage behavior. If a behavior lasts for several weeks or months and significantly disrupts daily life, it may be a cause for concern.
Consider how the behavior affects your child’s daily functioning. If it interferes with their relationships, academic performance, or overall well-being, it may be a red flag.
Maintaining open and non-judgmental communication with your child is essential. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings and be receptive to their concerns. Doing so may just get them to come to you directly and let you know they are struggling.
And finally, as parents often do, trust your gut. If your gut is telling you something is wrong, chances are there is.
If, at any point, you suspect something is wrong, you can always consult a mental health or treatment professional. They can provide a comprehensive assessment and help determine the next steps in getting your teen the help they need.
Is Your Child Displaying Red Flags in Teenage Behavior?
At the Ridge, we understand that while a person’s teenage years are a time for change and self-discovery, it’s also a time when they are most at risk of struggling mentally. That’s why we specialize in treating teens and young adults who are struggling mentally and need professional intervention.
If your teen is struggling and could benefit from inpatient mental health care, contact us today.