Warning Signs / Teens in Crisis

One of the hardest parts when talking about teens in crisis is warning signs. This area is so broad and so full of contradiction and chance that sometimes we get bogged down in lists and “ways to tell” that we forget to actually just pay attention to our teens.

The first step in knowing the warning signs to a teen that might be in crisis is knowing YOUR TEEN. Your teen has his/her own distinct personality. I can’t talk to you about isolation if your teen already likes to stay in and play video games, right?

Communication is the key here. I’ll repeat it over and over in many blogs to come. You have to know what and who you are dealing with in order to deal with it appropriately and effectively.

Lets talk about warning signs. At this point you have taken your teens personality and social traits into consideration and now we are going to look at some signs that I have seen many times over when it comes to teens in crisis.


1. The first warning sign I want to focus on is huge. I can’t stress it enough actually. If your teen changes his social scene completely this could be a warning sign. Now, I’m not talking about the normal going from “having friends” to actually having a social scene. I’m talking about a complete reboot of his/her social scene. If you notice that all new friends are around and the old ones are no longer coming around then it might be worth investigating.

There are perfectly acceptable reasons why this might happen as well. Joining a sport or activity & popularity are just a few examples. You have to investigate.

There is no right to privacy here because what we are talking about is the difference of a lifetime. Changing the course of a teens behavior could be the difference between a lifetime of struggle and a lifetime of success. You can investigate anyway you see fit, you’re in this to protect the life of your teen and if that means you become “uncool” a “snitch” or if you have to “invade their privacy” you do it, and you do it with pride.

2. Secondly, and just as important, is your teens general mood/personality. I can’t stress this enough. If your teen is a typical respectful teen who all of a sudden is verbally aggressive or abuse when speaking to you or if your teen STOPS speaking to you when they are typically open and vocal, its time to start the investigation! This includes the teens sleeping habits & personal hygiene. If things have changed dramatically parents, then you can bet there is something going on. Communication is the only way any of this works.

One of the worst phrases I’ve ever heard and often the second or third sentence whenever a youth told their story to me at a group home or detention center is “My parents just thought it was just a phase.”

A phase may change a teens attitude or outlook a little, a phase may make a rude teen a little more verbally aggressive but it does not turn a well-behaved teen into a terror seemingly overnight.

Something is wrong, somebody is in pain and its time to find out what is going on. 

3.  Negative Culture vs Finding Themselves. So many “cool” parents try to argue with me on this one but I’ve seen it time after time. Yes, it is possible for a kid to like reggae music and not smoke marijuana but is it likely that your kid is that much of an enthusiast of the music? You need to investigate. What got your teen into this? Was your teen a music enthusiast before this? What and how are they learning about this? Counter culture & paraphernalia culture exist for a reason and people participate because they either have this as part of their culture or want to investigate more into this culture.

STOP: This means your teen has questions! This is one of those perfect times to talk about topics like drugs, sex, peer pressure, or whatever the pressing issues of your household are.

PARENTS: “Drugs are bad” “Sex is bad” “Don’t do it cause I said so”
These ARE NOT conversations. These are one-sided and will never be effective.

4. Lastly, changes in grades.

Here’s the thing parents.

When a teen struggles with something at school you can expect to see grades change as the teen struggles. Gradually they will move up or down and you can see signs of struggle. If you find out one day that your teen is failing or that your teen is in an educational crisis that chances are something was missed and this is a warning sign that things have changed and you were not even aware.

Don’t freak out! Collect your thoughts. Decide where this needs to go and what the best course of action to turn this around is. Have options. Allow your teen to be “in control” of the choices but only have the choices you approve available.

Remember: Investigation & Communication, Their LIFE outweighs Their Privacy, Use opportunities to communication when they naturally come up.

Take these warning signs and transform them into opportunities to educate and help your teen find what they are looking for in a safe and controlled environment.

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