Common Issues Facing Tweens

How Parents and Caregivers Can Help

Caucasian mother and daughter arguing in living room

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Growing up isn't always easy. With as much as preteens go through while transitioning into the teen years, it's no wonder that many of them find themselves facing some pretty troubling challenges. Parents, teachers, and other adults can help teens deal with their problems by being supportive and setting fair limits. Here are six ways preteens can stumble into trouble, as well as some solutions for the adults in their lives to help them back up when they fall.


There are many ways in which troubled tweens express themselves. For some, it's through risk-taking. But troubled tweens are not the only ones who take chances. Risk-taking is common among tweens and teens in general, largely because kids this age tend to believe that they are invincible.

Risk-taking manifests in many different ways. For some preteens, that might include binge drinking, having sex, and taking chances with their own safety.

Substance Use

Many parents mistakenly believe that the risks of smoking, underage drinking, and drug use are solely reserved for teenagers. Unfortunately, preteens also sometimes engage in underage drinking, smoking, and other dangers, such as inhalants.

According to research, early warning signs of alcohol and substance use include:

  • Changes in behavior and mood
  • Sudden or frequent changes in friends
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, and activities
  • Unsatisfactory excuses for behaviors
  • Refusal to communicate with family members
  • Truancy and delinquency
  • Low motivation
  • Risky behaviors
  • Depression, mood swings, and apathy
  • Physical signs such as dilated pupils, pinpoint pupils, bloodshot eyes, weight changes, and needle marks 
  • Changes in sleep habits and energy levels

Being able to recognize signs that your child is using alcohol, drugs, or engaging in other risky behaviors can help you combat the problem sooner rather than later.

Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety can affect children and adults, and in both cases, it can be a difficult and challenging obstacle. Children who are depressed often pull away from friends, have trouble sleeping, or change their eating habits, among other symptoms (some of which may be different from those you see in adults with depression).

If you suspect that your child may have depression or anxiety, talk to your teen's pediatrician.

Their doctor will conduct an evaluation to assess symptoms and look for any medical problem that might be contributing to these symptoms. Your doctor may then recommend treatments or refer your teen to a mental health professional for further evaluation and treatment.

In addition to getting your tween the professional help they need, encourage them to try self-help strategies like exercising, eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, and spending time with friends.


For obese and overweight children, life can sometimes be extra tough. Youth who seriously struggle with weight often face social issues and may have trouble fitting in. In addition, they also have higher rates of depression and other behavior problems. If your child is overweight, be aware of their self-esteem and offer assistance in helping your child overcome their weight issues healthfully, as well as any other challenges that may come with it.

Depression and anxiety can also contribute to obesity since changes in appetite and activity levels are common with both conditions. Kids who are dealing with symptoms of depression may feel too fatigued to be physically active and may eat more than they normally would. Getting them help for any underlying mental health issues may be the first step to getting healthier physically, too.

Self-Esteem Issues

For many troubled teens, self-esteem—or the lack thereof—can be a huge problem. Poor self-esteem is associated with a number of negative consequences that can influence teen development at the transition into young adulthood, including disordered eating, depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicide. 

Research also suggests that these early self-esteem struggles may have long-lasting consequences. Low self-esteem during adolescence is linked to lower educational status, increased financial difficulties, increased unemployment, and poorer physical and mental well-being in adulthood.

There are many ways to help your child build a healthy self-esteem.

  • It's important to be positive and encouraging
  • It's also just as important to give them opportunities to both succeed and fail.
  • Be sure to point out that you do not expect perfection from your child—you just want them to give it a try and do their best.

Inadequate Supervision

There are a number of ways your child can find their way into trouble. Excessive unsupervised free time can sometimes lead tweens to stumble into trouble.

This doesn't mean that every moment of your child's life needs to be booked up with scheduled activities, classes, or events. In fact, research has shown that having less-structured time is important for the development of critical skills including self-directedness and self-regulation. 

But your child should be aware of your expectations for them and understand that certain behaviors are off-limits, no matter what. Establishing rules and boundaries, providing good supervision, and communicating with your child can help keep them on track and out of trouble.

Tips for Parents

If your tween is experiencing any of these challenges, there are things that you can do to offer support and assistance.

Talk to Your Tween

The first thing parents and caregivers can do is open up a line of communication with your child. This doesn't mean peppering your child with questions—an approach that can often backfire at this age—but rather, being direct when it seems appropriate. In other cases, just set aside time to spend with your child.

Listen to what they have to say and talk about the things that they want to discuss. Try to avoid being overly judgmental and don't dismiss their feelings.

Pay Attention to the Signs

Even if you talk to your child often, you should always stay alert for the signs and symptoms of a problem. It's important to avoid overreacting since kids this age can be more dramatic and moody in general.

Some things that might be a cause for concern include:

  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • Negative self-talk and low self-esteem
  • Problems at school, including difficulty concentrating and poor attendance
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Reckless behaviors
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Tearfulness and frequent bouts of crying
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Fatigue, sleeping all day, or lack of energy
  • Thoughts or comments about death or suicide

If your tween has been experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, you should talk to a doctor. Your child's pediatrician can look for underlying medical issues that may be contributing to these symptoms, treat depression or anxiety problems, or refer you to a mental health professional who can recommend additional treatments.

If your child is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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