Common Issues Facing Teens

How Parents and Caregivers Can Help

Caucasian mother and daughter arguing in living room

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Growing up isn't easy. It's no wonder that many adolescents face some pretty difficult challenges as they transition from childhood to adulthood, and they may respond by acting out.

Parents, teachers, and other adults can help teens by being supportive and setting fair limits. Of course, it's also important to identify the types of issues teens often face. These teen troubles are common, but not inevitable. If you are worried about your child, start by observing their behavior and seeking to identify what's happening.

Risk-Taking

There are many ways in which teens express themselves. For some, it's through risk-taking. Risk-taking is common among both tweens (kids aged 10 to 12) and teens (kids age 13 to 19), largely because kids this age tend to believe that they are invincible.

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

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1 in 10 teens ages 16 and 17 reported binge drinking in 2019. 

Substance Use

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are the substances that are most commonly used by teens. However, adolescents also use prescription drugs, inhalants, and other illicit substances. Early warning signs of alcohol and substance use include:

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

Being able to recognize signs that your child is using alcohol, drugs, or engaging in other risky behaviors can help you address 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 their pediatrician about diagnosis and treatment.

If your child is experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, their doctor will conduct an evaluation 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 teen 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.

Obesity

For obese and overweight children, life can sometimes be extra tough. Youth who struggle with weight often face social issues and may have trouble fitting in. They also have higher rates of depression and other behavior problems.

If your child is overweight, be aware of the risk it poses to their self-esteem. Offer assistance in helping your child overcome their weight issues, as well as any other challenges that may accompany them.

Depression and anxiety can 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 improving their physical health, too.

Self-Esteem Issues

For many 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 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

Excessive unsupervised free time can sometimes lead teens into trouble. This doesn't mean that every moment of your child's life needs to be booked 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.

How Parents Can Help

If your teen is experiencing any of these challenges, it's important to step in. Your teen needs your support and assistance as they navigate adolescence.

Talk to Your Teen

The first thing to 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. While it's important to avoid overreacting, since kids this age can be more dramatic and moody, these behaviors should be cause for concern:

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

Seek Help

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.

If your child's behavior or comments concern you, get help from a mental health professional. Your child's doctor or school guidance counselor can help connect you to mental health care and resources.

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11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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