The Truth About Troubled Teens

Educate yourself about the real problems today's teens face.

Todor Tsvetkov / E+ / Getty Images

Although no parent wants to think about tough topics, like teen suicide, teen pregnancy, and teen violence, those issues are real among many of today's teenagers.

It's important for parents to be informed about the issues many teenagers are facing. Even if your teen never experiences any serious problems first-hand, they'll likely have friends and classmates who do.

In the next 24 hours in the United States:

  • 1,439 teens will attempt suicide.
  • 2,795 teenage girls will become pregnant.
  • 15,006 teens will use drugs for the first time.
  • 3,506 teens will run away.
  • 2 teens will be murdered.

Youth and Crime

  • In 2018, the United States handled approximately 744,500 juvenile delinquency cases.
  • Less than one-third of crimes committed by juveniles are committed by females. 
  • Almost 16,400 crimes involved weapons. 
  • About 100,000 drug-related offenses.

Teen Suicide

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34. 
  • More teens and young adults die from suicide than from heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, pneumonia, influenza, cancer, and lung disease combined.
  • Four out of five teens who attempt suicide give warning signs. But often, those signs are missed or ignored. 

Teen Pregnancy

  • In 2017, there were 194,377 babies born to women between the ages of 15 and 19. 
  • Although teen births are on the decline in the United States, the rate is still higher than in other western industrialized nations.
  • Teen pregnancy costs taxpayers billions of dollars annually. Costs consist of increased health care, foster care, increased incarceration rates among teen parents, and lost tax revenue to pregnant teens being more likely to drop out of school. 

Teen Mental Health

  • 20% of adolescents live with a mental health condition. 
  • 50% of all mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% begins by age 24.
  • The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. 
  • 70% of teens who commit crimes have a mental illness. 
  • High school students with significant symptoms of depression are more than twice as likely to drop out compared to their peers. 
  • 90% of teens who kill themselves have an underlying mental illness. 

Understanding the Risks

Arming yourself with the facts can be the first step in reducing your teen's risks. When you understand the challenges many teens are facing, you can take steps to prevent problems before they start. 

And if you do see signs of a problem, take immediate action. Whether you suspect your teen is abusing drugs, or you see some early warning signs of depression, talk to your teen's pediatrician.

Ignoring the problem won't make it go away. In fact, your teen's problems may get worse. Early intervention is the key to helping your teen. 

How to Talk to Your Teen

Even if you think your teen would never try drugs or isn't sexually active, it's important to talk about it. Here are some ways to make the conversations most effective:

  • Ask about other people. Instead of saying like, "Has anyone ever offered you drugs?" which may cause your teen to feel like they're being interrogated, ease your way into the conversation by asking about other people. Say, "Do you think drugs are a big problem in your school?" Then listen to what your teen has to say.
  • Ask for your teen's opinion. Rather than lecture your teen about the dangers of alcohol, ask questions like, "What do you think about the drinking age?" This could spark an interesting discussion about why it's illegal for kids to drink.
  • Strike up conversations when you're doing something. Sitting down for a "heart to heart" can be anxiety-provoking for everyone. So make it a more casual conversation that you bring up while you're playing pass. Talking while driving in the car can be easier too as you won't be facing one another directly.
  • Hold ongoing conversations. A single conversation about teen pregnancy or the risks of underage drinking won't be enough. Hold ongoing conversations about some of the risks teens face to ensure that your teen is really hearing your message.

If you or your child are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 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.

7 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.
  1. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Juveniles in Court: Estimated number of delinquency cases.

  2. U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Girls in the Juvenile Justice System.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Suicide Prevention Fast Facts.

  4. American SPCC. Teen Suicide & Depression.

  5. Jason Foundation, Inc. (JFI). Youth Suicide: Warning Signs.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About Teen Pregnancy.

  7. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Mental Health by the Numbers.

By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.