Worried a teen you know is in trouble? Find out how to identify key symptoms

The warning signs that something is wrong with your teen

When children start spinning out of control, they usually exhibit many signs of which parents should be aware. Unfortunately, many parents dismiss these signs as normal adolescent behaviour. As a result, they don’t realize their child is involved in drugs, promiscuity, illegal activities, or other at-risk behaviour until it is too late. So how can you, as a parent, know whether or not your child is in danger? Simple… by understanding that every child is in danger. Parents who says, “Not my kid,” are the same parents who stay in denial until their son or daughter is in real trouble. So what should you be looking for?

Dramatic changes in style of clothes, hair, music

These signs of rebellion should be obvious to a parent. Has your child started listening to radically different music such as heavy metal or punk rock? Is your kid colouring his hair some weird colour just to fit in? Is your child ‘dressing down’ to fit in with friends at school? These are outward signs that your child is succumbing to negative peer pressure.

Hanging out with a bad crowd (a different crowd)

One way to assess what your child is like is to look at his closest friends. He may tell you his friends are cool kids; but chances are, the way these friends behave is the way he behaves when you’re not around. Do some of his friends smoke cigarettes or pot? If so, odds are your child is smoking too.

Tardiness or truancies

Stay in touch with your child’s school; never assume the school will be in touch with you about problems. If your child is getting into drugs, odds are, he will start ditching class. Kids who do this, tend to leave during the middle of school, and get stoned somewhere near the campus. Realize that kids are great at covering up their actions. Every kid knows how to forge his parent’s signature—no joke. Call your child’s school from time to time and ask about his attendance. You need to take the initiative!

Isolating from family

Is your child distant? Does he constantly want to be with his friends, away from home? When you ask him what he’s been doing, does he give a vague reply? Does your child want to eat in his room instead of with the family? Children are smart; they know the easiest lie is the one they can avoid having to tell. If your child doesn’t tell you what he has been doing, there’s a good chance he is hiding something.

Changes in attitude and personality

Does it seem like your child is suddenly a completely different person? Has your child developed a tough-guy attitude? If your child is experimenting with at-risk behaviour, there’s a good chance you’ll see these changes. Often parents think this is just normal teenaged behavior, and they dismiss it. Don’t make this mistake; otherwise, you might overlook one of the most obvious signs.

Changes in sleep patterns

These changes should be fairly obvious. Does your child stay up late (or even all night) frequently, refusing to get up in the morning? Does your child sleep way too much or way too little? If your child isn’t sleeping much, there’s a good chance he is using drugs. This is a common effect of this kind of stimulant.

Foul language

Has your child suddenly started using foul or obscene language, excessively? This might indicate he is giving in to peer pressure, and it should be a warning sign to you. If your child is trying to fit in with his friends by cussing, sooner or later he will probably look for other ways to gain acceptance. One of these ways is often drugs.

Eating way too much or way too little

Here’s another obvious sign of drug experimentation that is often overlooked as normal teenaged behavior. Does your child come home in the afternoon after hanging out with friends and devour everything in the refrigerator? If your child is smoking pot with his friends, it wouldn’t be unusual for him to eat more food than normal. If your child skips quite a few consecutive meals, “speed” use is a possibility.

Paranoia – everyone is out to get me

Does your child treat everybody as if he were the enemy? Does he believe everybody is out to get him? Does he seem overly paranoid? Understand, this is not normal teenaged behaviour. This is one of the most common signs of drug abuse and one you don’t have to look hard to see.

Dilated eyes – red eyes – glazed eyes

Do your child’s eyes look funny? Are they red all the time? Glazed? Are the pupils abnormally large or abnormally small? Does your child wear sunglasses, even at night, claiming they’re just to look cool? A person’s eyes show the effects of drugs. If you think your child is experimenting with drugs, pay attention to his eyes.

Sudden bursts of anger

Has your child developed a violent tendency, physical violence or yelling or threatening people? Is he prone to sudden, uncontrollable fits of anger? These are warning signs that your child could be experimenting with alcohol or drugs.


If your child is experimenting with drugs, he will try to cover it, and teens are very good at lying. If you suspect your child is lying, there is a good chance your instincts are right. Be persistent, and learn what it is he’s covering up.

Dramatic mood swings

Does your child seems real happy one day, then terribly depressed the next? Do your child’s emotions go up and down constantly? This is often confused with ‘normal’ teenaged behaviour, but it can also be a sign of drug abuse. Don’t simply write it off.

Excessive spending or missing money

If you keep noticing money is missing from your purse or wallet, or if your child keeps asking for money—especially for round amounts, 20 dollars or 50 dollars; often how drugs are priced—you need to have a serious talk with him.