When children start spinning out of control, they usually exhibit many warning 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 say, “Not my kid,” are the same parents who stay in denial until their son or daughter is in real trouble.
Once you recognize your child is exhibiting these warning signs, sit down with them and talk about the concerns that you have. Our "In Crisis? Start Here" series is a good place to start. While many of these warning signs are also normal teenage problems, it's better to open up communication before you see multiple warning signs coming into focus.
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? 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.
Unhealthy obsession with new friend group:
When your child enters middle school and high school they will inevitably meet new friends. This is good. But is your teen changing their behavior, appearance, or values to fit in with a new group of friends? This could be a sign of unhealthy or dangerous friendships, especially if the group your child is trying to fit in with seems to have questionable values.
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.
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, red, or 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.
Lying once to go to a party is one thing, but consistently lying about where they have been and who they have been with may be a sign that your teen is headed down a dangerous path. Clearly there is a reason they don’t want you, as the parent, to know where they’ve been. When you catch them in a lie, try to get to the bottom of what they were trying to hide using active listening, not by lecturing or guilt tripping.
Teens will be moody, there’s no question there. Their bodies and hormones are changing, moodiness can be expected. If your child suddenly has extreme fits of anger, long stints of sadness, consistently expresses hatred towards family members, or displays ongoing disrespectful attitudes, it may be a sign that something deeper is going on. Pay attention and attempt to determine what your child’s “triggers” may be. If these extreme moods continue for months without any logical triggers, it may be a sign of a mental health disorder or other complex behavioural problems. Don’t simply write it off as normal teen behaviour.
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.
Unexplained large sums of money:
Is your unemployed or minimum wage-earning teen showing up at home with expensive jewelry, new gadgets or fancy clothes you’ve never seen? Unexplained money, coupled with a withdrawn and defiant teen, can often be the sign of a more serious issue like drug dealing or stealing. Teens living this lifestyle may also seem to lose money or valuables very quickly, as they trade it for drugs or are in unsafe situations where they have things stolen.
Are there signs that your teen is cutting, burning or in any way mutilating themselves physically? If so, get help now. Do not attempt to intervene without professional help. Self-harm is commonly a coping mechanism, not a form of self-destruction. To remove the coping mechanism without replacing it with a healthy way to cope and a safety plan can be disastrous. This is not a warning sign that should be taken lightly! Learn more about self-harm here: https://www.familylives.org.uk/advice/teenagers/health-wellbeing/self-harm
No remorse for actions:
All teens will make mistakes regardless of our parenting. The question here is: how do they react when they are caught? If your teen shows no remorse of guilt for the mistakes they have made, if they blatantly defy the rules you have laid out and demonstrate indifference when confronted, it is time to seek help.
We hope that this content has been informative and helpful. It is our desire to help families and bring struggling teens back together. We encourage you to share this information with others who may be in need.
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