Every stage of parenting has its unique joys and challenges. But for some parents, the teenage years can be especially daunting. As your child moves into adolescence, they’ll experience new types of social pressures as they explore their own identity.
So which behaviors and risks do parents need to be aware of?
While you can’t protect your child from everything, there are some red flags to look out for. Mindfully addressing these subjects and encouraging your child to be open with you will help them navigate these formative years. Here are some of the main dangers parents with teens need to be on guard against:
1. Substance Use
Alcohol and drug use can have a serious effect on a teen’s health and development, potentially leading to other risky behaviors. And in some cases, substance use turns into an addiction. Parents should be aware of the common warning signs of teen substance use. These include changes in personality, unusual behavior, poor hygiene, and changes in overall health, among others.
If your teen is using drugs and alcohol, it can have a snowball effect on their well-being — including their mental health. For example, the use of certain drugs and substances can increase the risk of psychosis in some. These effects could lead to the need for antipsychotic medications like Seroquel. While Seroquel can help for a period of time, the medication can have many side effects and could lead to withdrawal symptoms.
Health challenges like these can be especially difficult during the teen years. Parents can protect their teen from such health risks by having open conversations about drugs and alcohol.
2. Mental Illness
Most mental health conditions show up during the teenage and young adult years, so now is the time to be mindful of your teen’s mental health. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental disorders that teenagers experience.
Parents can catch the symptoms of these conditions early on by monitoring their teen’s behavior and checking in often. While symptoms vary, common signs of mental illness in teens include irritability, isolation, insomnia, fatigue, weight changes, and loss of interest in hobbies.
If you notice that your teen is showing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or another mood disorder, find a moment to talk. You should also schedule an appointment with their doctor to get a diagnosis, if any, and start treatment as needed. While your child might push back at first, it’s your job to provide guidance and get them the help they need.
3. Poor Academic Performance
Some teens take school seriously, while others would rather do anything else. It’s possible that your teen falls into the latter category. The college-bound academic track isn’t for everyone, of course. Still, poor academic performance can be a sign of a bigger issue like the substance use or mental health challenges discussed above.
Remember, it’s normal to complain about homework and studying. But if your teen is skipping school, failing classes, or neglecting academics altogether, it’s time for a conversation. If your teen has gone off the academic rails, guidance counselors and trusted teachers can help them get back on track.
4. Social Media Addiction
Today’s teens use social media to connect with friends, explore their identity, and engage with their interests. However, occasionally social media use can quickly cross into unhealthy territory. Scrolling through social media for hours every day can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, poor sleep, and a lack of self-esteem in teens.
If you’re concerned about your teen’s social media use, talk with them about the effects of social media and set healthy boundaries. This might include banning cell phones at the dinner table and leaving devices off during family activities. Naturally, parents should lead by example by checking their own social media habits.
5. Unsafe Sex
Parents often dread having “the talk” with their teenagers. However, many teenagers start their first romantic relationships and experiment with sexual activity during their high school years. Discussing safe sex with your teenager can help them avoid risky sexual behavior or any sexual activity they aren’t comfortable with.
Unsafe sex can lead to consequences like pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but don’t use scare tactics on your teen. That might lead to a reluctance to confide in you.
Rather, talk calmly with your teen about these potential risks, as well as specific ways to avoid them. Remind them that it’s OK to say “no.” You want your child to come to you if they’re uncomfortable with a situation, rather than feeling ashamed and hiding it from you.
6. Lack of Sleep
Sleep is vital to a teenager’s physical, emotional, and mental development, but many adolescents aren’t getting the shuteye they need. There are several factors that keep teens up at night. Stress and anxiety from school and their social life might have your teen’s mind racing. It’s also possible that scrolling through social media before bed is cutting into their sleep time.
Parents can help their teens catch more Z’s by helping them develop a wind-down routine. You might also place limits on smartphone use before bed. However, parents should remember that lack of sleep can be a sign of a mental health condition or sleep disorder. Talk to your child’s doctor if you have any serious concerns.
Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t always stop after your child’s playground days. Teenage bullies are a real concern, and social media and texting provide a whole new platform for harassment. If your teen is being bullied, they might be nervous to go to school, withdraw from loved ones, and exhibit poor self-esteem.
Teens are often hesitant to speak up, but it’s important to encourage them to talk to a trusted adult at school. You can also encourage them to block social media users who might be bullying them. And, of course, don’t hesitate to get involved if you’re worried for your teen’s safety.
But what if your teen is the bully? This can be an especially tricky situation. In this case, talk to your child about their behaviors and why they are treating others poorly. Make it clear that while you won’t tolerate the behavior, you want to understand what motivated it. You may also wish to enlist support from a school counselor or therapist to get to the root of your child’s issue.
While there are certainly risks to keep in mind during your child’s teenage years, there are also rewards. You’ll likely feel closer to your child than ever as they grow closer to adulthood. Now is the time to start open conversations and create an environment of trust. You can help your teen not only navigate adolescence but thrive in it.