When should you worry about your teenager?

Many parents feel that if they knew in advance what it would be like to have an adolescent in the house, they might have thought twice about becoming a parent in the first place.

"It is so difficult to walk the thin line between interest and interference in the life of your teenaged child," says Cape Town psychologist, Ilse Terblanche. "And it is also difficult to know when you should be worried, and when you are just dealing with the usual teenage tantrums."

And the teenage tantrums really are mostly not their fault – with hormones raging like they do during adolescence, it's no wonder that your sweet 12-year-old has changed into a sarcastic, door-slamming 13-year-old. Keep in mind that psychological problems often manifest differently in teenagers, than they would in adults, so it may be wise to consult the professionals before deciding on any course of action.

So when should you worry?

Acne agony. A few pimples are unavoidable during adolescence, but when your child starts getting real acne, it's time to get him/her to the doctor. Not only can acne scar, it can also play havoc with a 15-year-old's social life. Make a plan.

Lonesome tonight. All people need time on their own, but when you notice your child spending more and more time at home alone, and not going anywhere with friends, it's time to worry. It could be something like a temporary falling out with friends, but it could also be something serious like depression. Another classic sign of depression is a lack of interest in activities that were formerly enjoyed.

Sexual ignorance. If your child is ignorant about sex and the dangers of unprotected sex, why haven't you done anything about it? Talk to your kids – it could save their lives. Gone are the days when an unwanted pregnancy was the worst thing that could happen if they had sex with their current love interest.

Bad report cards. Bad marks at school are usually the first sign of something being wrong. If your child's marks have suddenly plummeted by 20%, something has changed drastically. Find out what it is as soon as possible. But remember, merely putting pressure on your child to improve the marks without finding out what the problem is, is not a solution.

Discarding all old friends. We all change from time to time, and if you think about it, how many friends do you still have, that you had ten years ago? But seriously, if your child has suddenly discarded all their old friends and is now hanging out with a new crowd that you don't particularly like the look of, it's time to worry.

Items disappearing from home. If your teen is supporting a drug habit, items disappearing from the home is often the first sign of this problem. Most teens don't get enough pocket money to support a drug habit, so if they're doing drugs, they'll need to supplement their income from elsewhere. But make sure of your facts before you go around making any damaging accusations.

Caginess regarding whereabouts. If your son or daughter is suddenly vague about where they're going with whom, sit up and take notice. You have a right to know where they are at all times. If they won't tell you where they're heading, it's because they know their destination will upset you.

Constant dieting. There is a difference between watching what you eat and being on constant starvation diets. There is a lot of pressure on teens to be thin and many would go to great lengths to conform to this. But if your teenager stops eating in front of you, or starts exercising excessively, there could be a problem, which could manifest in an eating disorder.

Bunking school. Most people at some stage of their lives have bunked a few classes or even a whole day from school. But mostly, these are spent at home and not on street corners. If the school alerts you to unexplained absences of your child from class, find out what's going on. Usually by the time the school cottons on, it's been going on for a while. What's happening at school that makes your child not want to go there?

Booze blues. Most teens experiment at some stage with alcohol. But people who turn out to be alcoholics in later life, often started drinking in their teens. It's not difficult to get hold of alcohol in South Africa and if you suspect your teen is indulging regularly, it's time for a serious talk. Which of course, you can only give, if you don't down a six-pack at every available opportunity.

Read more:
Acne Centre
Teen zone

(Mandy Borrain, Health24)

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