Guide sheds light on when to worry about teens

October 05, 2007|By LISA PREJEAN

Parenting takes on a different dimension as children near the teenage years.

When do you hold on? When do you let go? When should you lighten up? When should you be concerned?

Parents should be concerned about any activity that is interfering with a teen's ability to function, particularly in three areas - at school, at home and in friendships, says Lisa Boesky, author of "When to Worry: How to Tell If Your Teen Needs Help - and What to Do About It."

If a teen is getting decent grades, is connecting with family members and has healthy relationships with friends, an occasional lapse from normalcy is not cause for concern, says Boesky, a clinical psychologist known as "Dr. Lisa."

"Some parents worry when they don't have to," Boesky says.

In her book, Boesky walks parents through several areas that can be potentially problematic during the teenage years.


It's normal for teens to be somewhat apathetic, flopping down on the couch and not wanting to talk when they first get home. But if they behave like that for an extended period, the behavior could be cause for concern, Boesky says.


"You start to worry about depression or drug use," she says.

It's important for parents to talk with and listen to their teens nonjudgmentally. If parents suspect a problem, they should talk to someone who has had experience in dealing with a wide variety of teens - pediatricians, school counselors, youth ministers. These professionals can tell parents if the behavior they are observing is out of the ordinary or just a part of the growing pains of adolescence.

Lack of focus

It's normal for teens to be distractible, Boesky says. "Lots of teens can't focus and they get along just fine." But if distractions are affecting their schoolwork, health or friendships, parents should do what they can to eliminate those distractions.

Weight obsession

Diets alone should not be cause for concern, especially if a big event is approaching. A girl who chooses to skip meals the week before homecoming shouldn't cause much concern. Yet if this behavior continues after the dance, or if she is forcing herself to throw up, that should be a concern.

Likewise, if a teen boy wants to increase his weight lifting the week before a big date, that's normal. If he seems consumed with getting bigger, that's not a good thing.

"It's the obsessive nature of it (that would be a concern)," Boesky says.

Slipping grades

Sometimes grades drop because of the subject matter or because a teacher's standards are particularly high. A dramatic drop in grades, however, should be a red flag to a parent that something could be wrong.

Mood swings

While mood swings are expected during the teen years, parents should not expect their teen's moodiness to affect schoolwork or friendships.

If a teen becomes moody to the point of aggression, that's a problem. Parents should intervene whenever a teen appears hostile or aggressive.

Extreme irritability and aggression can be symptoms of depression, especially in boys, Boesky says.


"It's normal for teens to be concerned about what other people think of them," Boesky says. They shouldn't be so scared that their extreme nervousness keeps them from attending school or community events.

Experimentation with drugs or alcohol

By the time they graduate from high school, 74 percent of teens have drunk alcohol. It's important that parents talk with teens about the dangers of alcohol, long before they reach high school.

Parents also need to keep tabs on their family medicine cabinet. Teens who perhaps wouldn't buy drugs off the street see no harm in abusing family members' prescription drugs, Boesky says.

It is "one of the most dangerous things kids are doing today that parents may not be aware of," she says.

Poor relationships

If a teen doesn't have friends, or if there is a sudden change in friends, that can be cause for concern, especially if the teen doesn't want his parents to meet the new friends.


Expect some rebellion during the teen years. Teens will challenge their parents, try to get away with things, break some rules.

However, they shouldn't completely disobey their parents or have no regard for household rules.

Knowing how to deal with behavior and what behaviors to tackle first can be challenging.

Boesky recommends concentrating on the most dangerous or harmful behavior first or the behavior that is interfering with functioning the most.

"A parent doesn't have to take action right away," Boesky says. "You can have a moody kid for a long time."

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Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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