When to Worry: Teen Angst or Something More?

by | Jul 23, 2009 | Depression and Suicide

REALITY CHECK: Did you know that 60 percent of teens are suffering–right this minute–from a serious bout of depression but are not diagnosed or receiving treatment?

I know all kids can be irritable and sometimes secretive, but how do I know when my child’s behavior isn’t normal and I should seek professional help?

— Donna L., from Honolulu Hawaii

All kids can be irritable, want to be secretive, and appear and even act alien- like. But when should a parent worry—really worry about their child? That question has caused many a sleepless night for moms and dads. Unfortunately there really is no clear-cut “warning list” as to when we should seek professional help for our children. But there are a few signs that can be valuable clues that all is not well. Here are ten tips from my new book, THE BIG BOOK OF PARENTING SOLUTIONS: 101 ANSWERS TO YOUR EVERYDAY CHALLENGES AND WILDEST WORRIES that tell you what you’re facing is probably not typical, not teen angst. It’s time to pick up the phone to get help and not wait. (And any ONE of these may be an indication that it’s time to use your gut instinct and seek help).

  • Marked difference from your child’s normal. What is “normal” behavior for your child? Some kids are a bit moodier, restless, or private. Your job is to discover your child’s typical everyday behavior. Once you really know you’re his personality and temperament, look for a marked change in what’s normal for your child. Every child is going to feel sad or be angry, but if you see a sudden change in your child’s usual behavior that lasts every day for two weeks then something is going on and you should look further into the cause or get help.

  • Increase in physical ailments and illnesses. Are you noticing an increase in physical ailments such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, light-headedness, sweaty palms, sleeplessness or always sleeping? Sure, those can be symptoms of illness, but they can also be signs of stress, anxiety, or depression. It’s easy to confuse emotional symptoms with physical ones (“She must be just overly-tired.” “If you’re nauseous and feeling light-headed, you must be coming down with the flu.”) so tune into your child’s physical well-being a bit closer. Do the symptoms decrease over time or with usual over-the-counter medication and rest or reoccur? When is the last time your child had a good physical and mentioned the symptoms to the doctor?

  • Sudden behavior change. There’s a marked, sudden, or intense change in your child’s behavior such anger, defiance, crying, eating, dress habits or trouble in school. Is your child suddenly spending more and more alone time, appear sad, have a much tougher time concentrating, or lack interest in things she loves to do?

  • Preoccupied with death or pervasive moodiness. Your child is preoccupied with death: drawing pictures or writing poems about death, asking questions about funerals, giving away personal belongs, constantly listening to sad songs or lyrics about dying.

  • Your gut instinct. Your instinct says something is just not right. You might not be able to put your finger on the cause, but there is an aspect of your child that is different and is causing you to worry. This is the one sign parents don’t rely on nearly enough. So use your instinct. If you think something is wrong, chances are you’re right.

  • Trusted caregivers voice concern. Other people who know your child well have shared their concerns. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the comment. They might be seeing your child in a different situation or group. Instead, ask for specifics. What exactly is the concern? How often do they see the behavior? How long has the behavior been going on? Enlist the help of those individuals who care about your child and whose opinions you trust.

  • Pulls back from interests. Those things your child used to love to do – basketball, yoga, reading, texting – he does no more. He pulls back from his interests and withdraws from his loves. And it lasts every day for two weeks.

  • You can no longer parent effectively. Your relationship with your child is deteriorating. You can no longer parent this child. You or your family is walking on eggs shells.

  • Safety is an issue. Your child is engaged in risky behaviors that could put his life–or your property–in jeopardy.

  • The child wants help. Your child tells you something is wrong and wants help. Trust him.

Bottom line: If you ever have a strong feeling that something is wrong, then don’t wait. Pick up the phone and get help. When it’s about your child’s well-being, nothing is more important than peace of mind.

This blog is excerpted from my latest book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries now available for advance order online or through Amazon.   http://bit.ly/131Wyt

You can also receive daily Parenting Solutions by following me on twitter @micheleborba or my blog www.micheleborba