Recently I served as a commentator on a radio interview on the BAM! radio network, with host Dr. Regina Rei Lamourelle and guests Dr. John Curry and Dr. Marc Olfson. The interview topic was on offering practical advice on how parents can make a determination on whether their teenager is just going through a normal period of sadness or something more serious and really in need of help.
I invite you to listen to the radio interview, In addition to the interview, I have included five red flags parents should pay attention to, in order to help them in making a determination on whether their teenager is going through a normal phase of being moody or experiencing a mental health issue.
While it is not unusual for teens to suddenly become less talkative with increased distance from their parents, some signs parents can look for can be a marked change in his or her typical interests and activities. A good example would be organized sports, such as basket ball or football, or other alternative activities such as skateboarding, or being a member of a club, and yes, even video games can make this list. While it is not necessary a red flag if an teenager loses complete interest in one activity, it certainly becomes concerning, if a teenager after losing interest in one activity, does not have or seek a replacement. Usually withdrawal from former interests is also accompanied by prolonged fatigue. If your teen seems more tired than usual and is content to sit on the couch and lay in bed for prolonged periods of time, this could be a sign of depression or something more serious.
The typical teenager will get by with a lot less sleep than the average adult. So while not the healthiest of habits, a bed time of midnight for a teenager is not unheard of. However parents should become concerned, if they notice their teenager has been sleeping excessively or constantly complaining about not getting enough sleep.
There are two easy ways to determine your teenager's normal level of concentration, these are consistency in grades and chores around the home. While an A average student, just getting by with Cs and Ds, is a big deal, a sudden difficulty in maintaining focus can be even more subtle in regards to evidence. For example, a B average student, now getting by with more Cs than Bs is a significant change. Also notice any difference in behavioral patterns around the home. For example, if your teenager is usually diligent in picking up the dog poop every day, and now it appears he waits three to four days to pick up after the dogs.
Eating and weight
People are different, some people tend to eat more when they are going through prolonged stress, while others tend to eat less and then there are others whose diets are not affected. If you know for a fact that your teen isn't training for any athletic event, or making a conscious decision to eat healthier, then any signs of radical weight loss or gain, over a period of at least one month, should raise concerns with parents.
Cigarettes, alcohol and drugs
There seems to be an increasing number of parents, who are willing to negotiate with their teenagers who abuse substances. Usually these parents will tell me that so long as their teen doesn't get into the "hard stuff " that they are willing to look the other way in regards to recreational using. The reality is that a significant number of teenagers who abuse substances are self medicating. Needless to note, drug use to any degree should be taken as a red flag and parents should adopt a zero tolerance policy.
So these are the five areas in a teenager's life, parents should be cognizant about if trying to make a determination between moodiness or something more serious. If you haven't clicked on the link to the radio interview, I invite you to do so.