Adolescent Blogs

Parents can Look for Signs of a Teen Danger

    Teenagers typically experience what has been called adolescent angst. Very simply, adolescent angst is an acute feeling of anxiety or apprehension that is often accompanied by depression.

Every one of us who has lived through adolescence has experienced this. It is frustrating, painful,and occasionally frightening — both for teens themselves and for their parents.

During the early teenage years, both boys and girls often experience wide mood swings that can make them wildly enthusiastic, optimistic, and euphoric at times, while at other times leaving them mopey, depressed, and convinced that nothing good, exciting, or romantic will ever happen again in their whole lives. These mood swings can last for hours or days, but they are normal for the age and usually don’t signal serious depression.

However, during early adolescence — roughly the years from 11 to 14 — most teens are preoccupied with being normal. They spend hours in front of mirrors, minutely checking their appearance and grooming. They are overly conscious of the changes in their body, they are hypercritical of themselves and their emotional reactions are overwhelming to them — and often to everyone else around them.

By middle adolescence — ages 14 to 16 or later — they are more independent, consistently challenge authority, and try to negotiate new rules. They are more likely to conform to their peer group, doing what their friends are doing. That often includes copying similar communication styles, wearing the same kinds of clothes, trying out the same hair designs and experimenting with ways of walking, slouching, mumbling, decorating their bodies with tattoos, or using drugs.

Risk-taking behavior occurs more at this stage of development. And a hazard of this stage is feeling infallible and acting as if they are invulnerable. They are “into themselves,” have little consideration for others, and frequently think and believe no one — especially their parents — understands them.

Parents find them arrogant, private, and uncommunicative.

What I’ve just described is a snapshot of the normal teenager during early and middle adolescence. Accompanying new behaviors and various kinds of experimentation is adolescent angst.

But at what point should you become concerned whether your teen’s behavior has crossed the line from angst to abnormal?

Actually, there is a fine line between angst and problems such as violence, depression, and substance abuse. Given recent problems of teens, such as school shootings in various high schools around the country and the “kill list” a Michigan boy was showing classmates, it’s good to look for some of the signs that a teenager has crossed that fine line and requires help.

Mary E. Muscari, Ph.D., is a professor and director of forensic health at the University of Scranton, in Scranton, Pa.

The author of a parenting series titled “Not My Kid,” she says parents should be concerned if their teenager lacks a peer group or a best friend; has moodiness that lasts more than a few days; exhibits constant complaints of boredom or being treated unfairly; shows persistent defiance, lying, stealing or delinquent behavior; and has self-destructive behaviors.

The FBI in its threat assessment perspective related to school shooters, reports there are some warning signs of a youth who may engage in violent acts.

Although the FBI indicates it’s easier to see these signals after a violent incident has occurred, parents and others should be concerned about teens who show a recurring preoccupation with themes of violence, hopelessness, despair, hatred, isolation, or an “end-of-the-world” philosophy.

Furthermore, the FBI says a youth with poor coping skills, who lacks resiliency, who collects injustices against himself, and who dehumanizes others could be a teen who is in emotional trouble.

Muscari adds that parents should be concerned when a teen relies on violence to solve problems or has a fascination with weapons or explosives.

 

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