Red Flags in Teenage Behavior

Written By

Helen Kaminski, MSc


Fact Checked

Red Flags In Teenage Behavior

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Teenage years are full of changes. As teens go through puberty and brain development, it’s normal for them to test boundaries and exhibit mood swings or risk-taking behaviors.

However, some teenage behaviors can indicate underlying issues that require attention from parents.

Being aware of potential red flags can help parents determine when intervention may be needed.

Depressive Symptoms

  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Expressing hopelessness about the future

Teens experience intense emotions, and some moodiness is expected. But symptoms like persistent sadness, irritability, lack of motivation, or thoughts of suicide demand assessment by a mental health professional.

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Risky Online Behavior

  • Sexting or sharing explicit images
  • Cyberbullying peers
  • Oversharing personal details with strangers

The internet provides teenagers independence and connections, but parents need to set clear guidelines around appropriate online conduct. Accessing pornography, revealing too much information, or digitally harassing others can place teens at risk.

Aggression and Rule-Breaking

  • Increased irritability and anger outbursts
  • Starting physical fights
  • Committing theft or vandalism
  • Sneaking out without permission

Testing limits with minor misconduct is often temporary during adolescence. However, violence, illegal activities, or blatant defiance of house rules should not be dismissed as “normal teenage behavior.”

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Rapid Decline in Academics

  • Failing several classes
  • Skipping school frequently
  • Sudden disinterest in academics

Maintaining good grades takes effort for teenagers balancing social lives, jobs, and activities.

But an abrupt, significant decrease in academic performance or disengagement from school should prompt parents to uncover any underlying issues.

Erica Leeson, Licensed Psychologist

Substance Misuse

  • Using alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs
  • Misusing prescription medications
  • Hiding drug paraphernalia

Experimentation with substances is somewhat expected during the teen years.

But addiction, accessing dangerous drugs, or combining substances can quickly spiral out of control, making substance misuse behaviors a top red flag for parents to address.

Signs of substance misuse to take seriously:

  • Using drugs daily alone or with friends
  • Stealing money for drugs
  • Driving under the influence
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using

Table: Signs of Teenage Substance Misuse Requiring Intervention

Signs of MisuseNext Steps for Parents
Bloodshot eyes, slurred speechSet clear rules around drug use, including consequences for infractions
Finding pipes, needles, or pillsConsult doctor about screenings and treatment options
Money or valuables missing from homeKeep close eye on teen’s activities and friend groups
Arrests for possession or DUIEnroll teen in counseling to identify root causes of use
Teenage Depression

When to Seek Professional Help

If addressing concerning behaviors directly does not alleviate issues or additional problems emerge, it’s essential for parents to connect teenagers with mental health services.

  • Therapists can diagnose underlying conditions, provide coping techniques, recommend treatment programs, and monitor progress.
  • An objective third party may also elicit details teenagers don’t share willingly with parents.
  • Reaching out for support can get struggling teens back on track developmentally.

With validation and early intervention, teenagers have resources to process challenges in healthy ways instead of acting out.

While some teenage behavior tests boundaries, certain red flags signal the need for assessment and assistance. Maintaining open communication and protecting teenagers’ wellbeing remains an important job for parents.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – Telebehavioral Health Toolkit:
  2. World Health Organization (WHO) – Guidelines on Digital Health Interventions for Health System Strengthening:
  3. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – Telemedicine for Mental Health Care:
  4. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking Journal:
  5. Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) Mental Health:

Looking for more mental health tips? Make sure to follow our Mental Health Board on Pinterest!

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About the author

Helen Kaminski, MSc

Helen Kaminski, MSc

Mindful living for a happier, healthier you. I’m a medical writer, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and a mental health advocate in Warsaw, Poland, with nine years working as a therapist. I hold a Master's in Clinical Psychology degree from the University of Warsaw. I specialize in writing about mental health, using my experiences and academic background to educate and inspire others. In my free time, I volunteer at a Disability Learning Center and go for nature walks. My writing aims to break down mental health stigma and help others feel understood. Social connections are vital to mental well-being, and I am dedicated to fostering communities of support and empathy. By sharing knowledge and personal insights, I strive to create a more compassionate world. Social

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