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Worried about your teenager?

It can be difficult for parents to tell whether their teenagers are just "being teens" or if there is something more serious going on.

Many of the things you may notice, such as changing moods, can often be attributed to normal teenage behaviour. However, it can be helpful to know when there may be signs of a more serious problem.

If you're worried about your teenager's behaviour or general wellbeing you should consider:

  • speaking to your teenager about your worries
  • getting advice from a GP

It's important to know that many parents and carers find teenage behaviour difficult to understand or challenging to cope with.

Read more about coping with your teenager.

Depression in teenagers

Noticeable symptoms of depression in teenagers can include:

  • continuous low mood or sadness as well as frequent tearfulness
  • voicing or showing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • being irritable and intolerant of others
  • little or no enjoyment of things that were once interesting to them
  • increasing social isolation
  • disturbed sleep patterns (for example, problems going to sleep and/or waking throughout the night)

Read more about depression in children and young people

Teenage eating disorders

The most common eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OFSED).

OFSED, when symptoms do not exactly match those of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, can be just as serious. Some children and young people may experience avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).

Signs of eating disorders can include:

  • complaining about being fat, even though they are a normal weight or are underweight
  • letting people around them think they have eaten when they have not
  • being secretive about their eating habits
  • becoming anxious, upset or guilty when asked to eat
  • vomiting, or using laxatives in order to lose weight

Read more about eating disorders.

Get advice if you have a child with an eating disorder

Teenagers who self-harm

If you suspect that your teenager is self-harming, look out for any of the following signs:

  • unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on their wrists, arms, thighs and chest
  • keeping themselves fully covered at all times, even in hot weather
  • signs of depression, such as low mood, tearfulness, a lack of interest in everything
  • signs of low self-esteem, such as blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they are not good enough
  • signs they have been pulling out their hair

Read more about self-harm and if needed, where to get urgent help for mental health.

MindEd for Families has more information about what to do in a crisis

Teenagers who take drugs

Signs that your teenager is taking drugs can include:

  • losing interest in hobbies, sports or other favourite activities
  • dramatic changes in behaviour
  • excessive tiredness and lack of appetite
  • dilated pupils, red eyes, bad skin
  • stealing money from you

Find out more about drug addiction and getting help.

How can I help my teenager?

If you're worried about your teenager and they refuse to talk to you, you may need to open up other channels of communication.

Avoid persistent direct questioning as this can make them feel threatened.

Try these tips to encourage your teenager to open up if there is a problem:

  • be honest and explain that you're worried that they're going through something difficult
  • point them towards websites or helplines that can give them information on depression, drugs and self-harm so they can find out the facts themselves
  • do not blame yourself for any problems they're having and try not to take it personally – this will not help the situation
  • tell them you'll be there for them when they do want to talk
  • let them choose where to go for help, which may be a GP, a family friend or school counsellor
  • help your teenager think for themselves – encourage them to think through the pros and cons of their behaviour, remind them what they're good at and what you like about them, and help them think critically about what they see and hear

For more helpful tips, see Talking to your teenager.

More information and support

If you're concerned about the physical or mental health of your child or young person it may be a good idea to speak to a GP.

You can also read more about mental health support for children and young people.

There are also several organisations that provide emotional support and practical advice for both your teenager and yourself:

  • Family Lives is a charity specialising in families. You can call their confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222 (9am to 9pm Monday to Friday, 10am to 3pm Saturday to Sunday). You can also visit their forum
  • Young Minds, the mental health charity, has a dedicated, confidential helpline. Call them on 0808 802 5544 (9.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday)
  • Relate offers relationship advice and counselling. You can get help from their live chat service or from a local Relate centre
  • FRANK, the drugs charity, has comprehensive information about drugs. You can also call their helpline on 0300 123 6600 (available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

Page last reviewed: 14 March 2023
Next review due: 14 March 2026