Posted: Sep 26, 2013 9:00 AM
 
If your kid is suddenly becoming someone you barely recognize at the dinner table, there could be a larger significance behind the changes. Get to the bottom of it with expert advice.

Loss of interest

While it is normal for your teen to lose interest in an activity and want to drop out, Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of A Place of Hope – The Center for Counseling and Health, says a sudden loss of interest in any and all activities could signal trouble. He says, "If your teenager has been involved in extra-curricular activities since a young age, such as sports, school clubs, dance, music or church groups, and they suddenly begin to drop out of everything, this could be a sign that your teen is struggling. He or she could be dealing with issues such as mental illness, abuse or drug and alcohol addiction."

Isolation

The isolation is more obvious to the degree that they are defiant and aggressive to not come out of [their] room.

Lisa Bahar, LMFT, LPCC, works with clients including teens to manage behaviors and impulsivity so she's well aware of changes in teen behavior that could signal trouble. She suggests parents pay close attention if their teen has suddenly started isolating himself — more than the typical teenager who is expressing independence as part of his growth. She says, "The isolation is more obvious to the degree that they are defiant and aggressive to not come out of [their] room."

Extreme change in dressing or eating habits

International mental health and parenting therapist Lynette Louise, aka The Brain Broad, notes that a drastic change in your teen's fashion choices could equate to more than a passing trend. She says, "Suddenly wearing bulky clothes may be a way to hide an eating disorder. Always wearing long sleeves could be hiding cutting or tracks. Exposing clothes is often a dare to ask about sexuality. Covering up or exposing gives you hints to what's going on with your child."

A big change in sleeping and eating changes is another red flag. Lynette says, "Often these are clues regarding drug use, eating disorders and self-esteem issues."

Boredom and lack of structure

Dr.
 Rick Meeves, director of adolescent
 clinical services for CRC Health Group, says that boredom and unstructured summertime schedules can lead to trouble in teens. He says, "Boredom can be a motivator for thrill-seeking activities such as reckless 
driving, dangerous stunts or even criminal behavior. Teenagers are often 
impulsive, and they do not consider the consequences of their actions. This
 greatly increases the possibility of serious accidents and/or legal trouble.



"

He notes that sexual experimentation is more likely during the unstructured summer. He says, "Warm
 weather offers more outdoor places for teens to get together in privacy — even in city parks. Peer pressure to have sex can begin as early as junior
 high school, and it often confuses and negatively impacts a teen's
 self-image. Either having sex before a teen is ready, or refusing to have
 sex, can have a negative impact on an already shaky sense of self-worth and
 confidence."

Boredom can be a motivator for thrill-seeking activities such as reckless 
driving, dangerous stunts or even criminal behavior. Teenagers are often 
impulsive, and they do not consider the consequences of their actions.

To roadblock boredom, consider filling your teen's schedule with healthy (and fun) extracurricular activities like sports, religious groups or music or theater classes. In the summer, consider summer school or wildlife programs.

Talk to your teens

Before your child gets too deep into trouble, it's important to be direct and talk to them — without putting them on the chopping block. Lynette advises, "The teen years are the right time for them to be discovering themselves and how to handle life, you just don't want them to fall too deep or to feel like they are in it alone. Keep up communication without accusing, but with honest interest."

The teen years are the right time for them to be discovering themselves and how to handle life, you just don't want them to fall too deep or to feel like they are in it alone.

Juanita Allen Kingsley, of Century Health Systems, suggests asking your teen questions about their life, and she says it is important not to give up if you receive an evasive answer or if your teen avoids answering you entirely.

She implores parents to trust their instincts if they feel something is amiss with their teen. She says, "If something has changed in your child's behavior, there is something going on. It could be a change in eating, a change in friends, a change in sleep habits — anything."

Parents really do know their child best. Follow your gut and talk to your teen before it's too late.

More on teen behavior

Household drugs and your teen: A prescription for addiction?
Would you turn your kid in for bad behavior
How to talk to your teen about safe sex

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