Teenagers need help and guidance, but it can sometimes be difficult for parents to recognize when to intervene in their teen’s life. Today’s teenagers face different problems and challenges than those you experienced as a teen.

Emotional pain and distress can be expressed in many different ways. Some are healthy, some are not.

Being able to tell the difference between normal teenage behavior and self-destructive, hurtful behavior is crucial.

Warning signs of a troubled teen:

• Talking about running away
• Being more secretive and an extreme desire for privacy
• Sudden, unreasonable outbursts of anger
• Extreme mood swings or depression
• Change in attitude
• Sullen, defiant and/or hostile behavior
• Ongoing disregard of rules and limits
• Lying
• Stealing and shoplifting
• Joining a gang
• Alcohol and drug use
• Excessive sleeping
• Sudden and unexplained drop in grades
• Loosing interest in usual activities

Some unhealthy ways your teen may deal with disappointment, stress, or emotional pain:

Depression: One minute your teenager will be laughing and joking along with you and the next he is in a fit of rage, yelling and crying with no warning or apparent cause. Mood swings are normal with all teens, but mood swings can easily turn into depression.
Sometimes this disorder may actually be a chemical imbalance and uncontrollable with just words and care from the parent. Medications and therapy may be required for your teenager to regain their mental health back. Depression is such a serious disorder that can lead up to even more serious situations like school or home violence, self injury, even suicide.
Eating disorders: Eating disorders have long been a serious problem among people of all ages. However, this disease usually begins somewhere in the pre-teen stages of life, and although many adolescent boys suffer with this disorder, it usually affects and is much more severe in teenage girls.

If you notice that your teenager is concerned with his weight, do not brush it off as a phase. Instead, sit down with him or her and work out a dietary and exercise plan together. Help by purchasing healthy foods such as fruit, raw vegetables and salads. Show your teenager that it is OK to eat - it is just the types of foods s/he consumes that s/he must be careful about.

Drinking and drug use: Peer pressure plays a major part in alcohol and drug abuse in teens. Most teens will drink alcohol or try drugs, if for nothing more than curiosities sake or trying to ‘fit in’.

Telling your teenager not to give into these peer pressures will have little or to effect. Your teenager equates his popularity among his friends with his self worth. The more insecure your teenager is, the more likely he will give into these pressures to be accepted and popular.

Self-injury/self-mutilation: Self injury is any form of bodily harm that a person inflicts upon themselves without the wish to die. Cutting one’s skin with razors or knives is the most common pattern of self-injury. Others include biting, hitting, or bruising oneself; picking or pulling at skin or hair; burning oneself with lighted cigarettes, or in extreme cases amputating parts of the body.

Gangs and criminal activities: If your teen is in a gang, he or she will likely feel threatened and want to do something about it. Talk to them about how you can protect them and get them professional help if necessary.

It's usually a surprise to parents when their teen was caught with drugs, or is found to be in a gang. Not many parents are aware that their teen is "cutting", or is planning to run away. As a parent, sometimes you feel helpless in the face of these issues.

In addition to that, on a deep level, your teen is probably ashamed to ask for help. It is going to be up to you to make the first move.

When dealing with a troubled teenager it is very important that you watch out for anything that could trigger more negativity, violent action, or dangerous activity. Improperly addressed, these behaviors can cause serious physical and emotional harm, and even the death of your child.

Only by first knowing "why" can you tackle the problem head on and work towards a solution. Your teen needs your help more than ever, and not only that, they require your understanding.

Author's Bio: 

Christina Botto is the author of Help Me With My Teenager! A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents that Works, Showing Your Teen That You Care, Monitoring Teenagers, and Troubled Teenagers – Identifying and Dealing with Tough Issues
Botto has appeared in pod casts, has been featured in newspapers and magazines, and continues to help parents to better understand and relate to their teen via her web site Parenting A Teenager.