Teenagers are moody by nature, aren’t they? When those hormones kick in, a formerly happy youngster suddenly loses their sense of humour and gains a qualification in advanced grumpiness.
If your teen is withdrawn, uncommunicative, glued to their laptop-tablet-smartphone is that just being a teenager?
It could be, but it could also be a warning sign that needs to be explored.
This description could be applied to a child who is:
- Being bullied at school or in the local community
- Suffering from depression
- Being groomed for sexual exploitation
- Becoming radicalised
It’s tough for a parent to decide at what point to intervene, especially when the child is unwilling to communicate and sees any interference as an invasion of their privacy.
What to watch out for
- If your child seems to have stopped hanging out with their usual schoolmates or friends who live nearby, there’s usually a reason that needs to be investigated.
- If your child starts making any kind of political comments, when no previous interest in politics has been shown, it may just be a growing awareness. But it is worth listening carefully and, maybe, doing some online research of your own.
- If your child stops spending any time with the family and is avoiding family interaction, isolating themselves in their room, it may be time to have a chat.
- If your child starts talking about new internet friends, ask them to invite them round, even if they end up disappearing into the teen’s bedroom. At least you know they’re a real teen and not someone pretending to be a friend online, who is really an adult trying to groom them.
- If your teen is showing signs of anxiety or won’t talk about certain subjects or avoids discussing their views on a particular subject, it’s time to investigate.
This isn’t a definitive list, but all these are easy to write off as ‘teenage angst’. It’s worth taking a closer look – just to be on the safe side.
What can you do?
Teenagers aren’t known for welcoming cosy chats, but if you have concerns you will need to tackle them at some point.
The best approach is to try to address them as an adult and explain that you have read so much about scary things on the internet and you really just want to be sure they’re safe. Perhaps ask them to put themselves in your shoes – and ask them what they would do if your roles were reversed.
Do invite them to bring their friends home and ensure they say ‘hello’ on the way up to the inner sanctum.
At parents day, ask their teachers about their overall behaviour to see if it’s consistent.
Make some rules about joining the family for dinner each day. It’s an ideal opportunity to introduce topics into the conversation, to see how they react and maybe learn a bit more about their views and attitudes.
If you are worried about their mental health, do take them to see a doctor and see if there is help available.
Unusual behaviour may be ‘just a phase’ – don’t overreact, but do check things out.