Parents often ask how do they know if their child has a mental health issue. This is difficult to determine without multiple therapy sessions. Further complicating this situation is that the teen years are behaviorally complex and even healthy kids may display alteration of mood, distressing thoughts, anxiety, impulsivity and other signs associated with mental health concerns. So how does a parent know if there is a problem? When considering if a typical behavior is a sign of true teen troubles, I say look at the frequency, duration and intensity.
Frequency is when something happens again and again. Occasional outbursts and misbehaviors are developmentally appropriate. When the behavior crosses the line and there is frequent parental worry, it is time to see a professional.
Duration is related to the specific incident. Does it last much longer than it should? For example, your son received a poor grade and it takes him weeks to get over it. Most kids feel momentary frustration but move on quickly. If your child gets stuck, it is time to see a professional.
Intensity is the “scary factor.” Something happens and the reaction is so disproportionate that it creates tremendous parental worry. All kids make the occasional mistake and may “pout” or “argue” as a result—this is a typical teen. This kid, however, reacts extremely—possibly hitting a wall or making inappropriate harsh comments. Again, it is time to see a professional.
When determining the seriousness of your teen’s behavior, look for one of the three characteristics described in this article. Trust your gut and don’t hesitate to pursue further to ensure your child is developmentally on track.