We've compiled tips for parents, to help address seriously awkward issues

a father and mother arguing with their teenage son

It’s natural for teenagers to have moods and become more secretive as they move through adolescence towards independence. But if your teenager is displaying other unusual behaviour this could be a sign that they aren’t just at an awkward age - there could be something seriously wrong.

We have highlighted signs of risky behaviour and where to get help if you are worried about your teenager. If your teenager shows one of these signs in isolation there may not be cause to worry. But the more signs you identify the greater the risk that something is seriously wrong.

Our areas of advice include:


Being groomed or sexually exploited (sometimes called child sexual exploitation or CSE)


Online grooming

It is easier for sexual predators to groom teenagers online as it is faster, they remain anonymous and teenagers are more likely to trust an online ‘friend’ more quickly than one they meet face-to-face. The following may be signs that your teenager is being groomed online. Also see our 'Keeping the children you love safe' guide:

  • They want to spend more time on the internet
  • They are secretive about who they are talking to online and what sites they visit
  • They switch screens when you go near a computer
  • They use sexual language you wouldn’t expect them to know
  • When on the phone or texting they use acronyms that you may not understand such a PIR (parent in room)

Where to get help 

Online bullying 

The internet and social media sites have provided a new channel for people to abuse teenagers. The following may be signs that your teenager is being targeted by online bullies:

  • They suddenly stop using the computer
  • They become shy, withdrawn, moody, agitated, aggressive, anxious or stressed or show signs of depression
  • There is a change to their eating or sleeping habits
  • They stop hobbies or activities they enjoyed
  • Self-harming
  • They suddenly change their friends 
  • Changes to eating or sleeping habits (e.g., nightmares)
  • Problems with school – they don’t want to go, skip it, get in trouble, lose interest or there is a drop in their grades

Where to get help

Be aware that online bullying may be happening alongside other abuse such as physical bullying, dating violence, harassment or stalking.

  • If the bullies are your child’s school peers you may want to contact their school
  • If your child is being threatened, harassed or inappropriate images are being circulated you may want to contact the police
  • NSPCC Helpline: 0808 1000 900 (9am -9pm Monday – Thursday or 9am – 5pm Friday)
  • National Bullying Helpline: 0845 22 55 787
  • Kidscape
  • Anti-bullying Alliance
  • Stopbullying.gov


Depression or anxiety

a girl sitting on stairs

More than 60,000 young people aged 11–16 are depressed.

The following may be signs that your teenager’s mental health is being affected by depression: 

  • Irritability, angry, grumpiness, hostility or prone to angry outbursts
  • Withdrawing from family and friends. They may also start hanging out with a different crowd
  • Appears to be worried or feeling low a lot of the time
  • Nothing seems much fun for them. They have lost interest in former hobbies or social activities
  • Appears to be scared for no reason
  • Unexplained aches and pains such as headaches or stomach aches
  • Sensitive to criticism, rejection, and failure (a particular problem for 'over-achievers')
  • Regularly self-harming
  • Has talked about death or has taken an overdose
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Change in sleeping patterns eg insomnia or sleeping for longer
  • Loss of energy, feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Reckless behaviour such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports

Where to get help

If you are worried about your teenager’s mental health, you should seek help immediately from their GP.

Additionally, you can also get advice and support from:

Drug and/or Alcohol use

Many of the signs that could indicate a teenager might need help around drugs and/or alcohol are also normal signs of adolescence, so don’t panic. Have a conversation with your teenager to find out what’s going on. Some signs they might need help or support could be:

  • Being secretive or withdrawn and telling lies.
  • Unexplained, confusing change in personality and/or attitude. Sudden mood changes, irritability, angry outbursts or laughing at nothing.
  • Loss of money or belongings which cannot be explained
  • Unusual smells, stains or marks on your teenager’s body, clothes or around the house
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation.
  • Lack of motivation; inability to focus, appears lethargic or “spaced out.”
  • Appears fearful, withdrawn, anxious, or paranoid, with no apparent reason.
  • A sudden demand for privacy, locking doors and avoiding eye contact.
  • Missing school or work or a change in performance.
  • Interest in alcohol and drug-related lifestyle e.g. in music, clothing and posters.
  • Sudden change in relationships, friends, hangouts, and hobbies.
  • Using incense, perfume, air freshener to hide smell of smoke or drugs
  • Bloodshot eyes or pupils that are smaller or larger than normal.
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns.
  • Deterioration in personal grooming or physical appearance.
  • Impaired coordination, injuries/accidents/bruises that they won’t or can’t tell you about
  • Shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech, impaired or unstable coordination. 
  • If your teenager’s friend tells you something is wrong.

Where to get help and support