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School problems

Refusal to go to school can be due to:
  • difficulties in separating from parents
  • being perfectionist, and becoming depressed because they can't do as well as they would want to
  • disturbed family life, with early separation from or death of parent
  • An established pattern which may have started at primary school. These children often have physical symptoms, such as headache or stomach-ache.
Those who go to school, but then play truant, are usually unhappy at home and frustrated at school. They prefer to spend their days with others who feel the same way.

Emotional problems will often affect school work - worrying about yourself or about what is going on at home makes it difficult to concentrate. Pressure to do well and to pass exams may come from parents or teachers, but adolescents usually want to do well and will push themselves. Excessive nagging can be counter-productive. Exams are important, but they should not be allowed to dominate life or to cause unhappiness.

Bullying can cause all of the above. Around 1 in 10 secondary school children is bullied at some point; about 1 in 20 is bullied every week. Short children are more likely to be bullied. If you are worried that this is happening, talk to the school to make sure that they enforce their bullying policy.

Trouble with the law

Most young people do not break the law, but those who do are usually boys. When they do, it usually only happens once.

If a parent doesn't feel that breaking the law is particularly important, it is more likely that their children will offend.

Unhappiness or distress can also lead to behavior that will get them into trouble with the police. It is always worth asking about their feelings if an adolescent is repeatedly getting into trouble.

Eating problems

Weight can be a real problem. If an adolescent is overweight and is criticised or made fun of, they are more likely to dislike themselves and to become depressed. This can lead to inactivity and comfort eating, which worsens the weight problem - dieting can actually aggravate the situation. It is more important to ensure that they feel happy with themselves, fat or thin.

Drugs, solvents and alcohol

  • Many teenagers experiment with alcohol and illegal drugs.
  • Regular use of drugs or alcohol is much less common.
  • Although cannabis has been widely felt to be relatively harmless, there is now good evidence that it can make mental health problems worse in adolescence, and can double the risk of developing schizophrenia.
  • Despite publicity about other drugs, alcohol is the most common drug to cause problems for adolescents.
  • You should consider the possibility of drug or alcohol use when you notice sudden or dramatic changes in behavior.
  • Find out about any drugs your children may be using.

What if they ask about the drugs you used to use in your younger days?

Honesty is generally the best policy, although it is probably worth stressing the differences in drugs available now. For example, much of the cannabis available today is many times stronger than was available 20 years ago, and we now know a lot more about its risks to both physical and mental health.


  • Physical, emotional and sexual abuse may occur in adolescence and may cause many of the problems mentioned above.
  • Families with these problems need expert advice and should seek help.

Mental illness

Much less often, changes in behavior and mood can mark the beginning of more serious psychiatric disorders. Although uncommon, bipolar disorder (manic depression) and schizophrenia may emerge for the first time during adolescence.

 Extreme withdrawal may indicate schizophrenia, though there are usually other explanations for such behavior.

The good news for parents

Adolescence has had a bad press. However, recent studies have shown that most teenagers actually like their parents and feel that they get on well with them. It is a time when the process of growing up can help people to make positive changes, and to put the problems of the past behind them.

It is not just a difficult stage, although it can feel very much like it at times. The anxiety experienced by parents is more than matched by the periods of uncertainty, turmoil and unhappiness experienced by the adolescent.

Difficult times come and go, but most adolescents don't develop serious problems. It's worth remembering this when things are difficult.

Parents may sometimes start to feel that they have failed. However, whatever may be said in the heat of the moment, they play a crucial part in their children's lives. Helping your children grow through adolescence can be profoundly satisfying.
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