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Categories > Children’s Health > The teen years

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Risky businesss
What your teen may be hiding

» Keep an eye out for these risky behaviors:

Watch for red flags

Heed these warning signs of risky behavior in your teen:

  • secrecy or withdrawal from friends and family
  • extreme weight gain or loss
  • rapid, drastic personality changes
  • sudden change in friends and a reluctance to introduce you to new friends
  • skipped classes or falling grades
  • suicide talk or jokes
  • signs of tobacco, alcohol or drug use
  • cuts, bruises or burns with odd explanations
  • loss of interest in school, sports and activities

If you’re like most parents, the world seems like a far more dangerous place for teens today than it was when you were young. While risky behaviors like drinking alcohol, gambling and using drugs are certainly not new, they’re on the rise. And, today, the Internet gives teens easy access to people who glorify these behaviors, exposing kids to online predators and resources.

Keep an eye out for these risky behaviors:

Abusing cough and cold remedies. Over-the-counter drugs found in your medicine cabinet that contain dextromethorphan (DXM) offer a cheap, easy way to get high. DXM-containing tablets, capsules, lozenges and syrups usually have “DM” or “Tuss” in the name. A pure powder form of DXM that’s snorted or swallowed can also be bought online. Abuse produces hallucinations like those brought on by phencyclidine, an illegal drug also known as “angel dust” or “PCP.” DXM abuse can also lead to an irregular heartbeat, brain damage and even death.

What to do: Avoid stockpiling these remedies. Track how much is left in each bottle. Question your teen about cough and cold remedies in his or her room, strange-looking tablets or mail from an unfamiliar sender.

Cutting. Teens may injure themselves by cutting their skin with a knife, scissors or other sharp object or burning themselves with a cigarette or match for complex reasons. Some teens report that cutting relieves painful emotions or gives them a feeling of control over their life.

What to do: Suspect self-injury if your child wears long sleeves and pants even in warm weather or has unexplained burns or scars. Then talk to your child’s doctor. To stop this behavior, your teen will need love and support and likely professional help to deal with overwhelming situations.

Having secret online friendships. Does your teen spend long hours online, especially at night? Does your child get phone calls from people you don’t know or mysterious gifts in the mail? If so, he or she may be having an unhealthy relationship.

What to do: Talk to your teen about how child abusers and other predators often pose as teens online. Monitor online activity and maintain access to your child’s e-mail for periodic checks. Use parental controls to block inappropriate material and restrict personal information from being sent online. Report suspicious messages to law enforcement.

If you find your teen involved in any of these risky behaviors, take it seriously. Professionals like your family physician or a school guidance counselor can help.


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