Dangerous Teen Behavior in the Summer
Dangerous teen behavior can be caught early if we know what to look for. There are some clear warning signs and simple things you can do to stay engaged, open communication, and protect teens from pitfalls.
Everyone loves summer—especially teens. However, summer can be a dangerous time for teenagers. That’s because they have less supervision and more time on their hands. In addition, there are more opportunities to engage in risky behavior.
In addition, parents often use school as a way to gauge how their children are doing. Therefore, during the summer, parents can sometimes miss the warning signs that indicate a teen’s mental health is suffering. Hence, dangerous teen behavior is common.
The Downside of Less Structured Days for Teens
“School is an easy way to measure success, since it is done in such an objective way: grades, attendance, and interpersonal relations with staff,” says Ryan Fedoroff, MEd, National Director of Education for Newport Academy. “Over the summer, it can be much more difficult to see when our teens are struggling. Thus we aren’t able to intervene at an earlier stage of the decline.”
Summer can mask the symptoms of teen depression or teen anxiety. This is because it takes everyone out of their usual routines. Teens have less supervision and structure. Moreover, families typically don’t eat meals together as often, resulting in less parent/child communication.
When there are fewer expectations and guidelines for a teen, it is harder to assess whether things are going awry or not, Ryan says.
Warning Signs in Teens to Watch for This Summer
Here are some signs to watch for during the summer months that indicate a teen might be struggling.
They isolate themselves.
Self-isolating behaviors might include any of the following:
- Sleeping very late in the morning
- Staying plugged in for hours at a time—watching television, playing video games, scrolling social media
- Not spending time with peers
- Showing lack of motivation or enthusiasm for activities they used to enjoy
- Neglecting self-care, such as showers, exercise, etc.
Their behavior changes.
These behavior changes might include one or more of the following:
- Being defensive when asked questions
- Resisting typical requests
- Acting agitated or defiant
- Seeming sullen
- Exhibiting extreme moods.
They’re spending all their time with new friends.
Obsession with a new peer group can be a warning sign, particularly if a teen rejects their former group of friends. While it’s not uncommon for teenagers’ peer relationships to shift over time, it’s important for parents to get to know these new friends. Furthermore, are they supporting your teen, or exerting unhealthy peer pressure?
They alter their appearance.
With more time on their hands, teens can search for approval or try to fit in with a new peer group by altering their appearance. For example, they might cut or dye their hair, get new body piercings, or change their usual way of dressing. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but parents should keep a close eye on such behavior. While adolescence is a period of change, extreme change within a short amount of time can be a warning sign that a teen’s mental health is suffering.
Summer = More Risky Teen Behavior
Summer is a time when teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as unsafe driving, unsafe sexual activity, and drug or alcohol abuse.
Peer pressure can be a factor in risky behavior, as well as more unstructured, unsupervised time. Moreover, taking risks can be a misguided way for teens to strike out on their own and feel independent. Consequently, dangerous teen behavior can stem from a desire to fit in or be liked.
Teen Substance Abuse Increases in Summer
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, June and July are the peak months for teen drinking and drug use.
Consequently, it’s important to watch for signs that a teen might be using drugs or alcohol.
The Signs of Teen Substance Abuse
The signs of teen substance abuse include the following red flags:
- Bloodshot eyes, eyes drifting and non-focused
- Runny nose, redness around the nose with no medical cause
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss, looking gaunt and skeletal
- Chronic coughing, a smoker’s cough with no medical cause
- Poor hygiene and diminished personal appearance
- Smell of smoke on breath or clothes, unexpected use of perfume or cologne
- Laughing for no reason, emotional instability, extreme moodiness
- Secretive behavior, territorial, hiding in their room
- Extended and unexplained use of bathrooms
- Compulsive eating, frequent hunger or “munchies”
- Loss of interest in once-favored activities, isolation
- Stealing, unexplained need for money, kleptomania
- Inappropriate clothing, such as long sleeves in summer to hide needle marks
- Avoiding eye contact, inability to communicate, withdrawing into their shell
Dangers for Teen Drivers in Summer
There are many reasons why teen drivers are at greater risk in the summer. Here are some of those risk factors, and tips for parents about how to reduce the risk for teens.
The risk: Unusual driving circumstances. Instead of taking their usual routes to and from school and after-school activities, teens are spending more time cruising around with friends in unfamiliar territory. Additionally, they might be taking longer trips. Furthermore, increased traffic during the summer months creates more opportunities for hazardous driving situations.
What to do: Educate your teen about safe driving. Make sure your young driver understands how to use their warning lights, how to drive in different weather conditions, and—most important—always to drive the speed limit.
The risk: Driving with peers. It’s easy for teen drivers to get distracted by talking or loud music when driving with a group of peers. Moreover, peer pressure can lead to faster driving, or taking other driving risks.
What to do: Limit the number of peers allowed in the car. If your teen is not an experienced driver, it’s wise to set a limit on the number of peers they can have as passengers.
The risk: More time spent driving at night. Since teens don’t have to get up early for school the next day, they are more likely to be out late during the summer. Consequently, the danger increases: According to the National Safety Council, vehicle death rates at night are three times higher than during the day.
What to do: Make sure the headlights work well. Check that the headlights on the car your teen uses are properly adjusted for nighttime driving, and keep the lenses clean. If the lenses are cloudy, which can happen over time, get new ones. Good headlights make a huge difference in nighttime driving.
Summer and Teen Depression
We often think of the cold, dark months as the most depressing time of year; that’s where the phrase “the winter blues” comes from. However, summertime can also trigger teen depression. Here’s are some reasons why.
- With less to keep them busy, teens can feel bored and useless.
- For teens who struggle with body image, wearing bathing suits and skimpy clothes can trigger self-esteem issues.
- Hot weather and more unstructured time can lead to excessive technology use, which typically has a negative impact on mood.
- Comparing themselves to peers (on social media or in real life) who appear to be having a great time on vacation or with friends can result in teens feeling bad about themselves.
10 Signs of Teen Depression
Here are signs to watch for if you think your teen might be suffering from depression.
- Avoidance of social situations and a loss of interest in favored activities
- Exhaustion, constant fatigue, and a generalized lack of energy
- Sense of despair, sadness, and hopelessness (sometimes escalating into suicidal thoughts)
- Lack of motivation (resulting in feelings of either guilt and/or failure)
- Unexplained aches and pains, headaches, stomach problems
- Hard time concentrating (particularly for teens who used to be focused)
- Feeling worthless, irritable, frustrated, or having an extreme case of low self-esteem
- Disturbed sleep patterns (taking naps during the day, insomnia at night)
- Changes in appetite and weight (including not eating on a regular basis or binge eating)
- Abusing alcohol or drugs to cope with the pain as a form of self-medication
What Parents Can Do for Teens During Summer
There are many ways in which parents can help teens stay healthy and positive during the summer.
Be aware of what your teens are doing.
Parents need to know what their kids are doing, and they may have to impose limits on the amount of time teens spend outside the home. Check in with your teen every day about where they will be and what their plans are.
Plan activities for the family.
Many families take a vacation during the summer, but don’t wait for that one week to spend time together. Take day trips, do creative projects as a family, or spend an afternoon at the local pool, waterpark, or museum. To avoid the pitfalls of dangerous teen behavior or recklessness, create space for time together.
Set limits when necessary.
Establishing limits for an adolescent during the summer is often necessary. As discussed earlier, here are some areas in which setting boundaries can be essential or very important for teens.
- Technology use
- Substance use
- Using the car
- Having friends over.
Communicate with your teen.
An ongoing, meaningful connection between kids and parents is key. In addition, it is one of the most powerful factors in supporting teen mental and physical health. Consequently, research has found that parental involvement is extremely beneficial. Furthermore, this is expressed through communication in which teens open up with parents about what they’re thinking and feeling. Hence, a deeper connection is established. Therefore we must apply tools to talk to teens in a thoughtful way.
In conclusion, summer holds some dangerous pitfalls for teens. Dangerous teen behavior can be caught early if you know what to look for. Therefore, with the right approach, it can be a time when teens and families can recharge and reconnect. Consequently, everyone will feel energized and bonded when the fall routine begins once again.
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