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Time In with Dr. Tim: Is it a crisis?

July 3, 2014

Question: I’ve heard so much on the news lately about teenagers hurting themselves or other people because of mental health problems. How do you know when a teenager’s problems are serious or when they’re just blowing off steam or going through the normal angst of growing up?

Dr. Tim Goldsmith, Youth Villages' chief clinical officer

Dr. Tim Goldsmith, Youth Villages’ chief clinical officer

Dr. Tim:

All parents of teenagers worry about this. Is a teen moody or really depressed? Are friend breakups serious or just a part of growing up and finding new interests? Is an angry outburst hormones or something more dangerous?

When do you take a teen’s behavior seriously? All the time.

You’ve got to take everything your teen does or says seriously – just like you did when they were younger. Neuroscience tells us that adolescent brains are still developing, with the part of the brain that allows for good decision making and clear evaluation of personal risk developing last. As your children grow up, you parent in a different way, but your guidance and oversight of their safety is as important as ever.

What should you look for? Look for significant changes in the way your child behaves. Is your daughter making direct statements verbally or on social media about wanting to die or focused on death-related themes in music or art? Is your normally outgoing son beginning to spend almost all of his time alone? Is there a room in the house that’s off limits to you? Have your daughter’s friends changed? Does she have any friends?

Because every child is different, your child may show different signs. Is he sleeping too much or not enough? Is she taking risks or making plans to do unusual things? Has he lost interest in things he used to enjoy? Is he eating as usual? Is she more irritable than usual?

Sometimes teens who are experiencing mental problems may lash out in uncontrollable rage. They may begin to cut themselves or hurt others. They may have no plans for the future or plans that are grandiose and unrealistic. Following them on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube can give you insights. Keep talking with your teen, doing careful, intentional listening.

When should you call for professional help? It’s always better to be safe than so very sorry.

Youth Villages operates crisis response services for children under age 18 in most of Tennessee. In that state, a call is answered by a crisis counselor who may be able to assuage your fears and point you to the right help in your community. We believe that intensive in-home services and community-based care are the best options for most teens. Often an in-home counselor or crisis specialist can spot safety issues in your home that you may not see and can provide a professional evaluation of the concerns you have noticed related to your child’s behavior.

In other states, crisis hotlines are available or you can ask your child’s pediatrician for recommendations. If you ever feel your child is a danger to himself or others, call 911 and ask for an immediate connection to appropriate help in your community. Being attentive to our teens as carefully as we watched them when they were toddlers will always pay off.

Tim Goldsmith, Ph.D., is chief clinical officer at Youth Villages, where he directs a staff of clinical specialists who oversee the work we do with children and families across the country.
Dr. Tim and his core clinical managers have nearly 100 years of experience helping children with the most serious problems. Together they oversee the counselors and specialists who work directly with parents, teaching them ways to help their children overcome serious problems and go on to do well at home, at school and in the community.

This year, our clinical and counseling staff will help more than 22,000 children across the country.

Now Dr. Tim and his staff of experts can answer your questions, too. All parents have moments when they wish they could consult with an expert. If you have a question about your tween or teen’s behavior, send it to

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