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Troubled Teen

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"I'll never find anyone who can understand my tortured teenage soul!"
Moody (as played by Amanda Bynes), "Moody's Point", a Show Within a Show from The Amanda Show

The adolescence years are tough on anyone but for some teens, it can be especially tumultuous, not just for the teen themselves, but for their family and friends who have to deal with their behavior. There are the typical teenage problems, dealing with changes in their bodies, mood swings, rebelling against parental figures, etc. But then there's the Troubled Teen. The Troubled Teen is a character whose problems are beyond the scope of typical teen problems; they're dealing with more serious emotional problems and may take part in risky actions, such as drug abuse, breaking the law, sexual promiscuity, etc. As opposed to Teens Are Monsters, these characters are treated sympathetically by the narrative and sometimes they are even the main character. Usual Troubled Teen characteristics include:

  • Getting in trouble with the law, having a juvenile record miles long.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Dealing with mental illness, such as depression, suicidal ideation, and anger issues.
  • A lack of respect and trust for authority.

Often times Abusive Parents, Parental Neglect, or Parental Abandonment play a part in why they're so troubled. If they're male, they're Troubled, but Cute. Can be a Broken Bird if they're female, or even male and heavily traumatized. A regular staple in a Teen Drama and Young Adult Literature, often the subject of Misery Lit and/or the Hood Film.

Compare and contrast Emo Teen, where teenagers overemphasize how much their life sucks to fit an emo aesthetic. See also Delinquents, The Runaway and Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb. For when this is applied to younger children, see Troubled Child (which the Troubled Teen may have started out as) and Troubling Unchildlike Behavior.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Several of the teens in Great Teacher Onizuka.
    • Miyabi acts out because of her neglectful parents (who she knows are cheating on each other) and bullies her classmates into making their teachers' lives hell because of a bad experience she had with one teacher.
    • Anko has an abusive father and brother, which made her become abusive towards her classmate Noboru, eventually driving him to attempt suicide (twice!).
    • Urumi is a Teen Genius, but finds that Intelligence Equals Isolation. Plus, her mother ignores her in favor of her job, and she has major angst over being a test-tube baby and not knowing her father. When Onizuka learns her secret, he introduces her to friends of his who had much worse childhoods, to put her problems in perspective.
    • Most of the Foster Kids in Shonan 14 Days, but special mention goes to:
      • Sakurako's father physically and sexually abused her.
      • Seiya's mother's abusive boyfriend beat them both and forcibly gave Seiya the same tattoo as him. He's extremely bitter that she chose her boyfriend over him, and plans to shoot the man.
      • Ikuko's mother beat her and burned her with cigarettes and boiling water, and forced her to eat cat food.
      • The twins Miko and Riko Sakaki have quite the Freudian Excuse: Their parents were both clear that they didn't want children; their mother only had them to get their father's attention, and to try and get him to leave his wife for her. One day they came home to find their mother had hanged herself.

    Comic Books 
  • Both the main characters in Finger Guns for different reasons; Wes for his father never being around and Sadie for being in an abusive household.
  • In Runaways, Chase Stein comes from an abusive home that included physical beatings and may have killed someone by accident and/or been molested by an Honorary Uncle (he's been known to suppress some of his memories.) Consequently, he has anger issues and can get hotheaded, which only get worse when his girlfriend Gert is suddenly murdered, sending him on a dark path for a while that almost ended in him making a Deal with the Devil. He mellows out considerably in the 2017 series; having to become Molly's legal guardian actually forces him to grow up a bit.
  • X-23 was raised from birth to be a living weapon, forced to kill at a young age, and spent a portion of her teenage years as a prostitute. As a result, she's distant and icy, and willing to torture and kill to achieve her goals.

    Comic Strips 
  • In the Marlys/Maybonne comics by Lynda Barry, Maybonne is a classic example. In various stories, she runs away from home, uses drugs and alcohol as a 14-year-old, and gets in a lot of bad relationships involving Questionable Consent. Her friends behave similarly. This is explained by her home life, as she has a Disappeared Dad and a mother who is cold, unloving, and often not around.

    Fan Works 
  • Feralnette AU: To Sabine's horror, Marinette is evolving into this as Lila's extended bullying campaign takes its toll, becoming sullen and withdrawn and losing interest in what was once her passion. Sabine has no idea why it's happening, and Marinette keeps her at arm's length. Then Sabine learns Marinette had been targeted and harassed, and had been dealing with it for months—long before her behavior noticeably shifted, leaving her to agonize whether it was noticeable all along and she just wasn't paying enough attention to see it.
  • Jessica: Both Cameron and his brother suffer from mental illnesses after their mother's death, which do not subside once they reach their teens. In fact, Cameron's brother eventually takes his own life.

    Films — Animation 
  • Big Hero 6: Hiro Hamada is a Teen Genius who finished high school by age 14. However his intelligence isolates him from his peers, and he has taken up participating in illegal robot fights, which lands him in jail early in the movie. Then when it seems as if he will turn his life around and apply to college, his older brother dies, and Hiro becomes focused on getting revenge instead. He gets better at the end.
  • Treasure Planet: Jim Hawkins starts as a teen delinquent, emotionally damaged by his father's abandonment. His first scene has him recklessly riding an hoverboard and getting arrested for it, and it's made clear that it is far from his first time getting in trouble with authorities.

    Films — Live Action 
  • The Breakfast Club is about five teens who are various levels and forms of messed-up due to peer pressure and having parents that range from neglectful to physically abusive. The plot is about them bonding over their screwed-up lives while being under detention at school.
  • Chronicle: Andrew is this in spades. His life consists of an extremely abusive alcoholic father and a terminally ill bedridden mother and is frequently bullied at school, not to mention everything else that happens to him throughout the film, giving him serious mental issues. The fact that Andrew decides to keep it all bottled up until hitting his Rage Breaking Point instead of reaching out to talk to someone about it doesn't help matters either, especially after he acquires his powers.
  • Rebel Without a Cause is about three misfit teens with troubled home lives who find solace in each other. Could be the Trope Codifier on account of how old and influential it is.
  • Short Term 12 is about a temporary group home for at-risk youth. While most of the residents are troubled teens, the film focuses on two: Marcus, a suicidal seventeen-year-old who grew up with an abusive mother, and Jayden, an aloof young girl who self-harms and violently or verbally lashes out because her father is also abusive.

  • Author S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders and it's sequels focus on teenage "greasers," each with a number of issues such as parental abandonment/abuse and all are looked down by their community for being in the lower socioeconomic bracket. Dallas is the most troubled, it was said in the book he started being jailed for criminal behavior at ten years old.
  • Maya's Notebook: Maya ends up becoming one after her beloved grandfather dies. She deals with her grief through drugs, alcohol, and other wild behavior. She ends up at a youth rehab center in Oregon. From then it goes From Bad to Worse.
  • Speak's Melinda Sordino starts off 9th grade depressed and angry, outcast from her peers due to calling the cops at a Wild Teen Party, and soon enough, stops speaking entirely. It's later revealed she was raped at that same party.
  • Parodied in Daniel Pinkwater's Young Adult Novel. The Book Within a Book Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan loads on as many cliches as possible to its troubled teen protagonist Kevin, who, depending on the story, is a drug-addicted, alcoholic juvenile delinquent with no parents and an older sister who is in jail for prostitution. He frequently dies horribly but always gets brought back.
  • Fallen by Lauren Kate: The main characters meet in Sword&Cross Reform School—although only Luce and Todd are actually teenagers, the rest are fallen angels just pretending to be troubled teens.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Almost every single main character of 13 Reasons Why is this to a degree, the straightest examples are Justin (homeless and living on the streets, abuses drugs), Tyler (bullied and isolated as well as being raped, and brings weapons to the school with the intent on causing a mass shooting), and Hannah (being torn down bit by bit by bullying before being raped and later taking her life).
  • All American is about high school football player Spencer James spending his time between his lower income neighborhood and the ritzy Beverly Hills, but out of the main cast, it's the rich teens that are more troubled. Olivia abused prescription medication and was sent to rehab before the events of the series, and Layla suffers from depression and anxiety, much like her mother and was on the edge of suicide.
  • Boy Meets World has Shawn Hunter, a kid who had a very rough upbringing (to say the least). His family situation was never stable, he's gotten in trouble with the law for vandalism, and it's hinted he's dealt with emotional turbulance and abandonment issues all throughout his childhood.
  • Caitlin's Way's main character Caitlin was orphaned as a kid, and spent years in and out of foster homes, living on the streets, and getting arrested. The series kicks off when she's given the choice between living in Montana with distant family or juvie.
  • The "Maternal Instincts" (S1E21) episode of Cold Case features the son of the murdered victim and who is since getting in all sort of problems, who came to police to say he saw his mother being murdered.
  • Naturally, Degrassi: The Next Generation has had quite a few Troubled Teens. Some are poor like Sean, who joins up with a gang of delinquents that steal for fun; some are rich, like Miles who abuses marijuana and prescription meds to deal with his emotional issues, most are male and of the Troubled, but Cute variety. Though there is Esme, a female student introduced in Degrassi: Next Class that is more troubled than all of them, as she is unstable and manipulative.
  • In Euphoria, most of the main cast are teens with some very bad problems. Rue is a reckless painkiller addict, Jules Really Gets Around, Cass is dating a college boy, Kat is running an underage webcam, Maddy is in an abusive relationship and keeps cheating on her extremely possessive boyfriend, and Nate is a ticking time bomb of rage and toxic masculinity.
  • In Everything's Gonna Be Okay, Genevieve Moss is struggling with the sudden loss of her father and resents her older siblings Nicholas and Matilda, and her repressed anger causes her to hang out with Tellulah and Barb, who goad her into doing stupid, risky things like drugs and sexting and picking a fight with a boy who supposedly raped Matilda. As the first season wears on, she eventually finds a healthier outlet for her energies by writing poetry.
  • Gotham Knights (2023): Duela, Harper, and Cullen have been abandoned by their parental figures in one way or another, and have taken to stealing in order to survive. Stephanie's mother pops pills while drinking heavily and is constantly high/drunk and it's indicated that this is the reason Stephanie overextends herself in trying to support others. Turner and Carrie are slightly this trope to a lesser extent.
  • 2000s teen drama Higher Ground was centered around a rehabilitation school filled with Troubled Teens; all have dealt with issues such as parental neglect, drugs, and rape.
  • Parodied on The Late Show with David Letterman with Dwight, the Troubled Teen. Dwight, played by Michael Zegen long before The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, was actually quite clean-cut looking and a little retro, and his troubledness amounted to a little unexplained moodiness.
  • Felix, Mia, and Benji are the straightest examples in Love, Victor. Felix's mother is bipolar and deals with bouts of mania and depressive episodes as well as hoarding, leading Felix to deal with many of the household affairs including making sure rent is paid. Mia is emotionally neglected by her father and was abandoned by her mother and deals with feelings of loneliness. Benji was an alcoholic, using alcohol to deal with his angst about being gay. Lake is a downplayed version of this, as she is relatively well-adjusted but has esteem issues.
  • Moesha introduced Dorian, Moesha's cousin who ran away from home and constantly gets into trouble, trouble that's exasperated when it's revealed that Dorian is actually Moesha's brother, a secret her father Frank hid from family for years. From there, Dorian acts out even more, starts hanging around gangs and doing their dirty work, and steals a car from his father's car lot. By the end of season 5, Frank has had enough and sends Dorian to a juvenile boot camp to set him straight.
  • Troubled teens are a recurring topic on talk show Maury; the teens are out of control, abuse drugs and alcohol, sexually promiscuous and are Always Female. A typical "troubled teen" episode includes the girl bragging about her terrible behavior, and then coming out to berate the audience in front of their sobbing parent. Often times, it's followed up by the teen either being sent to a juvenile boot camp or Beyond Scared Straight-type program.
  • Subverted on Roseanne with Darlene; many episodes show her becoming withdrawn from her family, dressing in dark clothes and adopting a Snark Knight personality. It's all but said that she's dealing with a depression, but as a lower-income family, they don't have the resources to help Darlene manage with it. As time goes on we see that she's actually spending time embracing her artistic and intellectual sides, becoming the first member of her family to go to college.
  • Saturday Night Live: "What's Wrong With Tanya?" is a game show where the contestants are concerned mothers from Lifetime movies who have to guess what's troubling their angsty teenage children. The troubles in question include eating disorders, illiteracy, pregnancy, and "going to those parties where girls do oral sex for bracelets".
  • SWAT: "Homecoming" involves Hondo being contacted by his old friend Leroy, presently serving a life sentence for being a senior member of the 20 Street Hammers, who upon hearing his son witnessed a shooting, fears Darryl is being dragged into the same gang culture he was at his age. Darryl proves to be a decent kid but is the victim of lack of opportunities and the culture he's growing up amongst. Hondo manages to arrange for him to live with aunt hoping to keep him out of the lifestyle. But upon his return in season two Darryl reveals he accidentally got his girlfriend pregnant and needing quick money to support her was forced to turn back to his old contacts. His actions only succeed in getting him sent to Juvie, where he is stabbed by another teenager. Hondo resorts to effectively adopting Darryl in the hopes of ensuring his life isn't ruined.

  • Cavetown:
    • "Boys Will Be Bugs" is about a boy who just turned fourteen struggling with toxic masculinity. Since his classmates are mean and he doesn't fit in, he sees bugs as his friends instead since they're not judgmental and he wants to be a part of their world.
    • "Lemon Boy" seems to be about a teenager with a mental illness that he refuses to treat because it's been with him so long, and he doesn't know what he would do without it.

  • Black Friday: Lex Foster is barely eighteen, and she's already developed a smoking habit, drinks, has dropped out of high school, and dislikes and distrusts all adults automatically. Given that her mother is an Alcoholic Parent, her boss is a slimy creep, and the one teacher that seemed to believe in her quit his job recently, it's understandable. She does manage to hold down a Soul-Sucking Retail Job, but it's solely so she can save money to run away to California with her boyfriend and her little sister to become an actress. When the show begins, she's scheming to steal a hot-ticket item from the toy store she works at so she and her boyfriend can fund their trip by auctioning it off online for far more than it's worth.

    Video Games 
  • Rather quickly Subverted in the case of Persona 5, the protagonist character was charged with Assault prior to the start of the game and from that point, carries around a reputation that he's troubled and reckless. We learn before the first day even ends that what really happened was the protagonist protected a woman from a drunk man, a drunk man who was also a powerful politician. Also subverted with the most of the cast that have less-than-savory reputations, but are otherwise well-adjusted.
  • Another Code: Ashley has to deal with a deceased mom and a dad who only came back into her life when she was fourteen and is still struggling to be a proper parent.
  • SINoALICE: Reality!Alice doesn't really have the best life, with fairly few friends at school, dealing with suicidal ideation, and falling under the sway of an exploitative Teacher/Student Romance that has left her pregnant. No wonder she ended up dreaming up a disturbing fantasy world as escapism.

    Visual Novels 
  • Several of the major teenage characters in Double Homework are some form of this:
    • The protagonist has major PTSD, and spent several months in his room playing video games, while also being a dick to the people who were trying to help him.
    • Lauren used to be in Morgan’s gang, and she’s known to use illegal drugs.
    • Morgan used to lead a gang, and spent a year in jail after a failed armed robbery. Even after all this, she commits a crime here and there (like stealing a jet ski).
    • Dennis is a misogynist and a narcissist who commits various crimes: unlawful surveillance, hacking, and blackmail have all been confirmed, with stalking and sexual assault clear possibilities as well.
  • Deconstructed with the title character of Melody. She lost her mother to cancer early in her teens, and Arnold withdrew emotionally due to his own grief. Meanwhile, Amy had limited availability at the time, because unbeknownst to her, she was dealing with escaping an abusive relationship. Then, in college, possibly her first “real” relationship with Steve was toxic, and ended with him stealing a treasured keepsake from her deceased mother. She needs a combination of things to pull out of it: a mentor in the protagonist who tells her the truth, though gently, and guides her through her life’s issues, close friends in Sophia and Xianne, and renewed and improved support from Amy and Arnold.

    Web Animation 
  • Octavia from Helluva Boss is the daughter of Stolas and Stella Goetia. It's been implied that their marriage was already on the rocks but, come the episode "Loo Loo Land", it seems to have reached a boiling point when Stella learns her husband is cheating on her with another person, an imp named Blitzo. Said fighting seems to be going on even before that, leaving her moody and secluded and promoting her to put her music on blast just to drown out the noise. She's embarrassed over this, as well as Stolas' frequent and unapologetic flirtations with Blitzo. But above all else, her attitude stems from her biggest fear of never seeing her dad again, as Stolas remains closer to her as a father than Stella as a mother.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Zuko is the straightest example by this show's standards; he was emotionally and physically abused by his own father, which has left him with tons of angst and mixed feelings towards his father as well as himself. Several episodes indicate before he had his self-actualization in the third season that he was going through serious emotional turbulence.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Catra, much like Zuko above, was also emotionally and physically abused, albeit by her own mother figure, and such has left her with much angst regarding her own self-worth. That being said, it’s become quite an emotional rollercoaster for her especially with regards to Adora leaving her behind in the Horde.


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Poor Octavia's has been through a lot, with her parents' struggling marriage & Stolas' affair having done a number on her.

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