Are you worried your teen daughter or son may be out-of-control? Learn more about typical vs. atypical teen behavior and what steps to take to get your child the treatment he or she may need.
Normal Teen Behavior
To understand abnormal teen behaviors, we must first understand normal teen behaviors – and if that seems difficult, it is because it is. Parenting a teenager is not easy, but neither is being a junior high or high-school student. Many parents of teen boys and girls feel exhausted from a lack of communication, fighting with teens, open defiance, and other unproductive behaviors. Teens can experience intense emotions, be moody, impulsive and reckless.
If your teenager seems different, it's because they are different. The teenage brain is still actively developing, and in fact, is not fully formed until his or her mid-20s.
The frontal cortex, responsible for managing emotions, making decisions, reasoning, and controlling inhibitions, is restructured during adolescence, making teens simply unable to think through things on an adult level. To complicate matters further, teens are also coping with hormones that produce physical changes as well. While there are biological causes to explain some teen behaviors, it does not absolve your teenage daughter or son of the consequences from their poor choices.
It can, however, help parents understand why their child is changing and how to cope with those changes.
From Normal Teen Behavior to Out-of-Control Teenage Behavior
Behavioral changes are normal in teens, even if they may be confusing to parents. Rolling eyes, one-word responses to open-ended questions, slamming doors, and spending most of their time on their cell phones or social media, are all normal teen behaviors.
However, troubled teen behaviors go beyond normal teenage issues. A troubled or out-of-control teen has behavioral, emotional, or learning issues that amplify and become more intense over time.
They often practice at-risk or out-of-control behaviors which include:
- Drug use
- Skipping school
- Social or video game addiction
- Spending time with the wrong crowd
Examples of Normal vs. Troubled Teen Behavior
So, how do you know if your teen is exhibiting normal adolescent behavior or is showing signs of out-of-control teenage behavior?
Here are some examples of normal and abnormal teen behaviors that can help you identify a troubled teenager:
- Parents of teenagers will tell you that the teen years bring increased arguments and rebellious behaviors. As teens seek independence, they often come in conflict with authority figures in their life. However, out-of-control teens will often escalate arguments, engage in violence at home or at school, and have issues with law enforcement.
- Biological changes generally make mood swings a normal behavior for teens. Healthy teens can exhibit irritable behavior and can struggle to manage their emotions. However, sudden anxiety, changes in personality, poor academic performance, chronic sadness or sleep issues could indicate a more major emotional health issue. As with any person, take any discussion of suicide seriously and get help immediately.
- Experimenting with alcohol or drugs is often normal in the teen years. Most teens will drink alcohol and smoke a cigarette and many will even try marijuana. However, when alcohol or drug use becomes habitual, it may increase problems at home or with schoolwork and may indicate a substance abuse issue that results in increased risky behaviors.
- It can be normal for teens to pull away from their parents and be more influenced by their peer group. However, a sudden change in friends can be a troubling sign, especially if a new group of friends has little regard for boundaries or rules, no responsibility, or encourages negative behavior. Also, spending too much time alone and isolating themselves from their peers is another sign of worrisome behavior.
- Most teens keep up with new fashion trends, which can result in a change in their appearance. Some wear attention-seeking clothing and dye their hair. This is all normal. However, when a teen has extreme weight gain or loss, shows evidence of cutting or self-harm, or if the changes in appearance are accompanied by other negative changes in behavior, it can be a sign of a troubled teen.
Coping With Out-of-Control Teens
When it comes to helping your teen, there are some things you can do to open lines of communication.
It is important to note, however, that if your teen is acting out, it does not mean you are a bad parent. You have not failed and it is not too late to save your relationship.
Here are some tips for helping a teen who is demonstrating behavioral problems:
- Confront violent behavior and set boundaries. If you feel scared of or threatened by your teen, seek help immediately. If your teen’s anger has you concerned for their well-being, it is important to establish boundaries, consequences and rules. Help your teen find healthier ways to relieve his or her anger through music, running, team sports or other productive activities.
- Find common ground. This can help encourage conversation over a safe space. Many teen boys connect with their fathers over sports, while teenage girls often enjoy a shopping trip with their mom. Finding a peaceful topic that encourages conversation can be a building block for a relationship.
- Know the signs of teen depression so that if your teen is exhibiting them you can get professional help quickly. Some signs of teenage depression include destructive behaviors, low self-esteem, problems at school, substance abuse or violent behavior. If your teen is harming herself or himself or idealizes death or suicide, get help immediately.
- Listen without giving advice or making a judgment. Make eye contact while he or she is talking and ask questions so that your teen feels heard and understood.
- Practice self-care. Aside from taking time for yourself, it is good for your teen to see you care about yourself. Lead by example in taking time for yourself. Seek the help of family and friends, and consider talking to a professional or joining support groups for teenage parents.
- Strive to create balance for your teen. Schedules are hectic and COVID-19 has disrupted our natural life balance. However, by adhering to sleep schedules, encouraging exercise, reducing screen time and video games and scheduling meals, balance can be achieved, and having expectations for each day can result in changed behaviors.
How Embark Behavioral Health Can Help
Embark Behavioral Health is a leading family behavioral health provider specializing in preteen, teen, and young adult mental health. Taking a holistic approach that includes other family members, Embark operates 19 programs and residential treatment centers across the United States offering personalized individual and family counseling.
On a mission to drive teen mental health issues like adolescent anxiety, depression and suicide rates to all-time lows by 2028, Embark’s core purpose to create joy and heal generations. We do that through our unique treatment programs. While each program is different, all are united by a passionate commitment to high-quality mental health care and cutting edge innovation, meeting students where they are and taking them where they need to go.