It can be hard for a kid to admit when things aren’t okay. If your teen is displaying negative patterns of behavior, they may be trying to communicate through their actions, instead. Research shows that upsetting experiences and stress are often the culprits behind behavioral issues in teens, and just because you can’t always see an underlying cause, doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong.
This guide offers some helpful ways to identify problematic behaviors, understand the effects of highly stressful situations, and help your child cope and move past their experiences in a healthy and proactive way. This assessment is intended for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment.
Normal Behaviors vs. Troubled Behavior
It can be difficult to tell the difference between ‘normal teenage rebellion’ and real cries for help. But remember, no matter how much your child has changed over the years, you know your kid best. You also know that there’s a big difference between a moody teenager and a violent one and that while some light risk-taking is a typical part of growing up, dangerous or delinquent behavior is never a good sign.
Let’s say your teen mentioned getting a bad grade at school or having a fight with their best friend. It seemed like such a small thing at the time, but they’ve become distant, unpredictable, and their emotions are only more dramatic over time. Typical teenage drama, right? Maybe not…
Unfortunately, only so much can be blamed on hormones, and many of the behaviors that we attribute to stereotypical teenagers are also red flags that someone is truly struggling. Because of this, it’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for sudden and significant changes in your teen’s behavior— especially if these changes last for an extended amount of time.
Here are a few examples of what to watch out for:
Normal Teenage Behaviors
- Becoming easily annoyed by daily events
- Sleeping and eating more during growth spurts, especially with physical activity or involvement in sports
- Concerned with health, appearance, and fitting-in
- Wanting to spend more time out with friends
- Emotional reactions that improve over time
- Light experimentation with recreational drugs and sex
- Becoming stressed or upset by difficult circumstances
Disruptive Teenage Behaviors
- Angry or violent outbursts with little prompting
- Regularly sleeping 12+ hours/experiencing extreme insomnia
- Obsessively dieting or exercising to lose body fat, binging /purging food
- Avoiding spending time with family and friends
- Sadness or anxiety that gets worse over time
- Heavy alcohol/drug use or sexual promiscuity
- Engaging in self-harm or suicidal thoughts/tendencies*
*If your child hides objects such as razor blades, stencil knives, lighters, or matches, or if they are unusually careful to keep their arms, legs, and torsos covered-up even when it’s hot outside, they may be engaging in self-harm.
Self-harm is not a cry for attention. If you think that your child is self-harming, approach them in a supportive and non-judgmental way, take their experiences seriously, and consider seeking professional help and guidance.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24. If you know or suspect that your child is considering suicide, don’t wait— get help now. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for confidential support, or contact Idaho Youth Ranch for local resources, professional therapy services, and personalized care.
If you or your child are in immediate danger, call 911 for emergency assistance.
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