Posted    by  Idaho Youth Ranch   on  May 9, 2019 12:31:19 PM


When is it time to ask for help?

A Parent's Guide to Teenage Behavior

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.

What do behavioral Issues look like?

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 Disruptive 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, binging /purging food
  • Obsessively dieting or exercising to lose body fat
  • 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.

What are ACEs and how do they affect us?

ACEs or Adverse Childhood Experiences are traumatic events which have taken place before a person’s 18th birthday.

ACE research shows that prolonged exposure to traumatic situations affects young people on physical, mental, emotional, and even biological levels. High doses of adversity have a way of getting under our skin and changing the way that our brains naturally handle stress, and while this adaption may be useful to someone who is coping with adversity, it may also be the origin of many observable issues.

In addition to those outlined in the previous section, behavioral reactions might include:

  • Becoming startled or frightened easily
  • Being brought to tears easily
  • Aggression towards others
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Aversion or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Emotional numbness or lack of motivation
  • Poor performance in school
  • Symptoms consistent with ADHD

Idaho is one of the worst ranking states for its prevalence of kids with high ACE scores, but a kid who has faced adversity is never lost cause. If your child has a history of ACEs, they may benefit from professional treatment to help them overcome their experiences.

What is toxic stress?

Stress is a normal part of life and growing up. There are three different types of stress, and each of these affect the brain in different ways:

  • Positive stress— a healthy reaction to things like starting a new job or preparing for an important test
  • Tolerable stress— stress which is caused by a more serious situation, such as the loss of a family member. While this type of stress can have long-lasting effects, it is typically considered tolerable if adequate support systems are in place to help the person cope.
  • Toxic stress— a prolonged and unregulated activation of the body's stress response. This constant state of emotional distress can create a lot of ‘wear and tear’ on a person’s mind and body and is a culprit behind many lifelong health outcomes.

Although ACE research has greatly aided our understanding of behavioral issues in teens, ACEs are not the only causes of toxic stress. There are countless situations which may result in toxic stress responses, such as witnessing a natural disaster or losing one’s best friend, while even less obvious situations— such as being a victim of discrimination or bullying— can be just as overwhelming for a teenager to face.




Idaho Youth Ranch

Written by Idaho Youth Ranch

Our Mission: The Idaho Youth Ranch provides troubled children a bridge to a valued, responsible and productive future. We are a catalyst for positive change.

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