Is it typical or troubled teen behavior?

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Teenagers go through many changes as they grow, from physical changes – like getting acne or growth spurts – to social changes such as getting a driver’s license or developing their own fashion sense. These changes seem easy enough to anticipate, but what about the unpredictable changes? How can you prepare when your teenager suddenly doesn’t want to talk to you or would rather hang out with their friends? How do you know if these changes are out of the ordinary?

Being a teenager is a complicated time, and it can be hard to tell what changes are typical from those that are harmful. It can be difficult observing your teenager transform into someone you don’t recognize. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the teenage years are a time of exploration, angst, fun, stress, and so much more. Your teenager juggles all these experiences and emotions to find out who they are. It’s up to loved ones to support this process while also recognizing when change can be harmful to your teen. advises on these typical teen behaviors and what warning signs to look for that can indicate serious behavioral issues:

  • Increased arguments and rebellious behavior. As teens begin seeking independence, you will frequently butt heads and argue. Look for these warning signs:
    • Constant escalation of arguments
    • Violence at home
    • Skipping school
    • Getting in fights
    • Run-ins with the law
  • Mood swings. Hormones and developmental changes often mean that your teen will experience mood swings, irritable behavior, and struggle to manage his or her emotions. Warning signs include:
    • Rapid changes in personality
    • Falling grades
    • Persistent sadness
    • Anxiety
    • Sleep problems
    • All the above can indicate depression, bullying, or another emotional health issue. Take any talk of suicide seriously.
  • Experimenting with alcohol or drugs. Most teens will try alcohol and smoke a cigarette at some point. Many will even try marijuana. Talking to your kids frankly and openly about drugs and alcohol is one way to ensure it doesn’t progress further. Typical becomes troubled behavior when alcohol or drug use becomes habitual. When it’s accompanied by problems at school or home, it may indicate a substance abuse issue or other underlying problems.
  • More influenced by friends than parents. Friends become extremely important to teens and can have a great influence on their choices. As teens focus more on their peers, that inevitably means they withdraw from you. It may leave you feeling hurt, but it doesn’t mean your teen doesn’t still need your love. Signs of trouble can include:
    • A sudden change in peer group (especially if the new friends encourage negative behavior),
    • Refusing to comply with reasonable rules and boundaries or avoiding the consequences of bad behavior by lying
    • Spending a lot of time alone

The most important thing to do for a teenager is to offer a space for them to be heard without judgment. You won’t approve of everything that your teen does, but reacting negatively can push them away. Have open conversations with your teens about your concerns and don’t be afraid to talk about tricky topics like sex or drugs. It’s important for you, as the parent, to be a safe resource for activities that could lead to risky behavior.

If you see any of these red flags in your teen’s behavior, it may be helpful to work with a counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional to establish a plan. If you’re worried that your child is at risk for harming themselves or being harmed by others, seek these resources:

  • Suicide: Call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
  • Domestic violence: Call 800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788 for the National Domestic Violence Hotline

It’s important to see that your teen is developing into their own person. As their parent or guardian, you are their biggest cheerleader, both cherishing and caring for them through all their changes – good and bad!


Help-Guide: Help for Parents of Troubled Teens

About Between Us

Between Us is a grant-funded program from the Minnesota Department of Health that creates access to confidential reproductive healthcare for youth and young adults who receive their care at Hennepin Healthcare. Teens have the right to confidentiality for certain kinds of care under Minnesota’s Minor Consent Law. Between Us works to transform primary care into a more teen-friendly environment, welcoming teens and their parents, while also providing confidential care when needed.

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