What Is Typical Adolescent Behavior?
Raising a child isn’t easy, and the adolescent years in particular often come with unique challenges. Normal adolescent behaviors involve some tumult as your child transitions to adulthood, which may leave them moody, resentful, curious, afraid, confused—or all of the above. Being able to anticipate and recognize the whirlwind of emotions and behaviors your teen may experience in this phase of life can help you better understand how to support them along the way and reduce the risk and development of mental illness. It can also allow you to distinguish between typical teen behavior and worrisome patterns that may require additional help.
Common Elements Of Adolescent Behavior
Every adolescent is different, so taking your child’s uniqueness into account is important when considering what behavior may or may not be typical for them. That said, here are a few that you’re likely to see in your teenager at some point, as they’re common manifestations of the many physical, emotional, and cognitive development in adolescence that characterize this time of life.
Verbal aggression is considered to be a typical teen behavior, particularly in boys. The cause may be a combination of significant hormonal changes due to puberty and a natural desire for more independence than was available in childhood. This tension may cause teenagers to lash out by yelling, arguing, and using hurtful words.
While some level of verbal aggression is typical it can be risky behavior due to the fact that if the behavior becomes abusive or escalates into a physical attack, you may need to seek help. It can be harmful to allow abnormal aggression to get out of control. A mental health professional like a therapist may be able to help prevent your teenager from becoming dangerous to themselves or others by identifying the underlying feelings or causes of this behavior and addressing them.
Lack Of Frustration Tolerance
In typical teen behaviors, there’s no shortage of sources of frustration. Teens have to cope with a barrage of changes to their bodies and brains, along with academic and social pressures and the stress of figuring out who they are and what their future may hold. However, they might not yet have the tools or strategies to adequately cope with the frustration they may feel. This may be because of brain development that’s still in progress, as well as not yet having been taught healthy ways to manage these feelings.
Research suggests that children learn frustration tolerance through relationships with primary caregivers and trusted adults, so you might try modeling calm and constructive ways to deal with frustration. Exhibiting empathy and collaboration may make it easier to relate to your child when they are feeling frustrated and may allow you to provide some advice, guidance, or simply a listening ear when they’re feeling this way.
Lack Of Impulse Control
It’s normal for your teenager to show low impulse control. Because the decision-making and future-thinking areas of their brains are still in development, it’s not uncommon for many adolescents to act in the moment without considering the consequences. For teens, these consequences can be significant, however, potentially affecting academic outcomes, getting them in legal trouble, developing drug abuse, or risking their health or safety. When their lack of impulse control causes problems like these, many parents may find it worthwhile to consider enlisting the help of a mental health provider so they can learn how to better manage their impulses in a healthy, safe way.
Research suggests that experience can both form a child’s innate level of impulsive, risk-taking behavior and help adjust it if it becomes problematic. According to one study, “early interventions” can reduce the severity and impact of this trait, such as certain training programs for expectant parents that can help them model appropriate impulse control for their children, or programs for children that are implemented in some specialty schools.
Withdrawal From Family
During the early years, most of your child’s social interaction was probably with family. It’s typical for this to shift as they enter adolescence. They’re likely to withdraw from family and begin spending more time with friends their age. While it can be a difficult adjustment for parents and siblings, it’s generally a healthy stage of development and should be encouraged.
However, if you notice your teen withdrawing from all social interaction, this may be a big red flag. According to one paper on the topic, “Children who are socially withdrawn may suffer from loneliness, peer rejection, and friendlessness, and are at risk for concurrent and subsequent social-emotional adjustment problems and academic difficulties”. Adolescents who spend time socially withdrawn may also demonstrate signs of a mental health condition like depression, which typically requires treatment. They may also be more at risk to develop an alcohol addiction or an addiction to other drugs. Connecting with a licensed healthcare professional in this case is usually recommended.
In most cases, a teenager’s body grows very quickly between the ages of 14 and 17. Typical adolescent behavior includes sleeping harder and longer during these intense growth spurts. You may notice that your teen is reluctant to get out of bed in the morning, goes to bed early, and sleeps for stretches of up to 12 hours on the weekends. However, if they start consistently sleeping deeply for long periods, it may indicate a problem if accompanied by other behavioral changes. Abrupt adjustments in sleeping patterns along with low energy levels, a lack of interest in things they once enjoyed, and other signs of withdrawal could mean that your teen may be experiencing symptoms of depression. Again, seeking the support of a mental health professional in this case is typically wise.
Concerns About Physical Appearance
In adolescence, many begin to show more concern about their physical appearance—likely due to a combination of rapid and sometimes confusing or uncomfortable body changes along with an increased awareness of how they’re perceived by peers. As a result, you may notice that your child becomes pickier about their clothing, spends more time getting ready, and tries out a variety of different styles or looks within a short time.
However, if your teenager starts rapidly dropping weight, makes drastic changes to their eating habits, or stops eating in your presence, it could indicate an eating disorder. In this case, you may want to seek professional help from a primary care physician and a mental health provider, since these disorders can be serious and rarely resolve without treatment. It’s also important to note that research suggests adolescence is a pivotal stage when a positive or negative body image may be formed. That’s why speaking to your child about body acceptance and forming healthy habits at this age can be helpful.
How To Support Your Child During This Time
Understanding that the behaviors listed above are generally normal can help you give your child the space they need to have the appropriate formative experiences for their age. Recognizing if they cross over into potentially dangerous or harmful behaviors can help you connect them with the help they may need to overcome the challenges they’re facing.
In addition, a few other basic strategies may help you provide the support your child needs in this phase of life. First, striving to maintain open communication with them at this age can be important. While they may not always choose to confide in you, knowing that you’ll provide a calm, nonjudgmental listening ear when they have a problem can make a big difference. Second, allowing them to make safe, age-appropriate mistakes can be an important part of their growth and development, whereas sheltering them from any consequences may prevent them from learning important lessons and skills. Finally, you might consider connecting them with a supportive therapist.
How Therapy Can Benefit An Adolescent
While it’s wise to offer support and guidance to your teenager, they may not always be inclined to take it. Normal family withdrawal, fear of judgment, or the idea that you wouldn’t understand what they’re going through are some common reasons teens may not come to their parents when they’re facing difficult emotions or challenging situations. That’s why connecting them with a counselor can be a useful resource. A trained therapist can offer them a calm, objective listening ear and a safe space in which to express and sort through their feelings. They can also help them with things like building self-esteem, cultivating healthy coping mechanisms, and improving communication skills. If you suspect your teen may be experiencing a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder, for instance, a therapist can also help them manage their symptoms.
Recent research shows that 72% of adolescents would choose an online therapist if they experienced a mental health condition because they value the stigma reduction and accessibility of online therapy. Virtual therapy sessions can also be easier for teens to attend since they can have them from anywhere and don’t need transportation, and they may feel less intimidating than visiting a therapist’s office. If you’re interested in seeking counseling for your adolescent to help them cope with the changes of this phase of life, consider an online therapy platform like TeenCounseling. This service is designed specifically for those between the ages of 13 and 18, and it allows your teen to get matched with a licensed therapist with your consent. They can then meet with their provider via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address their concerns.
Identifying typical adolescent behavior can make it easier for parents and guardians to spot potential signs of concern, if any develop. Adolescence can be a turbulent, confusing time, but support from family and potentially from a trained counselor can help smooth the transition.
Frequently Asked Questions
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