18 Areas Of Normal Adolescent Behavior
By Ashley Brown
Updated January 30, 2020
Reviewer Melinda Santa
Raising children is not easy, and it only gets more difficult when they reach adolescence. Adolescents are in an awkward stage between childhood and adulthood that often leaves them moody, resentful, curious, and sometimes afraid or confused. This is also the time period during which they tend to portray themselves as more mature and capable of making decisions than they actually are, as well as to pay less attention to parents' advice. When faced with disappointments or failures, they may become more obviously dissatisfied or even hostile. Here's a look at adolescent behavior, what's normal and abnormal, as well as what you can do about it.
What Is Normal Adolescent Behavior?
It can be difficult as a parent to know what normal adolescent behavior is. There may be days when you feel that your teen is anything but normal. However, while the teen years can be challenging, it is perfectly normal for your adolescent to act out and have certain changes in mood and behavior. An example of normal behavior is a teenager worrying about how they look. Abnormal behavior is if they start to develop an eating disorder or do other dangerous things to change their appearance.
It is important to understand what to expect from your adolescent. Understanding the difference between normal adolescent behavior and worrisome actions can save you and your teen a lot of trouble down the road. When behavior is not normal, seeking help as soon as possible can ensure that your teen grows up to be a healthy, fulfilled adult.
Signs of Normal Behavior
Here is a look at adolescent behavior that is normal if challenging, and tips on how to recognize warning signs.
- Verbal Aggression. Verbal aggression is normal adolescent behavior, especially in boys. Hormonal changes combined with the desire for more independence can cause teens to lash out with hurtful words, yelling, or arguments. While verbal aggression is normal, when it becomes abusive or turns into physical aggression it is time to get help. You do not want to allow aggression to get out of control. You cannot stand by when teens become harmful to themselves or others.
- Lack of Frustration Tolerance. Hormonal changes and confusion about their place in the world can also cause a lack of frustration tolerance in adolescents, as can environmental issues such as bullying, low socioeconomic status, peer pressure, lack of support from home, and difficulty making friends. Teens are easily frustrated, and that frustration can lead to emotional or aggressive outbursts. Studies have shown testosterone levels to increase this type of behavior in teenage boys.
- Low Impulse Control. Teens have a low level of control over their impulses. Children, in general, tend to act on what they want, often without thinking through the consequences. Teens are no different, except what they want could have far more dire consequences than when a child wants ice cream for breakfast. Low impulse control can lead to normal adolescent behavior such as blowing off schoolwork to go to a party or school event, experimenting with alcohol at home or at a party, or lying when they feel exposed. In extreme cases, it can also lead to petty theft, dangerous use of drugs, or promiscuous sex.
- Withdrawal from Family. It is normal for your teen to withdraw from family and spend more time with friends and peers. In fact, increased social interaction with peers should be encouraged during adolescence. If your teen is withdrawing from all social interaction, it may be a cause for concern. Pay close attention to your adolescent and make sure that they are getting adequate social interaction. If they are withdrawing from family but also not spending time with peers, they may be isolating themselves.
- Sleeping Harder and Longer. Teens grow very quickly from about ages 14 to 17. It is normal adolescent behavior to sleep harder and longer during intense growth spurts. Your teen may be reluctant to get out of bed in the morning for school, go to bed early, or sleep for as long as 12 hours per night on the weekends. If your teen sleeps harder and longer for a long period without respite, there could be a problem. If you start noticing low energy levels, a lack of interest in activities and subjects that they once enjoyed, and other signs of withdrawal from the world, it could be a sign that your teen is suffering from depression.
- Increase in Appetite. Because there is so much physical growth during the teenage years, your teen's appetite will also increase. You will notice that they eat much more during meals, and they will probably eat in between meals as well. It is perfectly normal adolescent behavior to want to eat everything in sight, and teens may not make the healthiest food choices. If your teen is constantly eating and starts gaining weight quickly, you may need to have them checked out by a doctor to make sure that there are not any health concerns that need to be addressed.
- Light Risk Taking. Risk taking is related to low impulse control and peer pressure. It is normal for adolescents to want to fit in with the crowd, and teens are not likely to think through consequences before making decisions. This can lead to some light risk-taking behavior, such as experimenting with alcohol at a party or skipping the occasional class. When risk-taking behaviors become dangerous to your teen or others, you may need to address the problem and seek help.
- Concern About Physical Appearance. As teens get older, they care more about physical appearance, concerned about fitting in with the crowd. Your teen may become pickier about clothing, worry about wearing off-brand shoes, or spend hours in the bathroom prepping for a night out. If your teen suddenly starts dropping weight, changes their eating habits drastically, or stops eating altogether, you need to get them into counseling for a possible eating disorder.
- Defiance and Testing Limits. As teens fight for their independence, they are likely to become defiant and test the limits of rules and expectations. It is normal adolescent behavior for your teen to ignore or argue about rules, or outright refuse to do things that are asked of them. While this is frustrating, it is a normal part of growing up that every teenager goes through.
- Low Self-Esteem. Many teens have low self-esteem, particularly during awkward stages when they feel as though they don't belong. When they don't feel like a child anymore but also don't feel like an adult, they may wonder about their place in the world. This can lead to low self-esteem or poor self-image. If your teen becomes despondent, depressed, or withdrawn, it could be a sign that their poor self-esteem is developing into anxiety or depression.
- Abandoning Commitments. Many teens will abandon previous commitments as they struggle to discover what is important to them. If your teen played an instrument or a team sport and suddenly loses interest or drops out, don't be surprised. This is normal adolescent behavior that should not be a cause for concern. If, however, your teen has little interest in anything at all, it could be a sign of depression.
- Selfishness. You may notice that your adolescent is selfish. Many teens think only of themselves, and they rarely consider the thoughts, feelings, or actions of others. This is because teens are figuring out who they are as people and trying to find their places in the world. This leaves little attention for people or events outside their immediate spheres of interest and understanding.
- Curfew Violations. While frustrating and seemingly dangerous at times, it is normal adolescent behavior for your teen to miss curfew. Teens often do not have a great sense of time. They may lose track of time easily, especially when spending time with their peers at social engagements.
- Struggle with Sense of Identity. Many teens struggle with their sense of identity. They may go through phases where they are "goth" or "emo." They may go through phases when they are bookworms and then abhor books. They may dress differently or gain interest in completely different things than they have enjoyed in the past. It is also common for teens to grapple with gender or sexual identity.
- Mood Swings. Mood swings are quite common as your child grows to adolescence. The massive hormonal changes that teens are going through affects the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, causing frequent changes in mood. A teenager may be completely peaceful one moment and crying the next. Mood swings are a cause for concern when they are drastic, frequent, and extreme. Many mood disorders and personality disorders are first discovered during adolescence.
Source: yanalya via freepik.com
- Greater Interest in Privacy. Teens have a greater interest in privacy as they grow up, and it is important that you allow them this privacy. Part of their interest in privacy will be due to changes in how they think about sexuality. Your teen will also have a greater interest in keeping thoughts and feelings private. Teens may keep a journal or diary, or they may have trusted friends that they talk to.
- Sexual Experimentation. It is extremely normal for your teen to want to experiment with sex. Their experimentation may have to do with exploration of their own body. On the other hand, as they get older, they may become curious about sex with others. If your teen is not only sexually active but sexually promiscuous, you may need to seek the help of a professional.
- Frequent Changes in Relationships. Your teen may change relationships frequently. You may have a difficult time keeping up with whom they are dating and when those relationships start or stop. If your teen is showing any of the more concerning signs of adolescence when it comes to relationships (e.g., promiscuity), it is a good idea to contact a therapist and get them evaluated.
What Can I Do?
There are a few things you can do to support your adolescent, even when you don't fully understand their behavior and what they are going through. The most important thing is to be there for them. When they need to talk to you, make sure the lines of communication are open.
If your child hasn't gone through adolescence yet, start talking to them and preparing them for the changes they will undergo as they grow. Helping a preteen understand what to expect in the near future can lead to greater trust between parent and child.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do for teenagers is to let them make mistakes for themselves. After all, they will be adults soon, and if you don't allow them to face any negative consequences, it may harm their expectations about what to expect as they get older.
The above tips apply to normal behavior. If your teen is displaying extreme or damaging behavior, it is time to consider talking to a therapist and allowing your teen to do so as well.
BetterHelp Can Help Get You Through Adolescence
The therapists at BetterHelp will not only help you work through your problems as a parent but can also help your adolescent with destructive behaviors. BetterHelp is a great and affordable resource, available to anyone with an Internet connection. Therapy can take place discreetly too, right from your home. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from parents of adolescents.
"Tammi has made such a difference in my life. Had I not had her help I'm pretty sure I would've lost all contact with my 19 year old daughter who chose to live with her father. She understands teenagers and moms of teenagers! So kind, wise, experienced, compassionate, and level headed, I can't say enough good about her!!"
"I have been working with Carolyn for 6 months now, and have tremendously benefited from her counseling as I support my daughter for Anorexia. Anorexia is a very complex mind-body illness and the family members can play a very important role in the recovery by educating ourselves and understanding her behavior. This allows me to use correct words with her, and watch my own behavior with her so I am supporting her in a healthy manner, and not enabling her illness further. Additionally, my own stress has been very difficult as I watch my sweet daughter suffer, so I had been in need of finding coping skills for myself. Carolyn's expertise, her very compassionate but clear guidelines and feedback to me have made be more confident and capable in dealing with this difficult illness. I am finding a lot of strength from her therapy, and most importantly I am handling my daughter better and can see the difference in my interactions with her. I am thankful to Carolyn for coming into my life when I needed someone to guide me through this. In addition to our weekly video chats, I am able to send her quick texts on the BetterHelp app if an issue arises and I need her thoughts, and Carolyn replies back very quickly with more tips to help me. I have recommended BetterHelp to friends as access to a great therapist like Carolyn would not have been possible for me without this platform... while I also do this from the convenience of my time and home. Thank you Carolyn, and thank you Betterhelp for being here for me!"
Taking the time to interpret your adolescent's behavior is worth the effort. When you notice negative behaviors that are outside the norm, it is imperative to seek help as soon as possible. BetterHelp can help you help your teen and ensure that you are parenting the best way possible. Everyone needs help sometimes! Take the first step.