18 Areas Of Normal Adolescent Behavior
By Sarah Fader
Updated December 11, 2018
Reviewer Tiffany Howard, LPC, LCADC
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 in which they tend to portray themselves as more mature and capable of making decisions than they actually are as well as pay less attention to parents' advice and experience. When faced with disappointments or failures, they may become more obviously dissatisfied or even hostile.
It can be difficult as a parent to know what is normal adolescent behavior. There may be days when you feel that your teen is anything but normal. However, while these years can be challenging, it is perfectly normal for your adolescent to act out and have certain changes in mood and behavior.
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 your teen grows to be a fully functioning adult.
Verbal aggression is normal adolescent behavior, especially in boys. Hormone changes combined with feelings of wanting more independence can cause teens to lash out with hurtful words, yelling, or arguments.
Studies have shown that as teenage boys go through puberty and their testosterone levels increase, they become more and more verbally aggressive. Eventually, the hormone levels stabilize, and the aggression will decrease as the teen ages.
When to Get Help
While verbal aggression is normal, when it becomes extremely abusive or turns into physical aggression it is time to get help. You do not want to allow aggression to become out of control. You also cannot stand by while your teen becomes harmful to himself or others. If your teen shows signs of physical aggression such as hitting walls, breaking things, or hitting other people, you need to seek help immediately.
Lack Of Frustration Tolerance
Hormone changes and confusion about their place in the world can also lead to a lack of frustration tolerance, as can environmental issues such as home life, bullying, economic status, peer pressure, lack of support from home and difficulty making friends, just to name a few. Teens will become easily frustrated, and that frustration could lead to emotional or aggressive outbursts. Studies have also shown testosterone levels to increase this behavior in teenage boys.
Low Impulse Control
Teens have a very low control of their impulses. Children, in general, tend to act on what they want, often without thinking through the consequences. Teens are no different, except that what they want could have much more dire consequences than simply wanting ice cream for breakfast as a child.
Research has been done trying to discover how the adolescent brain works and what leads to what could be considered normal adolescent behavior. One study suggested that the way the brain works in teens greatly explains the immature impulse control.
Low impulse control can lead to normal adolescent behavior such as blowing off schoolwork to go to a party or school event, drinking alcohol, experimenting with drugs, or experimenting with sex. In extreme cases, it can also lead to a tendency toward petty theft, lying or the telling of tall tales as truth.
Withdrawal From Family
It is normal adolescent behavior for your teen to withdraw from family and spend more time with friends and peers. While it can be frustrating when your teen begins to pull away emotionally and physically, it is a sign that they are gaining their independence. It is perfectly normal, and their increased social interaction with peers should be encouraged.
When To Get Help
If your teen is withdrawing from all social interaction, it may be 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. This can be a sign of depression or social anxiety and should be addressed immediately.
Sleeping Harder And Longer
Teens go through a lot of physical growth very quickly during the years from about age 14 to 17. It is a 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 even sleep for as long as twelve hours on the weekends.
When To Get Help
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 were once interesting, and other withdrawal symptoms, it could be a sign that your teen is suffering from depression. Seek help quickly to have them assessed and get help if required.
Increase In Appetite
Because teens are growing so much during these years, their 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 a perfectly normal adolescent behavior to want to eat everything in sight, and they may not make the healthiest food choices.
When To Get Help
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. Barring this, you may also need to have them assessed for eating disorders. Some teens turn to food for comfort during this trying time of growing up, and that can have dire health consequences in the short and long term.
Light Risk Taking
Risk taking is related to low impulse control and peer pressure. It is a normal adolescent behavior to want to fit in with the crowd, and they are not likely to think through consequences before making decisions. This can lead to some light risk-taking behavior, such as experimenting with alcohol, having sex, skipping school, or irresponsible driving.
When To Get Help
When risk-taking behaviors become dangerous to your teen or others, you may need to address the problem and seek help. If your teen becomes involved in experimenting with drugs, starts getting into fights, or becomes reckless to the point of being in immediate and present danger, you need to address the behavior immediately before someone gets hurt.
Worry About Physical Appearance
As your teen gets older, they will care more and more about their physical appearance. They will worry first about fitting in with the crowd. As they get older, they will be worried about being attractive to potential romantic partners.
Your teen may become pickier about their clothing, worry about wearing off-brand shoes, or spend hours in the bathroom prepping for the day or a night out. If overweight they may try to go on a diet, or if skinny they may try to work out to build muscle.
When To Get Help
While it is normal adolescent behavior for your teen to worry about their appearance, there may be cause for concern if your teen goes to extremes. If your overweight teen suddenly starts dropping weight, changes eating habits drastically, or stops eating altogether, you need to get them into counseling for possible eating disorders. If your teen works out to the point of exhaustion and keeps going, they could permanently damage their body, so it is important to get them therapy as well.
Defiance And Testing Limits
As your teen fights 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 rules, argue about rules, or outright refuse to do things that are asked of them. While it is frustrating, it is a normal part of growing up that every teenager goes through.
Many teens have low self-esteem, particularly while going through an awkward stage where they don't feel they belong. When they don't feel that they are a child but also do not feel like an adult, they may wonder about their place in the world. This can lead to low self-esteem or a poor self-image.
Also, peer pressure to look and act their best can be extremely debilitating for some teens. If they are having a hard time fitting in or meeting expectations, or if they are faced with the unfortunate increase in cyber-bullying that is having such a devastating impact, they may develop poor self-esteem. You can help them by setting realistic expectations and frequently reminding them of their specialness. It is also useful to limit their screen time when you notice a change in their attitude and behaviors when they have been using them.
When To Get Help
If your teen becomes despondent, depressed, or withdrawn, it could be a sign that their poor self-esteem is developing into anxiety or depression. While a certain amount of poor self-image can be normal, prolonged feelings of not being good enough can cause severe depression and is a leading cause of teen suicide. It is important to know what is influencing your teen through conversation if possible and to get your teen therapy to improve their self-image and mood if they are unwilling to share their experience or their mood changes drastically or quickly.
Many teens will abandon previous commitments as they struggle to discover what is important to them. If they play an instrument or a team sport and suddenly lose interest or drop out, don't be surprised. This is normal adolescent behavior that does not cause for concern. If, however, your teen has little interest in anything at all, it could be a sign of depression.
You will notice that your adolescent is extremely selfish. They will tend to think only of themselves, and rarely consider the thoughts, feelings or actions of others. This is because your teen is figuring out who they are as a person, and they are trying to find their place in the world. This leaves little attention for things outside their immediate sphere of understanding and knowledge of self.
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 look track of time easily, especially when spending time with their peers at social engagements.
Do not assume that because your teen is late coming home and misses curfew that they are getting in trouble or are in danger. In most cases, teens are simply not paying attention to how late it is getting. Keep in contact with your teen via phone and text so that you can remind them when it's time to come home and check in if they are running late.
Struggle With Sense Of Identity
Many teens struggle with their sense of identity during adolescence. They may go through phases where they are "goth" or "emo." They may go through phases where they are a bookworm, but then abhor books. They may dress differently or gain interest in completely different things than they have in the past.
It is also common for teens to struggle with a sense of gender or sexual identity during this age. Most people who discover that they are transgender or homosexual begin having those feelings during adolescence. Your teen may not understand the feelings they are having, so it is important to be there for open discussions if they come to you struggling with their identity
Mood swings are quite common as your child grows to adolescence. The massive hormone changes that they are going through affects the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, causing frequent changes in mood. They may be completely peaceful one moment and crying the next. This is completely normal adolescent behavior.
When To Get Help
When mood swings become a cause for concern is when they are very drastic, very frequent, and very extreme. Many mood disorders and personality disorders are first discovered during adolescence. If your child seems to have symptoms of violently frequent or changing moods at the drop of a hat all the time, they may have one of these disorders. It is a good idea to have them evaluated by a therapist to be on the safe side
Greater Interest In Privacy
Your teen will have a much greater interest in privacy as they grow up, and it is very important that you give them this privacy. Part of their interest in privacy will be due to the changes in how they think about sexuality. They will want to make sure that they are never seen undressed or nearly so. If they share a room with siblings, they may switch to changing clothing in the bathroom alone.
Your teen will also have a greater interest in keeping their thoughts and feelings private. They may keep a journal or diary, or they may have a trusted friend that they talk to. Either way, it is important to respect their privacy. They may be feeling unsure about their thoughts and feelings and be unwilling to share them. This is perfectly normal adolescent behavior, and it does not cause for concern.
It is extremely normal for your teen to want to experiment with sex. Their experimentations may have to do with self-exploration of their body. Or, as they get older, they may become curious about sex with others. Many teens do not reach adulthood with their virginity intact. It is important to talk to your teen about safe sex practices and prepare them so that if they find themselves in the midst of sexual experimentation, they are prepared.
When To Get Help
If your teen is not only sexually active but sexually promiscuous, you may need to seek the help of a professional. Sexual promiscuity can be dangerous physically, mentally and emotionally. If you discover that your teen is promiscuous, you should address the problem quickly before dire consequences ensue. There could be underlying emotional problems leading to the behavior.
Frequent Changes In Relationships
Your teen may frequently have changes in relationships. You may have a difficult time keeping up with who they are dating and when those relationships start or stop. The love of their life today may be replaced by someone else tomorrow. Emotions run high and strong during adolescence, but your teen also has very changing moods and inclinations.
If your teen is showing any of the more concerning signs of adolescence, it is a good idea to contact a therapist and get them evaluated quickly. The psychologist may very well tell you that they are going through normal adolescent behavior, and you can put your worries aside. However, in some cases, they may be able to identify underlying problems that need to be addressed.