A group of teens sitting on a bench in against a wall with bright graffiti

Normal Versus Abnormal Teenage Behavior: When to worry about your teen

Sometimes I find that parents have some trouble during the teen years distinguishing between normal teenage behaviors and behaviors that might need some professional intervention or counseling.  So today I’m going to run down a quick list for you of those times where you might be questioning.  

Teenagers studying at a table demonstrating normal versus abnormal teen behavior

Typical Teenage Behaviors

Insecurity around body changes:

It’s typical for your child to start questioning their body and even to feel somewhat insecure with the changes that are happening with their body.  It’s normal for them to be more self-conscious about that, and maybe not really understanding what’s happening with their sexual maturation.  Some children will begin to question their sexuality at this stage.

Increased experimentation:

You might see some experimentation.  It’s normal for them to have some sexual experimentation.  This could be with romantic partners or otherwise.  You might see some experimentation with things like drugs or alcohol or cigarettes/vaping and things of that nature.  It doesn’t mean that you should support this or think this is great!  It doesn’t mean you can’t enforce consequences.  It is just not cause for panic.  A child who tries alcohol once or who has some sexual encounter with someone they’re in an age-appropriate relationship with is not cause for therapy.  

Increased risk taking:

You’ll also potentially see some increased risk taking.  They might be doing some kind of scarier things.  This can be normal for their age and as long as it is not potentially life-threating or harmful, is not in an of itself a warning sign in need of counseling.

Increased Stress:

You’ll see them having stress when transitioning from junior high to high school.  They may have some difficulty making decisions, feeling overwhelmed with everyday things, and you might see them being a bit more argumentative with you, or pushing back.  That’s all part of this developmental stage and is perfectly normal.  

You may see some of these things quite a bit.  You may experience increased conflict with your child.  All of that is normal, healthy and expected.  

 Abnormal Teenage Behaviors

Now that you know what’s normal, let’s talk about what teenage behavior we don’t want see happening with your child and where you will want professional intervention or counseling for your teen.

 Insecurity around body changes:  

 If your child is binging or purging, cutting themselves that is something you’ll definitely want to address in professional counseling.  If your child is struggling with gender identity or seems overly distressed regarding sexuality, it can be helpful to get them professional support.

 Increased experimentation:  

If you see sexual practices like multiple partners, unsafe sex, pregnancy or they’re doing really risky sexual behaviors online or otherwise, that may need an intervention with a counselor.   If you’re seeing heavy substance abuse, selling drugs, illegal activities, those are not normal teenage behaviors.

 Increased risk taking:  

 If you’re seeing them getting info multiple accidents, dealing with firearms, taking severely dangerous risks, again, not normal.  

Increased Stress:

If you are seeing verbal or physical aggression or they’re running away, that’s not normal conflict between parents and a child.    Skipping school, truancy, not connecting with peers at all, total isolation, that’s going to be a problem you will want to seek help for. 

If you see them totally rebelling against social conventions to the point of almost anarchy, that’s not normal.  You’ll see them questioning all kinds of political ideals and religious ideals, that’s normal, but not saying “there’s no social conventions whatsoever”.  

This list is not a complete list of all normal or abnormal behaviors in teens, but hopefully gives you a good start to knowing what to expect. If you have concerns about your teen’s behaviors, give us a call or contact us today for a consultation.

For additional resources on teen behavior or teen mental health, visit NAMI.

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