From a developmental point of view, teenagers should act differently from their child-like self. This is the time to try on new roles, explore various passions, be adventurous and expand their critical thinking skills. They naturally move away from parental influence and begin to value peer opinions in an effort to form their own perspective. This process is essential to developing a healthy adult who makes decisions, utilizes their talents, and is comfortable with their individuality.
But sometimes, the behavior may be more negative than positive. So what does dangerous teen behavior look like?
- Displaying uncontrollable anger with intense outbursts
- Uncharacteristically mean to friends and siblings
- Threatening to harm themselves or others
- Physically taking their anger out on others aggressively
- Staying out all night without knowledge or permission
- Skipping school
- Getting into more trouble at school
- Coming home acting differently or aloof
- Having questionable friendships
- Lying frequently about things that are insignificant
- Displaying signs of potential substance abuse
- Locking of doors, drawers or closets
- Withdrawing from most social engagements
- Avoiding friends and family
- Letting grades slip far below abilities
- Spending most of the time sleeping (does not count during a growth spurt)
- Having no interest in things they enjoyed before
- Threatening to commit suicide
- Cutting on their arms and/or legs
- Losing extreme amounts of weight
- Doing things to gain excessive amounts of attention
One of these behaviors alone is not enough to determine a potentially dangerous situation. However, five or more might indicate hazardous behavior. So, what to do?
Don’t ignore. This is a time to reflect on the behavior. What is the teen’s behavior communicating? Are they demanding attention because they don’t feel loved? Are they withdrawing because they have been hurt by a trusted person? Be honest with the situation and listen to the clues from their behavior.
Unrealistic expectations. Teens often feel overwhelmed with unrealistic expectations placed on them by parents, coaches, teachers and even self-imposed. So look at the expectations… are they necessary? Why are those expectations placed? Are the expectations inconsistent with the teen’s talents and abilities? Again, be honest and see the teen’s behavior as a real reflection of things that might need to be addressed.
Get help. More often than not, parents bring their teen into therapy to deal with the behavior, but do not go to therapy to deal with their own behavior. It is so much easier to point the finger at the teen. Therapy is most effective when the entire family admits that there is a problem and each person deals with the issues individually and collectively. The teen will do far better when they see the parents modeling better.
Many parents will admit that they need help parenting, but few will take the first step. Even fewer will go into therapy before they send their teen. However, family therapy is often the best solution for helping a teen resolve their issues.