Troubling Teenage Behavioral Changes
Dealing with troubling behavior in teenagers can be a very frustrating experience for parents. How does one deal with their troubled teen and guide them on the right path especially when they've gone too far in the wrong direction?
"Teenage behavioral changes make parents wonder if the change is just a phase he or she is going through or is it an obvious sign of trouble? Teenagers who are becoming self-centered, preoccupied, and anxious may test parent’s limits and question their own parenting capabilities."
So What is Going On in Your Teenager’s Brain?
At the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, mental health professionals report that every teen, even the healthy, well-balanced ones, has the ability to become mean, quarrelsome, and defiant. Dr. Andrew Garner of the American Academy of Pediatrics observes that natural brain development may have caused some of the oppositional defiances in teens.
The fluctuating hormones and the innate need to acquire independence during the teenager’s adolescent years contributes to the fast changing mood and audacity that has been related to adolescence.
Dr. Garner mentioned in an interview for Healthy Children Magazine that the part of the brain that administers the ability to see beyond the consequences of their behavior does not reach its full growth until young adulthood or late adolescence.
Although the brain’s part where the reflexive responses and emotions are regulated matures during the early adolescence. The imbalance in the brain development is believed to have caused teens to act impulsively, start making poor choices and acting aggressive or defiant.
With this simple explanation, you can see why parents are often worried about their teenager’s decisions and choices. The choice that they make during this phase in their lives can most definitely affect their future. So, it is important to know how to properly handle your teen and most especially deal with their defiant behavior.
When Things Go Wrong
Experienced parents understand that a normal part of adolescence includes a distancing from parents as a teen develops their own identity. At some point in their development, it is normal for a teen to build stronger relationships with their peers than with their parents.
However, once a teen is heading in the wrong direction, one of the first signs to look for is a sudden distancing from the family. Activities that once the whole family enjoyed together suddenly become a burden. A fight ensues every time even the most basic of outings is considered. But there is so much more, most of which can be spotted before a troubled child becomes a full-fledged troubled teen.
How to Spot Negative Behavioral Changes
If you are wondering about the severity of your teen's problems or are trying to decide if an out-of-home placement is necessary, please refer to the information on common troubled teenager behaviors below.
What are the warning signs to look for in order to determine if my teen is going down the wrong road? Troubled teen behaviors:
- Distancing from the Family
- Isolating from the Family
- Drop in Academic Performance
- Separation from Established Family Identities
- Dress and Grooming
- New Friends
- Lack of Motivation
- Drug Use
- Sexual Promiscuity
- Running Away
If your teen's behavior meets some all of the above descriptions of troubled teenager behaviors, you are not alone. Unfortunately, today more and more teens are fitting this mold. The danger is that all of these things beat down self-worth, discipline, and motivation for a better life.
If left unchecked, these problems could result in irreparable damage. In a day where our society treats teens as adults, we must remember they are not. In most cases the overcompensation we see from them is exactly that, compensating for a void or for what is not there.
Teens heading in the wrong direction need supervision and love just as a toddler does. This is not a time to lash out at them or to take personally the way they are living their lives. However, it is a time to do anything you can to save them from making decisions that could negatively affect the remainder of their lives.
Often, distancing from the family and lying happen together. It is common that by the time a teen gets caught lying, they have already been lying for some time. Struggling teens will often lie about things like what time they are going to be home from school, who they are going to be with, where they are going to be, what time they will come home on a weekend night, how they are doing in school, whether or not they have homework, if they did their chores, etc.
These are just a few examples of some of the things a teen may try to hide as their life starts changing for the worse. Teens have a very strong sense of right and wrong. If they are defying boundaries set by parents, they are aware of it and they will use every means imaginable to hide their objectionable behavior. Often by the time a teen is consistently caught lying the shift in lifestyles has already begun.
If you are absolutely sure your child is lying, it is important to deal with the situation calmly and immediately. Try to find out what is motivating them to lie to you. Probe for the reasons the child may have lied instead of simply defaulting to lecturing and punishment. Let them know that lying will damage relationships which are based on trust and communication. Explain in very clear terms the consequences of future lying.
Isolation from the Family
Distancing continues to increase and soon turns into complete isolation. The resistance to any family activity becomes intense. Each time an activity is suggested it is like "pulling teeth."
While at home, the teen spends much of their time in their room except to eat, watch TV and use the bathroom. The teen seldom engages in conversations with parents and doesn't want to talk about what is going on in their life.
The Academy of Pediatrics (in the journal Pediatrics, March 2005) indicates loss of interest in activities may also signal drug use.
Drop in Academic Performance
This can happen in one of two ways: 1) the teen's grades go from good to bad all at once. 2) the teens failing in school happens slowly (A's turn to B's and then fall to C's). The important thing to recognize is the change in grades is clearly below the performance level of past years.
Poor grades are an indication that your teen is withdrawing at school. If your teen is withdrawing at home and school, he/she may feel hopeless and worthless which can lead to depression and suicidal tendencies.
The Academy of Pediatrics (in the journal Pediatrics, March 2005) indicates truancy and dropping grades may also signal drug use.
Dress and Grooming
Often another drastic change will be their dress. For both males and females, dress and grooming is a way of identifying with who they want to fit in with. Immediate changes in dress and grooming are also another big outward warning sign of an inward change.
The Academy of Pediatrics (in the journal Pediatrics, March 2005) indicates changes in dress and grooming may also signal drug use.
Say goodbye to the good old friends. In many cases, troubled teens go through friends like clothes, or leave established good friendships for new friends that are not heading in a positive direction.
These are more outward signs of what is going on inside. The old saying "show me a man's friends, and I will show you the man" is still very appropriate today. A child's friends are often cited as a parent's number one concern.
Unfortunately, it is also something the parent can do very little about. Your teen is going to pick their own friends. In a very dangerous situation, the only thing you may be able to do is to remove your teen entirely from the environment.
The Academy of Pediatrics (in the journal Pediatrics, March 2005) indicates changes in friends may also signal drug use.
Lack of Motivation
Living a negative life robs teens of self-respect and direction. This can result in an attitude of laziness. Many times the parents we help will say "my son/daughter will not even lift a finger to help around the house. All they do is sleep, watch TV, eat our food and hang out with their friends."
Parents feel like they are being taken advantage of - and many are. Today's teenagers spend an unprecedented number of hours every day watching television, playing video games, surfing the web or simply lounging around. These teens need a tough love approach in order to learn the value of work and the feelings of self-confidence and self-worth that come from it.
If your teen has all the aforementioned warning signs and is not yet using or experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol, it probably won't be long before they start. Teens who exhibit most or all of the previously mentioned warning signs are not feeling very good about who they are and as a result, will have little respect for themselves and others.
Once the personal respect is gone, there is not much stopping them from doing self-destructive things such as using drugs. When looking for signs, the main word to keep in mind is "change." It is important to be aware of any significant changes in your teen's physical appearance, personality, attitude or behavior.
Some of the most notable physical signs of drug use are: changes in appetite (increase or decrease), diminished physical coordination, inability to sleep, awake at unusual times, unusual laziness, red/watery eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual, shaking hands, smell of substance on breath/body/clothes, extreme hyperactivity, excessive talkativeness, runny nose, hacking cough, needle marks on lower arm/leg/bottom of feet, nausea/vomiting, excessive sweating and tremors or shakes of hands/feet/head.
Sometimes teens who are really struggling will intentionally scratch or cut themselves on their wrists, arms, legs or bellies until they bleed. This is called "cutting." Cutting is a way some may try to cope with strong emotional pain.
The physical pain associated with cutting is enough to temporality relieve or mask the pain inside. Obviously, this is not a healthy way to cope with internal pain. The relief is not lasting because the feelings that triggered it remains.
Most people who cut are female but males do it too. Cutting can become a compulsive or addictive behavior. Once started, it can be very difficult to stop. People who cut will usually try to hide the marks and scars.
One of the signs of cutting is if your child constantly wears long sleeves even in hot weather. Cutting usually starts in the early teens but some continue the practice into adulthood. If your teen has entered this stage, their life is at risk and they need immediate professional intervention.
Living in a "sexed-up" society doesn't help teenagers with raging hormones. Often girls think they are only good to please their male friends. 100% of their perceived value lies in how they dress and look.
Boys want to be cool and are often judged by how many girls they can get with. Many teens who engage in sexual promiscuity have a low self-esteem. There are likely other contributions to this behavior and those underlying issues need to be identified and addressed.
Sexual promiscuity is risky behavior and it can be a cry for help from your teen. Parents should take this warning sign very seriously.
Researchers at the University of Notre Dame published a study in the August 2007 issues of Scientific America and Teen Beat magazines which indicate as many as 30-percent of current American teenagers are upset enough with their home situation to have seriously considered running away from home during the last 18 months.
According to the National Runaway Switchboard, 1 in 7 kids between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away. There are an estimated 1 to 3 million runaway and homeless kids living on the streets in the U.S. These are alarmingly large numbers.
Teens may think by running away they can escape rules and conflict with parents who are "always telling them what to do." However, teens that run away or consistently break curfew are much more likely to be involved in drugs, alcohol, sexual promiscuity and dangerous crime.
If your teen is consistently breaking curfew or has run away, it is very likely they are getting involved in a destructive lifestyle. The programs in our directory can help your teen develop skills that will enable them to cope with the stress and problems of life.
The Academy of Pediatrics (in the journal Pediatrics, March 2005) indicates attempts at running away may also signal drug use.
Ways to Handle Your Defiant Teenager
Give your teen a positive feedback on the good choices they make. Focusing your attention on their negative decisions will make them think that it’s useless to be “on the right” if their own parents treat them like they can’t do anything well.
Letting them know that you appreciate every good deed and acknowledging it through a simple expression of approval might just be the only thing they need.
Do not make excuses for every negative behavior that your teens would display. Rescuing your teens from every bad situation brought about by their behavior won’t help them in the long run. In the real world, it is important for teens to learn from the consequences of their actions in order to become responsible.
Talk to them in a non-preaching manner about the importance of making good choices that will help them in the long run rather than making them miserable as a result.
Present them with questions that will ultimately make them find the answers on their own and clearly define their limits. Letting your teens learn life’s lessons the tough way might be difficult for parents. But if it is one way to make them realize their mistakes, then you should allow them to experience and learn on their own.
These suggestions hold true for teens who act with defiance from time to time but when you speak of teens with defiant behavior disorders, one would definitely need a more different approach to be able to cope and deal with the constant combative and negative behavior. Some of the teens with this behavioral style are still undiagnosed.
But nonetheless, appropriate and immediate help should readily be given because as parents ignore the signs of constant defiance, your teens will likely have to worsen their defiant behavior and can even lead to a more criminal behavior as they grow older. Even if one had already tried every correct parental intervention.
The answer to most parental problems regarding defiant teens is to provide them with an appropriate program or therapy or any professional help. Has your teen assessed by a mental health professional to determine an appropriate course of action and keep in mind that attempting to deal with serious behavior issues alone can be very risky?
Parenting teens can become very frustrating, especially if you’re not sure how to basically deal with your normal teens. Generally, to be an effective parent, one should just pay attention to any hints displayed by their teens, understand them and apply a good deal of patience, guidance, and love. Whenever needed, ask some outside help for your difficult to control defiant teen.