Understanding Teenage Behavior Problems And Tips To Handle Them

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It’s not easy dealing with teenage behavior. When it comes to your teenager, no matter how amazing a parent you are or how fantastic your relationship with your children is, you are bound to run against parenting barriers. Teenagers have a lot of behavioral issues. However, if you are prepared to put out the effort to understand their needs and what they are going through, you will have no trouble dealing with them.

This post provides an insight into teenage behavioral issues and how to cope with them without putting your relationship with your child at risk.

What Is Normal Teen Behavior?

“Is my teenager’s behavior normal?” If you often ask yourself this question, you are not alone. Parents could have difficulty understanding how their lovable little girl or boy has become so inscrutable. It is normal for teenagers to be moody, because of the hormonal changes they go through. the changes happening to the neural pathways in their brain and the ongoing growth of their body. Whilst many teens appear to be of the same size as adults, they still do not have the same lung capacity and this adds to the changes going on in their brains, making them feel tired easily.

Your teenager may need several reminders to finish his homework, to keep his room clean, or to finish simple chores. They may seem defiant and distant, and even detached at times.

That is typical teen behavior, but it may seem abnormal to adults, making it difficult to differentiate between normal teenage behavior and behavior associated with a mental illness.

10 Common Behavior Problems In Teenagers

Behavior issues in adolescents are normal. For ease of understanding, common teenage behaviors have been categorized into risky and difficult teenage behaviors. Sean Byers, Master of Public Health, Biostatistics and Epidemiology, a medical advisor from Los Angeles, California, says, “Teens experience many stressful events and transitions that are difficult for them to handle on their own. A troubled teenager would exhibit loss of interest in everyday activities; increased anger, frustration, or sadness; decreased sleep and appetite; and self-harming behavior.”

Risky Behavior In Teenagers

Teenage behaviors which can lead to self-harm or physical and psychological damage are considered as risky teenage behaviors. Keeping a close eye on your child can help you curb the issue before it blows out of proportion.

1. Sex, Alcohol, And Drugs

Indulgence in alcohol and drugs

Image: Shutterstock

Teens are increasingly indulging in alcohol, drugs, and sex long before they reach the legal age. Don’t be surprised if you find that your 15 or 16-year-old has started to drink socially and is sexually active. If you find that your child’s friends and classmates are also indulging in such activities, then it is safe to assume that it is “normal” teen behavior, and not a physical or mental illness. It is easy to get addicted to these vices. Substance abuse can often lead to depression, liver failure, and other chronic diseases (1). Alcohol and drug addiction may be difficult to recover from (2).


As a parent, do not approve of these activities but at the same time, do not panic and react instantly. Kids could take to alcohol early on due to violence or abuse at home, parent’s divorce or sheer peer pressure. One of the most effective ways to prevent alcohol or drug abuse is to talk about it. Talk to your teenager calmly and explain why they shouldn’t be indulging in drugs, alcohol, or sex early in their life. Avoid an accusing tone when you bring up the issue, and try to be friendly.

Children are also at the risk of taking alcohol without their knowledge. Sometimes, teens worry that not having alcohol or drugs is uncool and may be under peer pressure to say yes to it. To avoid that, teach your kids early on how to say no to alcohol or drugs when someone offers it to them.

Experts also say that teens, who eat dinner regularly with their parents, participate in after-school activities and are not allowed to wander around late at night, have a significantly lower risk of becoming involved in these situations.

Quick tip
Stay aware and take action if you notice signs of alcohol and drug usage in your teens. Constant fatigue, red eyes, a lasting cough, irritability, a negative attitude, and lack of interest could be some signs (7).

2. Increased Use Of Communication Devices And Social Media

According to PewResearch Center, 73% of teenagers had access to smartphones in 2015 and more than 92% teens logged into social media every day using their smartphones (3)

Use of communication devices and social media is not bad. In fact, it is necessary for teens to have a mobile phone so that parents can keep a track of their whereabouts.

However, the use of these devices can turn into an addiction and affect your kid’s lifestyle and attitude. Social media can open doors for strangers who may want to take undue advantage of your naive teenager, which can be dangerous.


Not giving your teenager a mobile phone or completely cutting off social media access is not a good idea. In fact, it may backfire and lead to stealing, hiding, and lying. It is common for teens to own a mobile phone. Get them one but have strict rules about what they use it for.

Monitor how they use the Internet – keep a tab on their browsing history if possible. Have an open arrangement about it so that you don’t have to check on them behind their back. Also, encourage them to talk about what they do online, by being friendly and open to their ideas and interests.

Another way to deal with this issue is to have restrictions on time spent on texting and calling their friends or on social media when they are at home.

You may also download an app that enables you to turn the internet access off for certain devices or allows you to put time limits on the devices that your teenager has access to.

3. Mood Swings

Mood swings are common in teenagers, with them being happy sometimes and cranky the other times. Anything and everything can set them off, and they can go on endless tirades of how unfair you are.

Mood swings can also indicate depression sometimes. Parents can distinguish between teen rebellion and mood swings, and depression by considering the severity and duration of the mood swings and the domains that are affected by these swings (4).


A common mistake that parents do is trivialize what their teen is going through. You may feel that your child is overreacting, but that will only make them feel misunderstood. That can shut them off completely. Avoid giving advice or diverting the topic. Rather than brushing off their reaction, try to listen and empathize. Let them talk about it and you may even be able to lead them to realize that the drama is not worth it.

If you feel that there is a genuine mental health concern, then take the teen to a mental health professional or your local GP.

4. Aggression

Your teenager may get angry with you often and for reasons that are incomprehensible. They may become argumentative and talk back more than they did when they were kids. Understand that anger is a normal human emotion, and it is common among teens. But if they don’t channelize their anger properly, it can become aggression and result in violence, which can be dangerous to them and others.


Parents often react to an angry, shouting teen by shouting back. Avoid the temptation to be louder than your teen and ‘win’ the argument, because that does not always fetch the desired results. In fact, your teen may feel pushed to a corner and become even more aggressive when you try to dominate him.

The only way to calm an angry teen is to be calm. Find ways to control your anger and listen to what your teenager has to say. Avoid arguments as far as possible and let your teen vent out all the anger. Once they run out of things to say, they will calm down. Encourage them to talk to you when there is a problem instead of bottling it up. Teach them healthy ways to express anger rather than being aggressive or violent.

Experts say
Colin De Miranda, a clinical social worker, suggests that the way teens handle their anger may depend a lot on how their parents behave when angry. So, parents must become role models and watch their body language and tone (8).

5. Lying Or Hiding Facts

It can be devastating for parents to find that their child has lied to them, or has not revealed everything. The truth is that their new sense of independence makes it seem unnecessary for them to tell you everything. Also, the fear of being judged and punished may force your teen to lie, which could become a compulsive habit if not nipped in the bud.


Honesty is a trait that you should encourage your children to build. Teach them to tell you the truth, by setting an example for them. Have an open channel of communication with your kids, which allows them to share anything and everything without hesitation. When kids see their parents being truthful and honest about everything, including their mistakes, they will learn to do the same.

Avoid being judgmental. If you point out flaws in everything and correct every mistake they make, they may fear that you will never approve of them, and may stop sharing and communicating with you.

Difficult Teenage Behavior

Difficult behaviors are not harmful per se, but they can strain the relationship you have with your teen.

6. Defying Rules And Arguing

Teenage behavior problems

Image: iStock

Teenagers are rebellious. They may not always want to do what you tell them to and would want to see the extent to which they can defy you. When teenagers argue with you and refuse to obey rules, do not punish them and act like a tyrant as it makes them more stubborn. They break rules more often. They may refuse to do chores, and talk back all the time.


Teenagers are confused and need guidance to stay on the right path. They need limits to help them stay in control. When you create rules, you also create limits to help them. Be clear about the rules, be it about how late they can stay out on a school night, or what they are supposed to do at home.

Make the consequences clear if they defy the rules and enforce them, regardless of how trivial the issue may seem. Your teenager will know that you are serious about the rules, and that will instill a sense of discipline in them.

You could also involve them in setting rules and punishments. This way they would clearly know what they are in for, if they go out of bounds.

Remember that as your teenager gets older, it is normal for them to want more independence. This is part of them getting ready to leave home, so try not to take their behavior personally and remember this is part of what they need to do.

7. Drastic Changes In Appearance

The ‘rebellion’ bug, combined with the enthusiasm to experiment, can make your teen do a lot of things you may not understand. One of them is a drastic change in their appearance – your child may take to a specific style of dressing, may insist on having nothing but branded clothes, and may change their hairstyle without consulting you. Girls may start using makeup, while boys may change their hairstyles and get tattoos.

Teenage is when kids get in touch with their sexuality, and their newly discovered sexual preferences may also affect their dressing. Physical appearance and eating disorders are closely linked. If your teen is eating too much or too little, starving herself, exercising more than needed, vomiting everything she eats, or constantly worries that she is fat or ugly, it can indicate serious problems like eating disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders (5).


The most important thing you can do as a parent is accept them as they are and help them do the same. Teach them to embrace who they are and how they look – this will help them deal with the pressures of looking ‘cool’ or ‘hot’ when they start high school.

Getting your teenagers to dress like the way you want them to can be next to impossible. Instead of rejecting their choices outright, try to indicate subtly that the ‘look’ doesn’t seem so cool and give them better options they may like.

8. Decreased Communication

Your teenager is not talking to you as much as you would want him or her to. But think about it, did you talk to your parents all the time as a teenager? Probably not. Also, your teen may seem to share more with her friends than she does with you. While you may want to know about everything that happens in your child’s life, it is not a reasonable ask for a teenager.


If you force your teenager to tell you everything, they may end up fabricating stories to please you, which is not what you want. Accept that your teenager will not tell you everything. However, do let them know that they must inform you about all of the important events of their lives as you are the guardian. Emphasize that you’d like to know what’s happening in their life only because you care about them and want to make sure they are happy.

It is also important to realize that the part of the brain that links emotions to communication is still developing in teenagers, so they may not be able to put words to what is happening for them. In moments when they are feeling down, acknowledge it and offer them support. This can be enough to help them put words to what is happening for them.

9. Spending More Time With Friends

Spending more time with friends

Image: Shutterstock

Teenagers’ sense of identity is based on who they hang out with. If they seem to be spending more time with their friends instead of with you at home, it is because they want to fit in, which is typical teenager behavior. The problem is when your teen spends more time with people you do not approve of (not that your teen cares about your approval), or with people who you think can influence your teen negatively.


You may not like your teenager’s friends because of their appearance or because of their attitude. If it is the appearance, remember that it is not always a good idea to judge a book by its cover. Take the time to know your child’s friends before rejecting them. If you think that you are not happy with the kids’ attitude, you may want to bring that to your teenager’s notice in a subtle way. Gently share your concerns in a non-judgemental way whilst telling your teenager that you trust them to make the right decision. This will encourage them to review the friendships they are choosing and not feel pressured into making their own choices.

Remember that building a network outside of the family unit is a normal part of a teenager developing more independence.

If you find that your teen’s behavior has significantly changed, bring it to their notice without making it seem like it is their fault.

10. Indecisiveness

Teens are often confused and indecisive because of the physical and emotional changes they go through. Whether it is something as simple as what to wear to school or something as important as what college to pick, your teenager may seem to have a tough time making a choice. Indecisiveness may also be a sign of depression although not always (6).


Teenage is the right time to introduce decision-making skills. Teach them different ways in which an option can be evaluated or gauged to make the right choice. Make sure that you do not, in any way, put them down or laugh at them for not being able to make a simple choice. Also, avoid the temptation to make the choice for them. If you offer too much advice, they may end up making the wrong choice just to be defiant or prove that they can make decisions too.

Typical Teenage Girl Behavior Problems

In addition to the behaviors mentioned above, teenage girls are exposed to a number of stress factors that put them at the risk of developing eating disorders, anxiety problems, and substance abuse.

Teenage girls are vulnerable emotionally and physically, and can be influenced by the internal stressors like hormone changes and external stressors like peer pressure and academic pressure. Understand that it is as difficult for your daughter to be a teen, as it is for you to be a teen’s parent.

Quick fact
Eating disorders in teenagers may cause weakness, constipation, bloating, delayed puberty, irregular periods, and irregular heartbeat (9).

Typical Teenage Boy Behavior Problems

Boys tend to repress their feelings and not talk about them. In fact, a lot of teenage boys look at discussing their emotions as a sign of weakness.

Teen boys tend to start drugs and drinking earlier than girls, which is why parents need to be extra careful. Recklessness is yet another trait that teenage boys have, which draws them to speeding and indulging in risky activities.

More Tips To Deal With Teen Behavior

Dealing with teenagers is not rocket science. You can have a healthy relationship with your teenager if you are willing to be patient and put in the effort to understand and work with the kid. Byers recommends, “You may monitor teens at home quietly or talk to their teachers and spot any red flags. Maintain a good relationship with their friends and teachers, so you know who your child is interacting with on a day-to-day basis. If they are showing any adverse symptoms, they may be experiencing anxiety, and you should seek a professional’s help.”

1. Create A Trusting Relationship

Trust is important for any relationship. If you want your teenager to listen to you, or consider what you say, you should earn their trust. Keep an open relationship where you share things with each other – when you share important things about your life and work, your teen will know that you trust him and is more likely to open up to you about his life.

Nafisa Sekandari, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist from Greater Phoenix Area, Arizona, says, “The best advice I received was to build a connection with my daughter when she was very young and that connection has helped me connect with her and help her navigate this journey.”

2. Empathize

Understand their perspective

Image: iStock

Remember, you were a teenager once. No matter how unreasonable your teen’s behavior may seem, try to imagine how they are feeling. Put yourself in their shoes and understand their perspective. When you reflect their feelings, they feel acknowledged and are willing to share their feelings, ideas, and opinions freely.

3. Respect Them

Do you want your teen to respect you? Teach them about it by respecting them. Fear or intimidation cannot earn you your teen’s respect. Lead by example – respect their personality, ideas, opinions, and emotions. Do not belittle them in front of their friends or even in private, and most importantly, do not trivialize or criticize their ideas or opinions as that can make them insecure as adults. When you treat your children with respect, they will respond with the same respect towards you.

4. Offer Help

Let them know that you are willing to help

Image: iStock

Most teenagers can take care of themselves and may not need your help. However, it is important to let them know that you are willing to help them should they need any. Some teens may feel the need to do everything on their own and consider seeking help as a sign of inadequacy. Help your kids understand that not everyone can do everything, and it is okay to ask for help sometimes. You could, alternatively, seek their help in small matters to make them feel involved. When they see you seeking help, they will do so from you, too.

5. Show Them You Care

Your teenager may hate you or at least, say so. That may not necessarily be true. Also, they may see your discipline and strictness as hatred towards them and believe that you only want to make life difficult for them. You can prevent your teenager from developing negative feelings towards you by showing that you care. Tell them how much you love them and do little things to make them happy. Show you are interested in what they are interested in (even if you have to fake it a little). This will help keep communication channels open for when they really need to talk to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is disrespectful teenage behavior?

Some teenagers may tend to behave rudely when they do not get their way. Disrespect from a teen can take various forms, including eye-rolling, curses, insults, back talk, name-calling, ignored requests, and sarcastic comments. Ignoring such behavior can negatively impact both the child and the parent or caregiver. Hence, it is essential to address the issue and discipline them.

2. What causes behavioral problems in teens?

Neglect, developmental delays, learning disorders, physical or emotional abuse, and consumption of drugs or alcohol are some of the leading causes of behavioral issues amongst teenagers.

Behavioral changes during teenage years are common. However, not all changes are normal. Thus, knowing what changes are normal and what are not is essential to appropriately deal with teenage behavioral problems. For example, while mood swings and increased use of social media may not be alarming, indulging in risky behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol, and sex, needs immediate parental guidance to prevent adversities. Respecting a teenager’s feelings and emotions and showing them how you trust and care for them are a few ways to develop a trusting and cooperative relationship with each other.

Infographic: Risky Behavior In Teenagers

It’s easy to give in to temptations during the hormonal and fluctuating teenage years. This is when you, as parents, need to be extra involved in your teen’s life to guide them on the right path. This infographic discusses the common risky behaviors in teenagers and how you can help them.

risky behavior in teenagers [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

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