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7 Differences between Normal and Abnormal Teenage Behavior

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Teens go through a series of emotional and physical changes that can result in baffling behavior. Knowing what is normal and what is not can help parents spot emerging mental health issues.

Your child turns into an alien about the time she turns 12 or 13. Not only are you, as a parent, baffled by these new behaviors, but your teen is also frequently baffled and alarmed at the new thoughts and feelings she is experiencing.

The short story of puberty is that at some point in a child’s growth—usually between the ages of 12-15—the brain begins releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), a hormone that spurs the pituitary gland to release two more hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). For boys, LH and FSH then begin stimulating the production of testosterone. For girls, the same two hormones begin stimulating the production of estrogen. As the reproductive organs begin to mature, both boys and girls start experiencing physical changes as well as emotional changes.

This rush of hormones and the emerging physical changes signals the progression of the child into an adult—at least physically. In cultures of the past (and in some cultures still existing throughout the world), the onset of puberty means that the child has become an adult, capable of being entrusted with the tasks of contributing to the larger community and becoming part of a new family unit, including bearing and raising children with a spouse. Modern American teens, however, find themselves existing in a sort of limbo, caught between childhood and adulthood for around six years.

While the teen years allow your child to gain more of an education and to become familiar with the responsibilities she will take on as an adult, it’s also a time when mental health issues can begin to surface. Early diagnosis and treatment can help teens overcome the issues or learn to cope with them in a healthy way as they grow into adults.

Part of early diagnosis is knowing what teen behaviors are normal and which are not. The following chart can help parents observe their teen’s behavior and decide when they need to call on the appropriate mental health professionals should mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, behavioral disorders, or conduct disorders appear to be emerging.

Normal Teen Behavior

Teen Behavior that Causes Concern

Wanting to spend more time with peers and less time with family

Not wanting to spend time with either family or friends, i.e. shunning all social activity

Reluctance to get up early for school

Absolute refusal to attend school—especially if this behavior happens suddenly and accompanies other signs of distress or depression

Needing more sleep or developing a larger appetite during growth spurts

Sudden changes in energy levels, i.e. sleeping abnormally long or not being able to sleep at all; sudden changes in appetite, i.e. consistent overeating or undereating accompanied by quick fluctuations in weight

Sadness and anxiety following fights with friends or a breakup with a boy/girlfriend

Sadness and anxiety that doesn’t correct itself or decrease in intensity after a few days to a couple weeks.

Some light risk-taking or experimenting with sex, alcohol, drugs, or self-harming behaviors such as cutting

Extremely risky behavior and/or delinquent behavior, including disregard for house rules, parents’ concerns, or laws of society; turning to cutting as a form of emotional and physical release

Turning to a beloved pet for comfort instead of a parent or friend

Deliberately harming family pets or torturing or killing any animal

Worrying about physical appearance and trying to fit in

Sudden and significant changes in eating behaviors, over-exercising, and other indications of eating disorders

While the above is not by any means an exhaustive list, these are some of the most common types of behaviors that can indicate whether or not your teen is progressing as normally as possible through adolescence.

If your teen’s behavior is making you concerned, don’t hesitate to talk to a professional counselor or therapist who specializes in teen behavior. Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute specializes in female adolescent behavior, offering inpatient and outpatient programs designed to help teen girls and their parents cope with mental health issues that may arise during adolescence. In addition, our facility also serves adolescent boys as well as adults. Visit our Homepage today for more information about these services, or call (512) 819-1100 for a free and confidential assessment.