Is My Teen Behaving Normally?

April 18, 2017

COMMENTARY by

Lara Darling, MD – Riley Physicians Pediatrics – East Washington

For parents of adolescents, navigating the teenage years can be challenging. As young people yearn to become more independent, parents often struggle with when and how to respond or intervene. Knowing what to expect in terms of “normal teenage behavior” and what actions may signal trouble, can help parents make informed decisions during this stage of life.

While age 13 generally marks the transition from child to teenager, children often exhibit pre-adolescent behaviors as early as age 10 or 11. Behaviors you can expect to see during these formative years include:

Desire for more independence – Because freedom becomes more important at this age, adolescents may hide things from parents and other adults and engage in mild lying.

Strong attachment to friendships – Friends are crucial lifelines for teens, and it’s not uncommon for young people to place higher priority on friends during this time.

Finding their identity – As teenagers become more focused on establishing their identity, they may try new activities, experiment with different clothing and hairstyles, or join new friend groups.

Poor executive functioning – Because cognitive function is still developing, teenagers may lack planning skills or the ability to think through and understand the consequences of their actions.

Unless taken to extreme, these behaviors are all considered typical for teenagers. As you evaluate how well your child is managing adolescence, you’ll want to pay close attention to behaviors that may signal an underlying problem or concern:

  • Truancy
  • Habitual lying or lying about significant issues
  • Vindictive or manipulative behavior
  • Mood changes or signs of depression, such as sudden lack of interest in activities he or she once enjoyed
  • Dramatic change in sleep patterns, including inability to fall asleep, waking during the night and sleeping more or less than normal
  • Lack of energy or appetite
  • Illegal activity

As a parent, you usually know when something’s not right with your child, but if you’re uncertain or need help determining next steps, consulting with a primary care provider (PCP) or another trusted professional is a good place to start. Primary care doctors can offer advice and refer parents to resources for additional help and guidance.

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