Typical Teen Behavior vs. Cause for Concern

Is your teen’s mood just part of growing up or something you should be worried about?  It’s often difficult for parents to differentiate between normal moodiness and signs of an emotional problem, such as depression or anxiety, in their teenage children.  In light of recent news of high profile cases of suicide among young people, it seems there is no time like the present to shed light on the warning signs of real emotional difficulties among teens.

It is important to recognize that changes in mood and behavior are normal aspects of becoming a teenager and negotiating the cultural and developmental demands that teenagers face.  It is just as important for parents of teens to be able to recognize and accept developmentally appropriate moodiness and behavioral challenges in their children as it is for them to recognize the warning signs of something more serious.

Developmentally typical changes and concerns presented by teens might include:

  • Increased focus on body image and worrying about appearance
  • Exploration of romantic relationships and sexuality
  • Increased need to feel accepted by peers
  • Feeling misunderstood by parents
  • Increased irritability and moodiness
  • Stronger desire for privacy and autonomy
  • Vacillating between dependence on parents and staunch independence
  • Having a messier room
  • More arguing with parents
  • Spending more time in their room
  • Experimenting with different clothing styles
  • Becoming overwhelmed with decision-making

Changes that might signify a real problem with depression or anxiety include:

  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Frequent crying spells
  • Frequent anger outbursts
  • Self-harm (such as cutting)
  • Talking about suicide
  • Giving away valued belongings
  • Disregard for hygiene
  • Loss of interest in several activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Self-loathing
  • Sad or irritable mood that lasts for much of the day, more days than not
  • Intense focus on being accepted coupled with strong emotional reactions to perceived rejection
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Academic failure or truancy
  • Becoming paralyzed with indecision

The above are guidelines to help determine if you should seek professional help with your child’s behavior.  Of course, if you as a parent still do not feel certain whether or not your teen’s behavior is typical, your best bet is to consult with a mental health expert.

Melissa K. Hunt, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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