6 Differences Between Abnormal and Normal Teen Behavior

If you have a teenager, you probably have questions about whether his or her behavior is normal and common. Here are 6 types of behavior that could be either abnormal or normal teen behavior. Read on to find out whether you have a typical teen or you need some professional guidance.

1. Drinking Alcohol

Ideally, teenagers would not have the desire nor the opportunity to experiment with alcohol. Realistically, most teens are in the position to be able to experiment with alcohol at least a few times before they reach age 21. While it is not ideal and it is not what parents want, it is normal and common for teens to be curious and to try alcohol a few times.

It is abnormal, however, for teens to binge-drink or to drink frequently enough that they develop an addiction to the substance. If you suspect that your teen is addicted to alcohol, that is something to bring to the attention of his or her physician.

2. Mood Swings

Moodiness is typically normal teen behavior. They might overreact with anger or sadness when confronted with situations that would only mildly annoy or disappoint an adult. Remember, teenagers are not adults yet and their brains are not going to be done developing until they are in their mid-20s in some cases. They are also dealing with hormonal surges and the frustration of not being able to do whatever they want.

If your teen is violent or exceptionally angry much of the time, however, that is abnormal. So is sadness or feelings of worthlessness that last longer than two weeks or that negatively affect their everyday lives. This warrants a screening for depression or other mental health issues.

3. Experimenting With Risky Behaviors

Just like they tend to want to try alcohol a few times, teens also often want to experiment with sex and other potentially risky behaviors. They might drive too fast or want to take up hobbies like rock-climbing or bungee jumping.

While relatively safe experimentation is normal teen behavior, taking larger risks like having unprotected sex, racing with their car, or committing crimes like shoplifting or vandalism is not normal. These can affect your child for the rest of his or her life. So, it is important to get to the bottom of any very risky behaviors.

4. Ups and Downs at School

While some teens will keep up a 4.0 grade point average throughout their high school careers, many will have times where they slack off a bit. This is normal teen behavior. You might have heard the term “senioritis” or “the spring slump.” These are times when it is common for grades to slip somewhat. Remember that teens often find other things like romantic relationships and sports to be more important than academics, so while you should have expectations, don’t make the mistake of thinking that something is drastically wrong when your senior begins getting Bs and Cs rather than mostly As and Bs.

However, if your A student suddenly becomes a D student, that is not normal. There could be an academic problem such as a learning disability, they might be struggling with anxiety and stress, or they could be depressed or have something else going on. A mental health screening, as well as some testing for learning disabilities, might be worth looking into.

5. Usage of Electronics

The vast majority of teenagers have access to smartphones and many teens like to unwind by playing video games or by posting on social media. Spending a few hours each day using electronics might not be ideal, but it is common. Whereas you might have talked to your friends for hours on your landline, stretching the coiled cord across the living room into your bedroom so you could have some privacy, your teen is using his or her smartphone to text, Facetime, and communicate via social media. In many ways, it is a sign of the times.

There are, however, some abnormal and unhealthy uses of electronics. Internet addiction is very real and could be affecting a teen who is constantly connected and who feels upset or panicked when they lose their signal. Cyberbullying is a danger, as is depression caused by comparing oneself to others based on social media posts. Be aware of these potential issues to determine whether your teen’s usage of electronics is normal or abnormal.

6. Omitting Facts or Lying

Your child might have been one to tell the truth and volunteer information even if it meant getting in trouble when he or she was little, but that has probably changed. Most teens are at least somewhat secretive about what they are doing. They don’t want you involved in every decision, and they might have discovered that in some cases, it is preferable to chance you finding out about their mischief rather than ask permission to do it in the first place. This is frustrating for parents, but it is very normal teen behavior.

What is abnormal and concerning is if your teen is telling major lies or hiding information about serious activities, such as using drugs or committing a crime. A teen who tells a white lie about whether their homework is done is generally acting in an age-appropriate way, while one who tells a lie about their friend not being drunk while driving them home is doing something very dangerous. If you catch your teen in a lie, you need to have a discussion about honesty. If you think they are hiding information about seriously dangerous behavior, a mental health counselor might be able to help.

Seek Help

Parenting teenagers is not for the faint of heart, and it can be distressing to find out that your teen is misbehaving, even if it is normal and common. Talking to the parents of other teens can help you decide whether something is serious enough to seek professional help. When you find out that many of your friends’ teenagers are having mood swings, that can help you feel better and more confident. If, however, you find out that you have the only teen who is drinking every weekend, that can give you the confidence you need to know that there is a problem. Talking to your teen’s primary care doctor can also help you understand what is normal teen behavior and what is not.