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Typical Teenage Behaviors and Attitudes

Most of the information written about adolescents and teenagers places a great deal of emphasis on the physical, social, and emotional changes, accompanied by confusion and uncertainty, that mark this developmental stage of a child's life. While it is certainly a difficult period for the child, it is likewise true that the parents are also experiencing stresses, changes, and confusion at this time. Not much has been written about the parents' problems and worries, as well as the changes they are undergoing as they approach midlife with a teenager in their household.

It is important to recognize some of the normal behaviors and reactions of parents and teens during this period. Many parents perceive certain teen attitudes and behaviors to be problems, whereas in reality these may follow typical adolescent patterns and should be dealt with as such.

Following are some suggestions on how to distinguish between normal and abnormal behavior in an adolescent, and how to decide whether the behavior should be of no concern, or of mild, moderate, or great concern to the parent.

What Is Normal?
How moody should a child be? How talkative, rebellious, oppositional, or resistant? What is normal teenage behavior? These questions are difficult to answer specifically. In general, normal behavior is behavior that does not interfere with a person's ability to cope with his environment or to get along with others. It is relatively easy to find a child-development book that will tell you at what age a child should walk, talk, or get his or her first tooth. Other books will tell you what to expect at certain ages (e.g., the "terrible twos"). But just how do you determine what is a normal amount of flippancy or moodiness in your teenager? In trying to decide what is typical, there are several factors to consider.

Become Aware of the Attitudes and Behaviors of Adolescents Your Child's Age
I am not recommending that you keep up with the Joneses or go along with the crowd. However, you must consider your teenager's peer group and take into account the behaviors and actions of his age mates in order to determine if your teenager's behavior is typical or should be of concern. In other words, you have to compare your child with other children his age. Talk to other parents with teenagers. Observe your child's friends and other similar-age children.

The child's peer groups - their behaviors, attitudes, dress, and values - must be taken into consideration before deciding what is normal for your child. But, you also must try to determine what the "normal" peer groups are. Some peer groups are themselves deviant, and may be associated with serious impairments or difficulties.

Teachers, coaches, tutors, dance instructors, school counselors, and others who work with teenagers are usually familiar with age-appropriate or normal behavior. Although they may not be able to give reasons for certain behavior or recommendations for dealing with it, they can identify actions differing from those of the child's age group.

How Often Does the Behavior Occur?
All children, at one time or another, are moody, argumentative, or withdrawn. However, to determine if the behavior or attitude is cause for concern, it is important to note its frequency. A child who is occasionally flip or insolent is certainly not that unusual, compared to a child who is fresh every time she talks to her parents. The more frequently the behavior is seen, the more it may deviate from normal.

Does the Behavior Interfere with the Teenager's Ability to Function in the Environment?
All of us become depressed at times, but if this feeling or attitude prevents us from going to work or completing necessary duties around the house, then it should be a concern. If it does not significantly interfere with our daily functioning, however, then concern about this attitude and behavior can be somewhat minimized. Similarly, most children share an aversion to homework and some also to class work, but if this attitude or behavior results in failing grades or the necessity to attend summer school, then it may be considered not typical and should be a concern. If it does not restrict or prevent the teen from functioning like an average child, however, then parents need have less concern.

Does the Behavior Interfere with Others?
Most siblings occasionally fight with one another, but if this type of behavior on the part of one child provokes a fearful or negative reaction on the part of the sibling, it may not be considered normal. A teenager who always fights with a younger sibling can disrupt the household from the time he comes home from school until the time he goes to bed. Conduct that significantly interferes with the routines, behaviors, and activities of other members of the household may deviate from the norm and be of concern.

Consider Individual Differences
Children have different personalities. One child may be sensitive, another talkative, a third shy, and so forth. In determining whether behavior is normal, you have to consider not only the teenager's peer group, but also the individual child. For example, a teenager who has never been very talkative and who tends to bottle up her emotions may display this behavior to a higher degree when she reaches adolescence. A stubborn, strong-willed child may show more rebellion during adolescence than one who is compliant and passive.

In general, in trying to determine whether a behavior is normal or should be of concern, you can ask the following questions. How different is the behavior or attitude when compared with other children in her age group or her normal personality? How frequently does it occur? Does it interfere with others or with your child's ability to cope with her environment or to get along with people (not only her parents, but teachers, coaches, friends, neighbors, and others whom she deals with on a daily basis)?


From Keys to Parenting Your Teenager by Don Fontenelle, Ph.D. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.

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