Just “Typical Teen Behavior”… or Warning Sign?


One of the hardest parts of parenthood is understanding the difference between typical behavior and actions that signify a deeper problem, like depression. Teenagers are tricky, and as they grow and develop, parents have to pay attention to changes in pressure and stress levels, social activity, self-esteem, and more. But how can parents tell the difference between expected teenage behavior and something that requires medical help? The difference between normal mood changes and sudden personality changes? The difference between a bad day and a mental condition that requires parental intervention?

First, parents should listen to their teens. Pay attention to what they say and ask questions for clarification. Look at the changes in their behavior, personality, academic performance, friendships, and general attitude. Ask your partner or other family members or adults in your teen’s life. Do they see any changes that should be a concern?

Teenagers aren’t always able to explain their feelings or recognize symptoms that could be part of a bigger issue. As parents, it’s important to learn the difference between typical behaviors and warning signs of behavior that may need intervention.

Typical Behavior: Withdrawing from family to hang out with friends
Warning Sign: Withdrawing from family and friends or showing signs of decreased enjoyment during any social activity

Typical Behavior: Wanting more privacy from parents
Warning Sign: Keeping secrets, hiding things from loved ones

Typical Behavior: Becoming interested in teenage trends and activities, while losing interest in childhood favorites
Warning Sign: Losing interest in favorite activities, and not replacing with new interests

Typical Behavior: Going through mood swings
Warning Sign: Seeming as though they are on an emotional roller coaster, with little control over extreme emotions

Typical Behavior: Needing more sleep or eating more during growth spurts
Warning Sign: Sudden changes in energy levels, sleeping abnormally long or short periods, sudden changes in appetite

Typical Behavior: Sadness and anxiety during breakups or conflicts with friends
Warning Sign: Prolonged sadness and anxiety that doesn’t decrease after several days or a few weeks

Typical Behavior: Sporadic feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, worrying about fitting in with peers
Warning Sign: Making statements about disliking him/herself, making judgements about him/herself, or feeling hopeless about him/herself

Do you see some of these warning signs in your teen? Dialectical Behavior Therapy (or DBT) might be a good fit. DBT is an evidence-based therapeutic modality that has been proven effective in managing intense emotions, reducing self-harming behaviors, and improving communication and relationships. Our Teen DBT Group focuses on building the skills in each of the four modules of DBT: core mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance.