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Understanding teenage behaviour

The path to becoming an adult is an exciting and busy time for teenagers. It is full of new experiences and challenges as teenagers begin to find out who they are and become more independent.

It can also be quite a testing time for parents. Many will have to cope with the mood changes and arguments that come with raising a teenager. Once you've got through to your teen, it's well worth it. Until then, if you are having a tough time coping, that's totally normal. Here you can find all the guidance and support you need to get through this tricky but rewarding period.

Understanding teenage behaviour

Read time: 3 minutes

Teenagers are at an awkward age. As they get older, you will begin to notice changes. In their mood, personality, and even sleeping patterns! If you have never raised a teenager before, some of these changes may appear unusual. You might even fear that your teenager has a problem.

As they become more independent, teenagers are exposed to more risks. Like alcohol or pressure from peers to act in ways that seem out of character. These risks can make them more vulnerable to other risks. Exploitation or violence, for example.

At the same time teenagers have lots of expectations on them - from home, from school and from their peers. We expect them to act like young adults, yet they are often treated like children. So if you're concerned your teen does have a problem or is in trouble, it's important you get some help. Don't just wait for them to grow out of it - you could be leaving them vulnerable.

The good news is, most of the time, your teenager's strange behaviour is actually quite normal. Below we look at some of the common changes that teens go through. This should help you tell the difference between typical and problematic teen behaviour. Hopefully, it will also ease any concerns that you might have.

What behaviour should I expect from my teenager?

You might notice your child's behaviour becomes more challenging during their teenage years. Common changes to expect to see in your teenager include:

  • Moodiness
  • Becoming more argumentative / unwilling to compromise
  • Spending more time alone
  • Talking to their parents less
  • Sleeping more
  • Pushing limits and rules

For a parent or carer, some of these changes can be quite difficult to deal with. But it can help to understand what causes these changes.

During puberty, various hormonal changes happen in the brain. These cause your child to react more strongly to their emotions. This causes moodiness and struggles with logic, but it is not the only factor.

It is normal for teenagers to want to become independent and develop their own identity. Many will fight whoever has control and push boundaries because of this.

The development of these relationships is a vital part of forming their identity. Teens focus a lot of effort on their relationships. They can become obsessed with their social networks. Friends become a bigger influence on your teenager. This means they may build opinions and attitudes that are different to yours. This can also add to arguments.

While this happens, you may notice that your teen begins to shy away from your attention. You might also find that your teenager no longer comes to you if they have a problem.

Despite knowing why it is happening, the feeling of rejection can still be painful. But whatever you do, don't take it personally! Remember that this is just a challenging phase that most parents and carers have to go through. Although your teenager may not see it, your support during this stage is really important.

Top tips for managing your teenagers behaviour

Read time: 2 minutes

Your teenager's odd behaviour might be a usual part of growing up, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. To help get through this tough parenting period, you could try the following:

  • Listen. Your teenager wants to talk to you more than they let on, but it tends to have to be on their terms! Be there for them. When they do confide in you, listen to them. Try not to interrupt them or tell them what to do.
  • Be positive. Teenagers have higher self-esteem if they believe they have their parents' approval. They also need plenty of support to help cope with the stress that comes with being a teen.
  • Be forgiving. Each argument means another chance to forgive and forget. It won't always be easy, but you will need to find a way to work out your issues. The next tip should help with this.
  • Separate your teen from their behaviour. When you're struggling to understand their behaviour, think of all their good qualities. Remember, this doesn't make them a bad person!
  • Look forward. It may feel like your teenager is drifting away from you. But this is only a phase. Just look forward to the day that they let you back in and you can continue to strengthen your relationship.

It's important to remember that the teenage years are when your child begins to run their own life. These are confusing and difficult times. But they are also preparation for the future. Teenagers are learning to make their own decisions, which is an important part of becoming an adult. They might not always admit it, but they need your support and guidance.

Don't do it alone!

Raising a teenager requires a lot of inner strength. If you are struggling to cope with your teen's behaviour, remember, you are tougher than you think! But this doesn't mean that you should suffer in silence.

Don't be afraid to fall back on those who are close to you at times when you feel upset or tired. This could be a family member or a friend – anybody who is willing to listen and offer support. Instead, you can get expert help from your GP, a counsellor, or a specialist charity. Whatever you do, don't do it alone! And look after yourself.

Information from external websites

For you

Action for Children has a quick guide to setting house rules for your teen.

Barnardos Family Space shares 4 useful articles on understanding and supporting 13-16 year olds

BBC Bitesize have an article offering top tips for understanding your teenager during the new normal (Covid restrictions).

Family Lives has 4 helpful articles on communicating with teenagers. They also have a page on setting boundaries and a great set of 5 articles on you and your teen. They also have an informative article on teenagers and sleep and on teenagers and exercise.

The NHS has great pages for parents on talking to your teenager, coping with your teenager and worrying about your teenager

The NSPCC has a useful page on having difficult conversations.

Relate has useful pages on coping with disruptive teenagers and setting boundaries for teenagers. They also have a helpful page on talking to your teen about behaviour and an informative page on understanding family problems.

Young Minds have a helpful parents survival guide and a fantastic A-Z of information and advice.

For your teen

Childline is a great space for your teen to find information, advice and support about all aspects of teenage life.

The Mix is a great space for older teens to find information, advice and support about all aspects of teenage life and becoming a young adult. For under 25's.

Safe Space Health UK is a website for young people aged 11 - 14 in Surrey. It offers helpful information about emotional health, lifestyle choices, relationships, keeping safe, growing up and being okay with being different.

Struggling and need to talk?

For you

Action for Children offer 1:1 chat with a parenting coach (Mon - Fri). If they are closed you can leave a message and a parenting coach will get back to you within 3 working days.

Family Lives has a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).

NSPCC has a free, confidential helpline for parents looking for advice. Call 0808 800 5000 (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends).

The Surrey Children and Family Health Advice Line is available from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). They can provide support on all aspects of child health, development and parenting for families with children from birth to 19 years old. Call the Surrey-wide 0-19 Advice Line on 01883 340 922

Young Minds has a free parents helpline. For detailed advice, emotional support and signposting about your teen call 0808 802 5544 (9:30am to 4pm, Monday to Friday)

For your teen

Child and Family Health Surrey offer a text service called ChatHealth, a confidential school nurse messaging service for young people aged 11-19. Young people can contact their school nurse in confidence by text. The Chat Health text number is: 07507 329 951 (Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm).

All of the issues discussed are confidential unless a child's safety, or that of others, is at risk. The school nurses will always encourage young people to discuss issues with their parents or guardians.

Childline has a free and confidential helpline for children. You could encourage your child to call 0800 1111 if they need to speak to someone - open 7 days a week from 7.30am - 3.30am. Childline also have a 1-2-1 counsellor chat for children who don't want to speak on the phone.

The Mix has a free helpline for under 25s who need help but don't know where to turn. Your teen can call 0808 808 4994 (7 days a week from 3pm to 12am. You can also web chat 7 days a week from 3pm to 12am, however chats may not be connected after 11:15pm).

Useful videos on understanding teenage behaviour

This Family Lives video will give you an overview of what to expect in the teenage years!

View on YouTube

EHCAP shares a fantastic video that uses the hand model to help you understand what is happening in the brain when we lose control of our emotions - as useful for understanding your own emotional responses as it is for understanding your teens!

Family Lives have a number of helpful videos on teenage behaviour, including dealing with difficult behaviour, teens who don't talk and what's good about teens? They also have useful videos on trusting teens and discipline for teens as well as on hormone hijack

You might also want to watch the Family Lives video offering 6 top tips for keeping your cool!

The Families Under Pressure video collection offers a great series of short top tips videos on managing behaviour and help with negative emotions. Perfect for when your family leave you feeling frazzled!

Helpful tools and apps

Action for Children has a quick guide to spotting if your teen has low self-esteem and how to help it your child has low self esteem.

Care for the Family present a series of interesting podcasts on raising teens.

Childline offers a calm zone where your teen can access loads of resources to help when they feel overwhelmed. They also have a toolbox to help take their mind of things and manage their emotions.

You might want to suggest your teen tries the MeeTwo App. it is free, and allows peer to peer support for 11-25 year olds in a forum monitored by trained adults. If your 14 year old posts a question, only other 14 year olds will see the post and be able to respond. Adults monitor questions and answers and hand the question to a counsellor if they feel the child needs more than peer support.

Download Meetwo from Google Play

Download MeeTwo from App Store

NSPCC has a section on talking about difficult topics that includes a handy section of recommended books on parenting teens (scroll down to purple box at the bottom of the page).

Covering a range of topics, Surrey Family Information Service have developed a handbook for parents of 11-19 year olds.

Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.

Online parenting guides

Surrey residents get free access to three online guides that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts.

How to register

Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guides.

Access to the guides is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.

Community support, courses and local help

Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.

BETA: We would really appreciate your feedback to help us improve and grow the service. We're listening!

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Date published: 22 Apr 2021