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Behavior Problems in Adolescents


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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Adolescence is the time when children grow into independent adults. It usually begins at about age 10 years and lasts until the late teens or early 20s. But most people just think of adolescence as the teenage years.

Adolescents go through many physical, mental, and emotional changes. They're trying to figure out who they'll be as adults. As adolescents develop, they gradually spend more time behaving as adults and less time behaving as children.

What behavior problems do adolescents have?

Common behavior problems in adolescents include:

  • Drinking or using drugs

  • Risky sexual practices such as not using birth control or protection against STDs

  • Not doing homework and getting lower grades in school

  • Fighting or bullying

  • Hurting themselves

  • Stealing

  • Skipping school

  • Running away from home

  • Being a member in a gang

Many adolescents try risky activities, such as driving too fast or drinking alcohol. Occasional bad judgment is different from serious misbehavior that requires professional help. Risky activities become behavior problems when adolescents do them a lot. Or if they do something very serious, such as hurting someone badly or using a weapon in a fight.

Why do adolescents have behavior problems?

Adolescence is a time for developing independence. Adolescents may want to show they're independent by questioning rules. Sometimes they break them. Because their brain isn't fully mature, they may make mistakes and have a hard time stopping their misbehavior.

How can I prevent behavior problems in adolescents?

  • Limit the violence seen on television, through video games, in movies, and in the home

  • Tell adolescents clearly how you expect them to behave

  • Focus on your adolescent's actions instead of trying to control self-expression such as choice of clothing, hair style, and music

  • Use an authoritative parenting style (parenting that encourages good behavior but discourages bad)

What is an authoritative parenting style?

Authoritative parenting style means setting limits for adolescents but not making all of the decisions without getting their input:

  • Give your adolescent some chores, such as washing dishes, and some freedoms, such as picking out their clothes or decorating their room

  • Reward good behavior by gradually giving more responsibilities and freedom, such as using the car or going out with friends

  • Take away privileges if adolescents make poor choices or show they aren't ready for that responsibility

  • Watch their behavior to make sure they follow rules they have agreed to

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