One of the things we strive to help the parents in our community to understand is the signs and symptoms that their teenager is struggling so that they know when it is time to get help. But one of the challenges every parent faces is to know when their teenager’s behavior is “normal” and when it is a red flag. To help, let’s look at what constitutes normal behavior in teens.
1. Normal = Typical
At a general level, the first step to determining if the behavior of your teenager is normal is to look at their friends and at other teenagers their age. Is their behavior comparable? Does your teen act moodier or more defiant? Ask the other parents you know with similarly aged children about their experiences to help you form a baseline of how typical teenagers today act.
2. My Normal May Not Be Your Normal
With a better idea of how other teenagers are behaving, you can now take an objective look at your own teen. At this point, you need to factor in things like their individual personality. For example, if your child has always been more on the shy and quiet side it wouldn’t be abnormal for them to be quieter and more shy than others in their peer group or social circle. If your child has always been a bit of a risk taker, it isn’t necessarily a red flag that he is participating in risky activities like skateboarding. You can use your knowledge of your child at the different stages of their life to get a feel for what normal would be for them.
3. Normal Exists to a Certain Degree
Another challenge parents face in determining if their child’s behavior or attitude is normal is that normal to not normal exists on a sliding scale. Being moody or defiant one day a week might be normal whereas being moody and defiant all the time is usually a red flag. Understand that even a small amount of acting out generally falls within the range of normal, especially for teenagers.
4. Being Bad Isn’t Normal
One of the things you can always consider when trying to determine if your teen’s behavior is normal or not is the degree to which what they are doing is interfering with their lives. Skipping a single day of school isn’t good but it isn’t going to jeopardize their education. Skipping school all the time interferes with their ability to learn and will lead to serious consequences. Getting pulled over for going a few miles above the speed limit isn’t good but it isn’t inherently dangerous or destructive like driving 100 miles an hour or racing against other cars. Every teenager tests rules and steps over lines, but if this is the norm rather than the exception, you are outside the range of normal.
The key to making sure your child has whatever support they need to succeed is to seek out the opinion of a professional if you are concerned. A mental health practitioner, tutor, pediatrician, or coach can offer their advice on what your child needs to excel and how you can help them.
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