In this section
they develop, teenagers will experience a range of emotions and express
themselves in many different ways. It’s normal for teenagers to be moody
and to show some disrespect and defiance as they go through hormonal changes
and a period of brain development during puberty.
may also be short-tempered as they naturally begin to seek privacy and independence.
They may begin spending more time with their peers or lock themselves in their
room away from their parents.
important that you and other caregivers provide support while your
teenager is maturing and gaining independence. Guiding your teenager, setting
boundaries and forming positive relationships will help them through the
challenges of adolescence.
one family finds challenging, another family will find acceptable. You and your
family will have different ranges of what is acceptable when it comes to
behaviour. However, some common issues during adolescence include:
challenging behaviours and changes in mood are a normal part of adolescence,
knowing what is normal and recognising signs of concern is important.
periods and challenging behaviours should not last more than a few days; if
feelings of sadness, anxiety or frustration are continual then you should speak
to your teenager about your concerns.
is natural for teenagers to want to disengage from their families and spend
more with their friends or participating in extra-curricular activities.
However, if you notice that your child is withdrawing from all social
interactions and no longer enjoys participating in activities they once
enjoyed, this may be of concern.
more information about mental health concerns in teenagers, see our fact
sheet Mental health – adolescents.
teenagers mature, they are presented with new experiences. The way teenagers’
brains develop means that they may feel emotions very intensely, and they often
do not yet have adequate coping tools to deal with their feelings. As a result,
teenagers can often be very sensitive, self-conscious, and experience a range
of emotions that at times can be overwhelming – these feelings are then often
expressed by being argumentative or disrespectful towards others.
part of the brain involved in self-control, the frontal cortex, isn’t fully
developed until people are well into their twenties, which means that teenagers
can face challenges in self-management and decision-making.
challenging behaviours can also be a result of stressful or worrying events
(e.g. a fight with a friend, an upcoming test, feeling that they don’t have the
right clothes to wear).
looking at challenging behaviours in teenagers it is important to consider
their current situation and how it may be affecting them. Some other important
factors that have an impact on behaviour include:
ongoing challenging behaviour can indicate other health issues. If you are
concerned about your child, see your GP.
a number of strategies that can be used to help combat challenging behaviours
that emerge during adolescence:
in teenagers and the development of coping skills will help them to overcome
difficult situations. Having strong, positive relationships and spending time
with your child is key to building resilience.
You can promote
positive behaviours in your teenager by:
you find it difficult to have a positive relationship with your teenager, or
there is often tension between you, another adult you trust (e.g. an aunt, family
friend or sports coach) may be able to offer their support and be a positive
role model for your child.
your teenager rarely produces a positive outcome and being angry during a
discussion usually ends up in heated argument and produces no or undesired
heated arguments happen regularly, and your teenager finds it difficult to
control their frustration or anger, it may be helpful for them to seek support
from a counsellor, who may offer an independent or unbiased view and recommend
new ways to deal with the anger.
develop their independence by separating themselves more and more from their
parents as they get older, and it is important to give them the freedom and
space to do this. However, it is also very important to set boundaries.
teenagers will try to test the boundaries that have been set as they get older
to see how much they can get away with.
teenagers can struggle with emotions of frustration or anger and become violent
or aggressive towards the people around them.
to be made aware that violence and aggression towards anybody is unacceptable.
If your teenager is being aggressive towards you, tell them you are walking
away and you will return when they have calmed down.
dealing with aggressive behaviour in your teenager include to:
If there is violence or aggression in your family, you feel unsafe, or you or your child
is at immediate risk of harm, contact emergency services on 000.
discipline is anything done to cause physical pain or discomfort to a
child in response to their behaviour, including smacking, hitting, spanking, slapping, pinching or pulling.
studies have found that physical discipline can have long-lasting negative
effects on a child or young person, including:
or yelling may be an understandable response
when parents are extremely frustrated; however, studies have found
that harsh verbal discipline like shouting can have similar harmful effects to
Being shouted at
can very stressful for a teenager. Losing control and lashing out verbally at
your teenager is not modelling good ways to deal with anger and frustration.
at, shaming, belittling and humiliating teenagers for their actions can
lead to more behavioural problems (e.g. increased aggression), be damaging
to their long-term mental health, and is not an effective way to improve
severe and persistent challenging behaviour can be a sign of a medical
condition or a more serious social or emotional problem. A GP
can investigate this and refer you to a specialist if needed. You
should speak with your GP if you are concerned that your teenager’s behaviour
is linked to a mental health problem.
challenges can have an ongoing, negative impact on family life. If you are
having difficulties managing or coping with your teenager’s behaviour, you can
talk to a GP who may refer you on to a specialist in paediatric
What effect will too much screen time have on my child?
Studies have found that being ‘addicted’ to screens, in particular for internet and gaming use, can actually causes changes in the brain that affect emotional processing, decision making and ability to control behaviour. Even for teenagers who are not addicted to their devices, too much screen time can lead to poor quality sleep and mental health problems. These things can all contribute to challenging behaviour. Furthermore, being glued to a screen means less time exercising, getting fresh air and spending time with family and friends, which can also negatively impact on mental and physical wellbeing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that for all children aged five to 18 years, screen time should be reduced where possible. Screen time should not replace time needed for sleeping, eating, being active and interacting with family or friends.
Although there are no specific guidelines in place for teenagers, it is up to parents to make decisions about how much screen time their children have access to and how screens are used (e.g. using a screen for research or homework may not need to be restricted as much as time spent playing video games).
How do I find the right balance between allowing my teenager the space to develop and setting boundaries and rules?
As part of the journey to becoming a capable adult, teenagers need to become more independent, try new things, make their own decisions and come up with their own solutions to problems they face. They won’t be able to do this if there are too many rules in place. Of course, your teenager does also need rules and boundaries to keep them safe and to ensure they are responsible and respectful. The rules you set will depend on your family situation and your teenager’s personality and needs, and may need to change over time as your teenager develops and matures. Aim to set clear, fair boundaries but also try to be understanding of your teenager’s needs and feelings.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Community Information, Department of Adolescent Medicine, and The RCH Child Health Poll. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
First published October 2018.
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