Should I be worried? Parent's guide to typical and atypical teen behaviors

# How do I know if I should be worried about my teen's behavior?

As part of the process of maturing and gaining independence, teens do things that often make parents scratch their heads and wonder about these kids. It's no wonder that one of the many challenges of parenting is knowing when our child's behaviors are typical, atypical, dangerous, acceptable, or concerning. Have you asked yourself questions like...

  • Should I be worried that my teen only seems interested in staring at their phone hour after hour watching videos that seem inane and mind-numbing?
  • My teen drank beer over the weekend and then lied to me about it. How worried should I be?
  • Should I be concerned that my teen is sleeping a lot and seems uninterested in things they used to enjoy?
  • Do other teens fight with their parents as much as ours does with us?

We could go on, but suspect you get the point. Sometimes as parents we just want to know, is this behavior something I need to worry about or is it typical teen behavior?

To help shed some light on typical vs atypical teen behaviors, we enlisted one of our amazing company Science Advisors, Dr. Jacqueline Nesi (opens new window). Dr. Nesi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a Clinical Psychologist at Rhode Island Hospital.

Below, Dr. Nesi provides some insights into several of the most common teen behaviors and suggests whether they are typical (you don't need to worry) or atypical (you should consider speaking with a professional).

A quick caveat - consider the information below suggestions and/or starting points. As the parent, it's always a good idea to keep an eye on any behavior you feel is or may become problematic.

Not to Worry: Typical Teen Behaviors Talk to a Professional: Atypical Teen Behaviors
Emotional ups and downs; mood swings Intense moods that last for a long time; moods that get in the way of everyday activities; self-injury or suicidal thoughts
Experimenting with alcohol, drugs, or vaping Abusing or selling substances, changes in behavior related to substances (bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, coming home late, spending large amount of money)
Meeting new friends; changes in friend group New friend group is using substances or engaging in dangerous or illegal behaviors. OR friends change as a result of bullying or being bullied someone
Spending lots of time on their phone Phone use gets in the way of everyday activities, like sleep, eating, or in-person socialization
Having "online-only" friends Meeting up with online friends or dating partners in person, discussing risky or personal topics with online friends (e.g., suicidal thoughts, sexual topics)
Posting frequently on social media Posting overly personal information (e.g., about mental health), “sexting,” extremely invested in “likes,” “followers,” and “views”
Going to bed late and waking up late Staying up all night or most of the night; frequently oversleeping and missing school or other activities; technology use interfering with sleep
Increased conflict with parents Verbal or physical aggression; Conflict with other adults (teachers, coaches)
Increased focus on appearance Excessive dieting or other unhealthy weight-control behaviors
Self-consciousness, feeling easily embarrassed Perfectionism; excessive shyness that leads to avoidance of socializing or going to school
Desire for privacy Frequent lying and hiding things from family; isolating self; unexplained behavior

Information above was adapted from Rathus & Miller (2015). DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents.

# About the Author

Dr. Jacqueline Nesi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a Clinical Psychologist at Rhode Island Hospital. Dr. Nesi earned her undergraduate degree at Harvard University and her graduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Nesi is an expert in the role of social media in adolescents’ peer relationships and mental health, with a focus on depression and suicidal thoughts and behavior. Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and the National Science Foundation. She has published in numerous peer-reviewed journals, including Journal of Adolescent Health and Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and her work has been featured in popular media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and Teen Vogue. She has also served as an invited speaker for the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Dr. Nesi is passionate about understanding how and for whom social media influences adolescents’ mental health, so as to identify and intervene with youth most at risk. You can learn more about Dr. Nesi here (opens new window).


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# Do you or your child need support right now?

If you or your child are in a crisis situation please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources for you and your loved ones.

If you're not in crisis but would like to connect with an online counselor (through our partnership with Betterhelp), please use one of these links: