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Family Health Magazine - adolescent health

Adolescent Concerns and Behaviour Problems
Common concerns and changes in behaviour

Teens and parents are well known to have problems understanding one another. Young children who have been cheerful and obedient suddenly become adolescents with firm ideas about how they want to behave as they develop into adulthood. There is bound to be friction but you, as parents, want to make the journey to maturity as free of major problems as possible.

This article will discuss some of the common concerns and changes in behavior which may occur in adolescence. Each family meets different problems along the way and has its own way of handling them. There are, however, some ideas which may work for you when common problems arise. As teenagers grow into healthy adults, they must develop many strengths. These include:

For most people, these strengths have been acquired by the early 20s. During this time, your role as parents changes from providing care and security for the elementary school child to a new role of guidance.
Teens still need parents so they can discuss the problems they meet along the way. They also need firm limits and rules about acceptable behavior. On the other hand, if they are to learn about the consequences of their choices, they need increasing input into decisions made. When a parent fails to make the transition from controlling and protecting to one of discussion and joint planning, small concerns can become bigger issues.
Often patterns of behavior are passed on through generations. It may be that you will need to consider how to guide your children through their teen years differently from how your parents did.

The many physical and emotional changes which occur in the teen years will be easier for everyone to live with if you can remember some of the conflicts you had with your own parents when you were that age. It may be useful to ask yourselves these questions:

  1. What is the worst thing I ever did as a teenager?
  2. Did I ever lie or deceive my parents?
  3. Did I ever argue about the use of the family car?
  4. What did I often argue about with my parents?
  5. Did I choose a hairstyle different from my parents?
  6. Did I ever have disagreements about the state of my room?
  7. Was I ever told I was on the phone too long?
  8. Did I have difficulty getting up in the morning?
  9. How old was I when I first tried alcohol?
  10. Did my parents ever lecture me on school performance?


Lying by teenagers usually follows a pattern which fits into one of three categories.

Lying to avoid revealing personal information

This kind of lying is most common. For example, you ask your son, "Did you have any problems in school today?" and the boy says "No". There is no discussion although your son was feeling badly about a disagreement with a teacher. He considers this personal and does not want to talk about it with you. You learn about the problem the next day and accuse your teen of lying.

This issue arises if parents do not realize that teens, like adults, have their own private and personal boundaries. These include a need for privacy on a range of subjects such as sexual practices, details of work, or conversations with friends. Hence, some lies like this one are not about truth or falsehood but about privacy.

Lying to avoid punishment or confrontation

This type of lying may start with the following kinds of questions. "Who had muddy shoes andwalked through the house?""Who spilled that juice on the floor?""Did you go to the mall when I told you not to?""Did you drive the car over 100km/hr lastnight?"

Questions such as these usually get a "No" answer and make a parent even more angry. A suggested way of dealing with this is:

  1. Don't ask questions in a way that invites negative answers.
  2. Make it easy for the teen to be truthful.

For example, "Oh mud! Well, it's fixable. Let's clean it together John. Thanks". When your child is honest, make it known that you appreciate the honesty. It may be useful to sit down and discuss some situations which may arise such as cheating on a test, exaggerating to peers, or lying about coming in too late. Help your child to realize dishonesty may have a short term benefit but, in the long run, there will be more negative than positive effects.

Making up stories for no good reason

This type of lying is uncommon by the teen years and reveals a teen who is struggling in some way. It takes the form of telling elaborate stories, for example, about taking a trip to Hawaii or being a top dancer in grade six when the teen has never been to Hawaii or a dance school. This lying needs assessment by a professional and is only part of a bigger issue.

Peer pressure

Parents often worry about the influence friends are having on their adolescent child. You may be distressed to learn about new behaviors which are not acceptable to you such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or stealing from a convenience store. Your challenge is to help your adolescent develop the courage to do what is right, even if it means standing alone.

You can help your children develop the strength to withstand peer pressure by praising courage whenever it is shown. This is likely to give both younger children and teens the confidence they need to be themselves and to make correct choices.

The argumentative teen

Moodiness is common and almost universal amongst teens. Parents and teens can get into some raging arguments about attitude and respect. It helps if your child knows that moodiness is normal at this age and is related to hormone changes and to the pressures of growing into adulthood.

Teens should be aware, however, about how their moods may effect others. Families enjoy peaceful homes. You are still the major role models for your teens. If you, as parents, argue and raise voices, or worse, the pattern is easily learned by your children. However, a peaceful environment in which you calmly and quietly work out differences encourages children to do the same. Use of "I" statements to express how you feel about your child's behavior is far more appropriate than the use of accusing "You" statements.

A discussion about the difference between arguing and analyzing may be useful. Explain to your child, "If we disagree with something said or done, we can either argue our way out of it or we can analyze why we did or said it. If we choose to analyze when tempers have cooled, we learn and we keep our cool and our friends."
The challenge for parents with argumentative teens is to: remain calm, be approachable, take time to talk and recognize how to keep communications lines open.


How to dress can be a constant dilemma for some teens. It is not unusual to see them go through several styles before gradually growing into what feels most comfortable for them. You may be tempted to criticize certain styles, especially when you are paying the bills. A few basic suggestions may be helpful.

  1. Remember the clothes you object to may immediately become desirable.
  2. You decide how much of your money will be spent on clothing for your teen but he or she should decide what clothes to buy, even if poor choices are made along the way.
  3. Where possible, teens should be encouraged to buy their own clothes, thus helping them develop independence.

When adolescents make their own choices about clothing, they are learning responsibility and money management. They are also aware that their parents have respect for their rights to choose for themselves. It is important to resist the temptation of saying, "I told you so" or showing anger when a mistake is made. It is also important to be consistent and not increase their allowance if their money runs out.

Hairstyle and length

Teenagers need to be different from their parents. Consider yourself very fortunate if your teen demonstrates this independence by hair style rather than going against a more important family value.

Untidy room

Untidiness is very common in adolescence; teens like to have control of their own space. Arguments which drag on over this issue are often useless, and can be tiresome or even make matters worse. Teens are more likely to stay tidy if they like their rooms and it can help to ask them how they would like to change them. New pictures? New paint? New comforter?

Opting out of the argument and just keeping the teen's door closed can often allow a cooling off period during which your child may start to view the untidiness as something that should be changed. Adolescents should be responsible for the upkeep of their own rooms. Teens who choose to leave rooms untidy also learn to live with the results of that choice. They may decide tidiness is preferable, especially if they hear comments made by visitors or friends.

Untidiness in other areas of the house is different. Cooperation from all family members is required and needs to be worked out as a group.

Blaring music

The volume at which music is being played should be discussed. Headphones may seem to be a solution but can cause hearing damage in the user. If your teen continues to play loud music, this behavior is likely just a small part of a larger power struggle. Good communication is essential to discover what may be causing the power struggle.

Suggested reading resources on this topic include:

Living with your Teenager by Marlene Brusko (Ivy Books)

Teaching Your Children Values by Linda & Richard Eyre (Simon & Schuster)

Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young by Peter Graham Marshall (Whitecap Books).

Phone use

Teens can spend hours on the phone. This can be frustrating for other callers and may interfere with important calls. Putting in an extra line is not only expensive but misses an opportunity for young people to learn cooperation.

Placing time limits on calls of five or ten minutes is difficult to enforce. One option may be the call-waiting system whereby your teenager's phone call would be interrupted by clicking sounds allowing the second caller to receive attention. This can be a nuisance but does help allocate the use of telephone time.

Telephone use should be discussed and ground rules laid out, before problems develop. If the rules are broken, the previously agreed to sanctions should be enforced.

Sleeping in, in the morning

You should not have to wake your teenagers in the morning. An alarm clock and a discussion about getting up on time should be all that is needed. You should all agree your child will be responsible for the consequences of being late or missing school and you will not come to the rescue by acting as chauffeur when the bus is missed.

A teen who consistently fails to get up in the morning despite this strategy has a bigger problem. Not getting up in the morning is often a symptom of something greater. Parents will need further communication with the teen to understand the reasons for the behavior.

Teens are likely to thrive and be content when they are given respect for making decisions and controlling much of their own lives. In this atmosphere they are more likely to develop the skills they need to behave with respect for the people around them and the limits placed on them. Remind yourself of your own teenage struggles and you will be in a better position to guide your teenager to maturity.

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FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written
with the assistance of
The College of Family Physicans of Canada
Alberta College of Family Physicians
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