Seemingly out of nowhere, my previously sweet, considerate and affectionate 15-year-old son is sometimes replaced by a surly, disrespectful and eye-rolling teenager who doesn’t hesitate to point out my every shortcoming and flaw. In the past, my son would join me in our “Car Dancing”–maniacally rocking out to our favorite songs on the radio. Now, he FORBIDS me not only from dancing in the car, but even singing along (which, of course, necessitates my immediate need to belt out song lyrics as loudly as I can WITH THE WINDOWS DOWN). His behavior irritates and frustrates me, but I am familiar enough with adolescent development to understand my son is a typical teenager. But how do we tell the difference between normal adolescence and behavior that indicates a need for intervention?
TYPICAL TEEN — OR TYRANNICAL TERROR?
According to experts Dinkmeyer and McKay’s seminal books on parenting, teens can generally be grouped into three categories. Review these attributes and behaviors and consider where your teen falls:
Typical Teenager–This teen exhibits a greater interest in friends than in family. He may try out different values as a way of separating and creating a sense of self distinct from his family. She may experiment with smoking cigarettes, trying alcohol, swearing, and minor rule-breaking at home or school. Lying, pushing againt established boundaries and occasional disrespectful behavior fall into this category.
At-Risk Teenager–This teen may isolate from family, demonstrate a more consistent use of alcohol or marijuana, and express less interest in school or other achievements. She may experience conflict with authority figures, disregard house rules, engage in sexual experimentation at an earlier age or deliberately express disregard for family values and activities.
Out-of-Control Teenager–This adolescent regularly uses substances, may he skipping classes or even dropping out of school. He may be sexually active indiscriminately or engage in risky behaviors. He may be involved in the juvenile justice system, and have difficulty in sustaining healthy relationships. A high level of disengagement from prosocial activities and an investment in dangerous or unhealthy behaviors is a consistent theme.
Clearly, at-risk and out-of-control adolescents are in need of immediate interventions, including a referral to counseling. Typical teens, however, can also benefit from individual, family or group counseling. This challenging and vulnerable stage of development is a time ripe for growth and insight. Counseling can provide teens — and exasperated parents — with support, education and skills to navigate these years with limited eye-rolling and exaggerated sighs. Just don’t expect car dancing lessons. Some talents are simply inborn.