Psychological problems of teenagers

How to deal with difficult behavior in teenagers

There are myths around teenagers that they are aggressive, rude and try to do everything to spite their parents. Teens do exhibit difficult behavior, only they do it because they don’t yet know how to express their emotions differently. We talked to the charity, The Shalash, about the causes of this behavior and identified specific steps parents can take to help a child with difficult behavior.

How difficult behavior manifests itself in teens

Challenging behaviors manifest themselves in a variety of ways, from disobedience to committing crimes in adolescence. The Shalash Foundation uses this formulation:

The most important thing about this definition is the repetitiveness of the behavior and the harm to the child himself. Challenging behavior interferes with a teenager’s ability to interact with others, learn, and develop skills. The child himself or herself suffers greatly from these reactions, so it is important not to call children “difficult” or “hard-to-educate.” The Shalash Foundation uses the phrase “difficult children” because the child cannot handle difficult behavior on his or her own, and it is the adult’s responsibility to help him or her figure it out.

Causes of difficult behavior in adolescents

Often difficult behavior is a reaction to stress, problems, and a way to protect oneself. Difficult behaviors can arise for a variety of reasons, but in general, the prerequisites can be grouped into five big points.


The family influences a child’s behavior through its own characteristics and parenting practices. Physical and psychological abuse, the cult of power in the family (often male), and constant conflict in the family lead to a lack of trust and affection in the child. He may suffer from low self-esteem and low life satisfaction (WHO).

No matter how much parents teach the child healthy habits of communication (no hitting, insulting, yelling), first of all he will copy the behavior of family members (Singh, 2011). It is important for adults to tell and show in a coordinated way what is right and what is wrong. For example, if one parent runs across the street with the child and the other parent strictly crosses the street, the child won’t have a clear understanding of how to act in these situations, no matter how many times they talk to them.

Often the child can shout or get angry as if for no apparent reason. Often this is because the child lacks attention and is trying to get it in this way. If one continues to ignore this behavior or, conversely, reacts exclusively to it, this behavior can take hold because it worked and remain in the person as an adult (Lopez-Romero, Maneiro, Cutrín, Gómez-Fraguela, Villar, Luengo & Romero, 2019).


A child spends almost every day in school, so the school environment significantly affects their behavior. For example, bullying, lack of attention from teachers, and being suspended from school can lead to school failure. Children who are bullied are more likely to skip school, become less involved in the classroom, have lower academic performance (Buhs, 2005), and can also lead to clinical depression (Ford et al., 2017) and suicidal ideation (Lardier et al., 2016).

Peer influence and appropriate situations

Peers inevitably influence a child’s behavior, but there are situations where it is much harder not to succumb to destructive influences. For example, children who have few friends have a much harder time refusing and fighting back against their peers because they are afraid of losing their already small social circle. Younger children who socialize with older children are also more likely to be influenced. Girls are more likely to be influenced by a small number of people, while boys tend to be receptive to the forces of the group. This is due to the fact that boys are friends with groups, while girls are focused on getting along with a particular person (Laursen, 2013).

Features of Socialization

Boys and girls are raised differently, have different demands and are expected to behave differently, and this is called gender socialization.

Girls are looked after much more strongly than boys; girls are taught to avoid danger and boys are encouraged to take risks that can lead to delinquency (Messerschmidt J., 1993). Aggressiveness is also more likely to be fostered in boys. Aggressive and contact sports are often considered more prestigious among boys. In childhood, violence and aggression become ways of expressing emotions in boys (N. K. Radina, A. A. Nikitina, 2011). Violence is then used as a tool to reinforce power, especially if something threatens the perception of one’s own masculinity.

Personality traits, neurological development

Individual psychological and behavioral characteristics can also cause difficult behaviors, such as impulsivity or inability to delay pleasure, aggression, low levels of empathy, and restlessness (Farrington, 2002). Other risk factors can be seen as early as childhood: aggressive behavior, delayed or impaired speech function, lack of control of one’s own emotions, and cruelty to animals (Walklate, 2003).

What parents should do if a child exhibits difficult behavior

In our culture there is no clear understanding of the transition from child to adolescent (i.e., from child to almost adult), so parents are often not able to register these changes in time and change their communication style. In addition, we should not forget about the hormonal restructuring. Lilya Brynis tells what specific actions a parent can take to help a teenager cope with difficult behavior.


social psychologist and director of the charitable foundation “Shalash”.

1. Take care of yourself . Find people who can support you, who won’t judge you and tell you that it is your own fault and you can’t do anything more with your child. This can be professionals who can listen to your fears and concerns and point you in the right direction. If there is no way to find a specialist, it can be relatives or friends with whom you can share responsibility or get support. For example, grandparents who can look after your child while you rest. Or friends who can come and stay with you while you recover or look after your child again.

2. If possible, go to a family therapist or psychological mediator. It is the family approach that is important. This shows the teenager that you understand the problem and that you are ready to work through it together and change it together. It is very important to talk to the teenager about your worries and tell them that you love them, worry about them and want to help them overcome their difficulties. Often parents panic and try to find someone who can “save” their child – military school, sports, child psychologists. But this approach is more traumatic and complicates the parent-child relationship. The teenager hears that he has problems and needs to go deal with them, so such help is perceived as a kind of rejection of him.

3. find exactly the rules that everyone will abide by. This is the most difficult stage, because this is where parents will have to change themselves. This is a necessary part for the development of the child’s independence. In foundation practice, we often see parents present autonomy in terms of their needs: “to go grocery shopping myself” or “unload the dishwasher myself.” But that’s not how it works. Independence in unloading the dishwasher also implies also the ability to disagree, the desire for private correspondence, the desire to choose your own friends. So with teenagers it is important to be able to negotiate on your terms, but taking into account their desires and demands, and most importantly – to comply with them themselves.

Instructions for dealing with difficult behavior

It is important to say that difficult behavior varies and each of its manifestations must be approached differently. The team of the “Shelash” Foundation chose three common manifestations and explained why a child might do this and what parents can do in this case (or, on the contrary, not to do it).

☝️ What to do if a child cheats on you

  1. Let the child talk. After he has talked, indicate that you are ready to hear the story again, but separate what seems unrealistic from what seems real to you.
  2. Ask questions to understand the implications of the deception, but don’t accuse or interrogate.
  3. Tell the child when it is acceptable to tell an untruth and when it is undesirable to do so.
  4. Thank them for their honesty.

☝️ What to do if the deceptions continue for some time

  1. Remember what we don’t do when we discover deception.
  2. Be guided by the presumption of innocence, don’t accuse the person “just in case” or to “scare them.”
  3. Ask questions and get the facts straight.
  4. Talk about what kind of support the child can expect when he comes to you.
  5. Focus on dealing with the problem together, rather than punishing the child. Talk about it, sometimes even several times.
  6. Talk through the consequences of the violation.
  7. Discuss how you could help if you knew the truth right away.
  8. Choose specific language that the child can come to you with in a difficult moment.
  9. If the child comes to you with the “bitter” truth next time, tell them that you appreciate the trust they have placed in you.

You don’t have to:

  • lead a teenager down a blind alley to be forced to admit the truth;
  • Shame them for cheating;
  • Calling a child/adolescent a liar, a liar;
  • abruptly interrupt and tell him/her that what he/she is saying is not true.

☝️ What to do if your child refuses you

  1. Observe. Notice what tasks the child refuses, how he/she shows his/her reluctance, and in what moments he/she turns on.
  2. Pay attention to your reactions too – are you scolding, not noticing, threatening or praising?
  3. Formulate a plan of action. Analyze your observations and suggest why the teenager is so actively sabotaging the class. Begin to act on this.
  4. Create experiences of success. Find out what tasks work best and start involving your child in them. Praise him for his successes!
  5. Offer your child something he’s interested in. Maybe he likes to draw? Or tell a story? Include these elements in an assignment or extracurricular activity, especially the parts where rejection shows up most often, and see how it affects behavior.

You don’t have to:

  • Blame laziness and an inability to do something on your own;
  • To compare with the success of other children and teenagers;
  • forcing: giving ultimatums, taking away something, punishing.

☝️ What to do if your child is being aggressive

  1. Stop the teenager when he is being aggressive. If necessary, do it physically: hold the person so that he can’t hurt himself or others.
  2. Support the person who has been hurt, if there is such a person. Tell them you are sorry it happened and that you will do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  3. Separate the parties to the conflict, but do not leave the aggressor alone. He needs an adult by his side.
  4. Give the aggressor time to calm down and come to his senses. For example, offer options of actions which can help the child during strong feelings. For example, drink water, take several deep breaths.
  5. Suggest that you return to talking to you when the child is ready.
  6. Be sure to have the conversation when the child is calm and ready to hear you.

You don’t have to:

  • yelling, insulting, aggravating the situation;
  • Leave your child alone with their emotions.

Text writer: Masha Turk, researcher at the Charitable Foundation “Shalash”

Tough Age. 10 signs that your child has a serious problem

Life has figured out how to recognize the first calls of dangerous behavior in adolescence and what to do not to neglect the situation and not to lose your child.

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How often do we know what our children are truly feeling and facing? Sometimes a child, even from a good family, suddenly crosses the line and becomes a drug addict or a petty criminal.

1. Self-harm

The seemingly common habit of biting nails or picking at sores is actually a very strong signal that parents should pay attention to right away. “The child is hurting himself so that his physical pain can drown out his inner pain,” notes family psychologist Alexandra Alexeeva. According to her, this may include a passion for dangerous sports, where children are constantly injured.

2. Bad habits

Another alarming signal is the presence of bad habits. Routine smoking at school is certainly harmful, but it is often just a sign of socialization, when a teenager needs to “blend in. Much scarier, says the psychologist, if these bad habits appear outside of the “collective. They suggest that subconsciously the child is trying to destroy their own body, and this is when we should sound the alarm.

3. lack of hobbies

An important feature of the “transition period” is having a hobby. If a teenager does not have a favorite hobby that he can spend hours on – this is another reason for parents to worry. With normal behavior at this age, the psychologist notes, the energy is booming. By evening, the child should be tired of the number of interesting activities. If this does not happen, it means there are problems with which it is necessary to address specialists.

4. Demonstrative failure to succeed.

Suddenly appearing “F’s” in the diary or records of bad behavior would force any parent to pay attention to their child. And not for nothing. Even the smartest kids unconsciously use poor performance to make their parents keep an eye on them and pay more attention. “For a child, even negative communication is better than indifference,” says Alexandra Alexeeva. Therefore, if a teenager is increasingly getting bad grades, it is not always worth scolding him for it, sometimes it is better to talk about what really bothers him.

5. Loneliness .

Lack of friends or lovers is another reason to sound the alarm. “At this age, socialization and the development of horizontal connections becomes a very important factor,” notes the psychologist. – If a teenager has no friends, it means that either he lacks the skill to establish horizontal connections, or it simply is not accepted in the company. In this case it is not always necessary to look for the reasons in others.

6. Lack of empathy

If a teenager began to torture cats, hurt and insult peers – this is another sign of psychological problems. According to experts, the lack of ability to model how someone else feels (i.e. simple empathy) can be a sign of more serious disorders, which include budding schizophrenia.

7. Apathy

Standing out from the background is very important to teenagers, so a problem like apathy is the easiest to recognize. Its main signs – the reluctance to dress in something bright or make a provocative hairstyle. If the teenager has become indifferent to what is in his closet, indifferent to what music to listen to or what to eat for dinner, this should be a cause for concern.

8. Mood swings.

Sudden tantrums and unexplained laughter minutes later? Restlessness, temper tantrums, rudeness, strange cheerfulness? Yes, these are all signs of the mood swings that are common to teenagers. In the period from 11 to 17 years, according to psychologists, are very frequent changes of vascular and muscular tone, there may be problems in the cerebral blood supply, or the activation of trauma associated with earlier periods of life. As the parts of the brain that were injured earlier mature, the brain as a whole is affected.

9. Eating disorders

If the child stopped eating or, conversely, suddenly started sweeping away everything from the table and asking for more, parents should think about eating disorders. The reason could be an inappropriate remark to the girl from one of her classmates. There is a risk that the simple phrase “You’re fat!” will eventually turn the teenage girl into an anorexic, if you don’t ask for help in time.

10. Problems with sleep

Photo © Flickr/Genevieve

Insomnia should also be a cause for concern. If a teenager is irritable or even aggressive in the morning and afternoon, has difficulty getting out of bed, or walks around tired all the time, you should check the quality of sleep. The reason for lack of sleep can be as simple physiological changes or stress, as well as serious neurological disorders, including the first signs of epilepsy.

What age is the most dangerous

Onset: age 7. Transition age, contrary to popular belief, begins much earlier than parents think. According to Alexeeva, the first changes begin as early as first graders. “At this time. – she notes. – Certain brain structures that were sleeping before begin to wake up and slowly produce sex hormones, which, in fact, initiate changes in the body and mood. This happens very slowly and gradually, the body has to get used to the unfamiliar hormonal load.

Age 15-17 is the most acute period. But the most alarming age the psychologist names the period from 15 to 17 years: “Obviously, this is the most dangerous stage, which cannot be passed quietly, but you can. The most frightening is the risk of suicide. In this case, all the specialists help parents. But actually, no one wants to die. Especially teenagers, who feel life in all its fullness and sharpness. For suicidal thoughts or actions there should be very good reasons, and they should appear not yesterday. And it is good for parents to clearly understand why they live in the world and whether they really want it. The teenager will copy all the adult models of behavior anyway, so at least let him copy the normal behavior.

Ending: 21 years old. Parents should not relax even after our usual adulthood. The end of transition age, according to the psychologist, can be considered 21 years old. “This is the age of subjectivity, when the parts of the brain responsible for volitional regulation are finally formed. In America, the age of adulthood is 21 for a reason. Hormonal storms have subsided by this time, and a person knows how to stop on their own in time,” she emphasizes. – The end of adolescence is considered to be the moment when a young person begins to fully provide for himself emotionally and financially. This is the main indicator that all the necessary components of maturation in a child are formed and work effectively.

What are parents to do?

“Transition age is a long time coming; it’s a good idea to come to terms with it right away. It symbolizes the transition from childhood to adulthood; it is difficult and therefore so long. Just like pregnancy, it can not go faster or slower, it has its own clear time frame, which is regulated by evolution, says family psychologist Alexandra Alexeeva. – For example, we need to overcome a marathon of 42 km. It is possible to make this route more comfortable, to prepare in advance, to think about equipment and gear, but still have to run for a long time. It’s easier for a teenager to run with an experienced runner who has already done it once.

She said there are a few simple recipes for parents who have to endure this tough “marathon.

– First, you should not spend all your energy at the start. It is necessary to calculate resources competently, not to waste them on excessive anxiety and panic. Secondly, you need to be able to relax and take a breath. Problems will not go away, but sometimes stopping, looking around and just getting some sleep is invaluable. Third, you should not look at how much is still ahead, but constantly pay attention to the result and praise yourself for your successes. Fourthly, you need to replenish resources in time, otherwise there will be nothing to share with the child in his crisis, which can happen at any time. Fifth – do not forget about the “second breath”, which is sure to open, – says Alexandra.

Specialists also consider it important to provide a support group: a separate psychologist for the parents and a separate one for the teenager.

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