Difficult Teenage Behaviour is Largely Developmentally Appropriate

  • Kerri 


Overwhelmed by the challenge of raising a teenager? You’re not alone. When faced with a son who won’t talk or a daughter who is lying about drinking or teens that sext it might seem like crisis management is the new routine. Our houses may go from cozy spaces where we protected our little ones to places where we interrogate our kids or stay up ‘til the wee hours anxiously waiting for them.

We ask ourselves, ‘what happened?’

Short answer: just regular, everyday normal growth.

The strangely secretive and possibly dangerous behaviours of our teenagers catch a lot of parents off guard. Which is a bit weird because as my friend Patricia pointed out the other day, “not too long ago we were all teenagers ourselves; does everyone just get amnesia about it?”

Actually, this is a big part of the problem.

Our own offspring seem too young for bikini photos in social media. We say they don’t know what they are talking about when they speak of quitting school. But the desire to attract attention or steer our own ship are natural human impulses. The same impulses you probably felt when you were their age. I sure did!

Yet we might feel compelled to squash these desires; to deny them; to forbid them.

Good luck with that.

“It is the nature of the child to be dependent, and it is the nature of dependence to be outgrown. Begrudging dependency because it is not independence is like begrudging winter because it is not yet spring. Dependency blossoms into independence in its own time.”

– Peggy O’Mara

That’s a quote about being patient when our little ones are needy, obviously. However, the reverse is equally valid: why would we begrudge the blossoming independence of our teenagers? How possible is it to change spring back into winter?

Attempts to keep our kids forever young are delusional, and understandable given the defiance we encounter. But neither can we fast forward to young adulthood.

What drives this urge to hold our teenagers back from their appointment with destiny? What makes us feel desperate to control their journey?


More scary truths about teenagers:

  • Teens are biologically driven to differentiate themselves from their parents. They can’t help it. Neither can you.
  • They think their own thoughts!
  • They do what they want!
  • Their behaviour is almost always developmentally appropriate, no matter how inconvenient or disagreeable it may seem.

If we feel scared about the increasing independence of our teens that is something for us to look at. Maybe it’s our expectations that need to shift. Maybe the necessary change comes from within.

When your child was 3 and s/he sobbed about losing a toy under the couch that was also completely developmentally appropriate, even if you thought s/he needed to get a grip.

The teenager you have in front of you now is, in all likelihood, behaving in a developmentally appropriate manner.

So if your teen is right on track, where does that leave you?


You love your teenager. When you TRULY love you are prepared to learn new skills, have their backs, and change yourself when needed.






4 thoughts on “Difficult Teenage Behaviour is Largely Developmentally Appropriate”

  1. Nice article Kerri! Thanks for sharing this. But when is a teenager’s behaviour not developmentally appropriate? Independence takes many forms, I suppose, but does that mean that dependent behaviour is not developmentally appropriate?

    1. Mishkin, I regret my very late reply to your comment. Thank you so much for your compliment and for taking the time to write! I think pretty much all teenage behaviour is developmentally appropriate. There is a very wide spectrum of ‘normal’, so assuming we aren’t talking about teens with brain injuries (this includes FASD), almost anything goes. Dependent behaviour is normal too.

      I think it’s important for parents to regard their teenagers as complex and changing beings to cherish and think about with open minds, rather than as problems to solve or fix. Most parents I know are experts on their own kids, but don’t have a wide experience of working with dozens or hundreds of teens over more than a decade (as I do, for example), so sometimes they can panic as they wonder if their child is somehow off track. This post is to reassure those parents that likely all is normal and fine.

  2. Thanks again for sharing Kerri. I would love to get your take on screen time in this era of teens and media. I would love to get to a point of agreement with my teen son but there are opposing views that never seem to get resolved. I would like to understand how you coach parents with teens around media time.

    1. Hi Michelle! Thanks again for another great comment. This is an important issue for many parents of teenagers. I really regret taking so long to reply. Probably by now you have come up with some creative ideas to work on this with your son! If you have, please tell us!

      First of all, I assume that you think your son is spending too much time in front of screens. My question to you, if that is the case, is ‘what makes you think it’s too much time?’ I would encourage you to fully explore your worries, fears, concerns, and even the worst case scenario. Explore this with a good friend, counsellor, or in your journal. Once you are able to distill your concern down to a simple and true statement, then bring this to your son when you have his agreement to talk.

      For example, you might say to him, “son, I’d like to talk with you about screen time. I have one thing I want to share with you. Could we talk about that now or later this evening?” Then I suggest, when you have his agreement, that you keep it super short and sweet and then shut your mouth. Say something like, “I’m concerned that you spend so much time in front of screens that you’re not getting enough sleep or having fun with your friends. It’s important to me that you are healthy, and that includes adequate sleep and close relationships.”

      Now listen to his response. Ask him questions about what he says (with real curiosity), like ‘what do you love most about that video game?’ Make it safe for him to share with you what is important to him. Listen and listen. Believe me when I say that he heard your concern the first time you said it so you don’t need to repeat it.

      Commit to yourself ahead of time that you simply want to share your concern with him. Commit not to fight. Remember that this can be an ongoing conversation. He will smell anything with the scent of ‘I’m the boss of you’ so don’t dominate. Try to partner.

      This was a really brief response to a big question. Thanks again for asking it. I hope this helps somewhat. xoxo

Comments are closed.