Destructive Behavior in Teenagers

It's not always easy to face the facts when your teenager engages in destructive behaviors. But it's crucial to acknowledge the behaviors and get involved for the sake of your teen's health, safety and well-being. A 2002 joint report by Students Against Drunk Driving and Liberty Mutual Group showed that teens who reported frequent and open communication with their parents were more likely to try to live up to their parents' expectations and less likely to engage in certain harmful or destructive behaviors.


The teen years are one of the most notoriously difficult periods of life. Teens experience a variety of influences that can affect their behavior and decision-making skills, such as hormonal changes, academic and social pressures, and confusion and concerns over issues like body image and confidence. Some level of experimentation and acting out is normal, such as avoiding chores, fighting with siblings or talking back to parents. However, frequent or intense displays of destructive behaviors are cause for concern. Destructive behaviors that might indicate a more serious underlying problem include physical and verbal aggression, theft, destruction of property, substance and alcohol use, engaging in illegal activities, bullying, fighting and threatening others, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, or AACAP.

Risk Factors

There are a number of factors that influence the reasons teens decide to engage in destructive or risky behaviors. According to the SADD report, teens reported that they were more likely to drink or experiment with drugs or sexual behavior because of issues like boredom, stress, peer pressure or depression. And teens who have experienced delays in language or social skills, who come from unstable homes that lack parental involvement or who live in inner-city areas are more likely to engage in destructive behaviors, says the AACAP.


Unfortunately, the earlier your teen displays destructive behaviors, the worse the prognosis, says the AACAP. Parents should be aware of the psychiatric disorder known as conduct disorder. This disorder is the precursor to a serious condition diagnosed in adulthood known as Antisocial Personality Disorder. A diagnosis of conduct disorder is generally given when children and adolescents display long-term behavioral problems like chronic rule-breaking, cruel or aggressive behavior toward people or animals, frequent drinking or drug use, fire setting, running away from home, a lack of empathy and vandalism, according to PubMed Health, a public information service provided by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

What Parents Can Do

If you are concerned about your teen's behavior, the most important thing you can do is to discuss your concerns in an open, honest and compassionate manner. In many cases, destructive behavior is a cry for help or attention. By showing your care and concern, you let your teen know that you are engaged, involved and willing to help. If your attempts to address the issue on your own are unsuccessful, you should contact your health care provider or a licensed mental health professional to discuss options for intervention and treatment.