Why Teens Behave Badly

Even stellar kids can hit a rough patch when entering teenager-hood, which leaves you, as a parent, scratching your head and shrugging your shoulders. While you might feel like your teen is behaving badly just to get on your nerves, she actually has specific reasons for acting the way she does. From a struggle for acceptance to trying to gain more autonomy, your teen's rebellion is usually the sign of some other symptom of growing up.

Independence and Freedom

When you give your teen boundaries, there's a good chance he'll push the envelope to try and test them. Teens are on the cusp of adulthood and often feel like they should attain more freedom than they get from authority figures. Behaving badly is a way of taking control of certain situations in order to gain independence from adult rules and constraints.

Peer Influence and Acceptance

For teens, friends and social standing are almost everything -- sometimes even more important than family, much to your chagrin. When your teen suddenly changes her behavior, it could have something to do with the way her friends are acting or expect her to act. She wants to be socially acceptable and will sacrifice family relationships to be able to "fit in" with her friends, even if that means defying rules.


If you've found that you've been busier than usual or focusing your attention on other siblings or issues, your teen might be feeling a little left out. It goes back to that toddler behavior you might remember -- acting out because negative attention is better than no attention at all. When your teen doesn't feel like he's being heard, he might break rules simply to get you to pay attention to him.

Identity and Autonomy

The older your teen gets, the more her own identity, personality and autonomy matter to her. She's trying to set herself apart from the rest of the family, which often results in a different look or making choices that you wouldn't make yourself. This often results in heavy risk-taking, warns Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D. of Psychology Today, but it's completely normal. Of course, it's important that your teen's new identity and risk-taking don't include dangerous behaviors.

Mental Health

Sometimes, a teen's bad behavior is outside the realm of "normal." A study published in a 2005 issue of "Archives of General Psychiatry" found that about 20 percent of adolescents have a diagnosable mental health disorder that affects their behavior 3. If your teen is acting out, being openly and chronically defiant, has sudden changes in behavior, becomes withdrawn and has severe changes in appearance, it could be a symptom of a mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder or other common teen mental health and personality issue. See your family doctor for a mental health referral if you think your teen's bad behavior is attributed to more than just being a regular teen.