Understanding teen angst: Why your teen acts out

One moment, you're besties, sharing jokes, friendship bracelets, and adventures together. The next, you're faced with a barrage of eye-rolls, grunts, and mumbles where you're not quite sure what they just said, but you're pretty sure it wasn't very friendly. This might escalate to all-out declarations of war. But remember, this is all part of the standard stage of teenage development, which I call 'The Great Pushback'. It's a period where your teen is asserting their independence, testing boundaries, and trying to figure out who they are. It can be challenging but also a sign that they're growing and developing.


Understanding where your child is at in terms of adolescent development is not just helpful; it's pivotal. It gives you a solid base and a framework to understand what is happening and helps you recognise that this is a totally to-be-expected part of parenting a teen or nearly teen. Having this knowledge empowers you to navigate this stage with confidence.

Understanding adolescent development

The changes associated with puberty should not be underestimated. Hormonal shits profoundly affect your child's mood and behaviour, often leading to unexpected reactions and outbursts. The teenage brain undergoes significant growth and changes. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and emotional regulation, is still developing. This means that your teen is not only dealing with intense emotions but also learning how to make decisions and regulate these emotions.  Add the work on developing decision-making skills; you have quite the heady mix. 

Independence and identity formation

The teenage years are a time of seeking independence and exploring identity. This natural desire to break free and find autonomy can often lead to clashes with parents and carers. During this pivotal stage, your teen is also trying to figure out who they are. To do this, they need to push and test limits, which means they are also testing your limits and boundaries! To manage these conflicts, it's important to set clear boundaries, encourage open communication, and respect their need for independence while still providing guidance and support.

Communication breakdown

Teenagers often feel misunderstood due to differing perspectives. As an adult, you may have a more experienced and rational viewpoint than your teenager. However, consider the impact before sharing this with them, as it might not be well received. Have you ever been told you're being irrational when disagreeing with someone? There's a fair chance that it's your teen who says this to you! It doesn't feel great and could be more helpful.

Nevertheless, it's essential to remember this. This is why there can be misunderstandings and communication barriers. Remember, their perspective is valid, even if it's different from yours.

Peer influence

Relationships with peers become increasingly important for teenagers. Social pressure might cause teens to prioritise friends over family, leading to conflicts at home. Teens seek approval from their peers, leading to clashes with family values or rules.

Emotional intensity

Adolescence is intense, and teens don't always know how to manage these feelings effectively. Small issues can seem like huge problems to teens, leading to overreactions and exaggerated responses.

Parental expectations

The weight of your expectations can feel more substantial and overwhelming to your teens than you realise. Your expectations may seem obvious and reasonable to you, but they can overwhelm your teenager. Talk to them to help gauge what is and isn't sensible. It can be a balancing act, but balancing support, freedom, guidance, and independence is important. This balance will change and evolve as your teen gets older and has more responsibilities at home and school. One way to achieve this balance is to involve your teen in setting expectations and rules, allowing them to have a say in their own life while still respecting your authority as a parent.

Signs of deeper issues

If you are experiencing ongoing and particularly strained conflicts with your adolescent child, it could be an indication of an underlying issue such as depression or anxiety. Signs to look out for include:

  • Persistent sadness.
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • A significant drop in academic performance.

If you are worried that deeper issues may be at play, seeking professional help is important.

Navigating the teenage years can be challenging for both parents and teens. Understanding the developmental changes and the intense emotions your teen is experiencing can help you approach conflicts with empathy and patience. The most crucial tool in your arsenal is open communication. By focusing on maintaining a safe and open environment for your teen to express themselves, you can work together to overcome these challenges. Remember, this phase is a normal part of growing up. You have been through puberty and adolescence yourself. You and your teen can get through it together with time, support, and open communication.

Being a parent or carer is hard, and parenting teenagers has its own specific challenges. Don't feel that you have to do it on your own — as a counsellor specialising in working with parents of tweens and teens, I help parents like you find ways of strengthening their relationship with their adolescent child. 

If this has resonated with you, why not get in touch and see how I can help? You can contact me via my Counselling Directory profile today to schedule a session.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Lewes, East Sussex, BN7
Written by Jennifer Warwick, MSc Psych, BACP Registered | Counsellor and Parenting Expert
Lewes, East Sussex, BN7

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People constantly rush, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted.

I specialise in supporting parents and carers as they navigate their child's tween and teenage years. Contact me for an introductory chat by phone.

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