How do I know if I should be concerned about her behavior?

I don’t think I’ve met a parent who has not asked themselves this question at some point, especially in the early teen years when you are just figuring out all the changes. 

Every family handles their daughter’s actions in their own way and some can tolerate more then others.  Your daughter is going to act out at some point.  Truthfully, that is a really good thing.  It’s the girl’s who don’t act out and just comply to everything you say that I am more concerned about.  The girls who are acting out are at least telling you that something is going on and they are secure enough in themselves to challenge or push the limits.

You want your daughter to take risks and learn from mistakes and you want it to be done when she is under your care so you can help guide her.  However, there are some guidelines that can help you in determining whether or not you should be concerned with her actions.

Key Questions

How often is the behavior happening? 

Daily, weekly monthly?  What is the frequency?  Are you noticing an increase in it?

What is the intensity?

Let’s say you are noticing her anger more.  Is she just talking back or is she getting to the point that she is punching a hole in the wall.  How worked up is she getting?  Did she drink a beer or 6 beers?

When did it begin?

Try to think back to when you first began to notice the change.  What was happening at that time? Often girls and parents will mention 5th grade or 7th grade.  These years seem to have significant impact.  Also, see if it happened around the start of her menstrual cycle. 

How adverse is the impact? 

How is her behavior effecting/impacting the following areas or those areas impacting her…

 Social – is she pulling away from her friends or they pulling from her?  Are new ones in the mix that maybe you don’t know so well?  Has she started dating?

Home/family – is anything happening at home that could impact her?  Marriage problems SIGNIFICANTLY impact girls.  Just the tension can be enough to create clinical levels of anxiety and depression.  Is someone ill?  Have you moved or are planning a move?  Selling the house?  How is she treating the family?  Is she breaking a lot of the rules all of a sudden?

Academic – are her grades slipping?  Is she too perfectionistic with grades? Is she avoiding school?  Is she having a problem with a teacher?  Is she avoiding school?

Health – does she have a lot of physical complaints?  Is she at the DR more?

Legal – have the police been involved? Are her behaviors moving towards possible legal action like online bullying, underage drinking, assault.

Work – is she calling out of work more?  Has she quit or changed jobs for no valid reasons? Is she having a hard time keeping a job?

Why are you seeing this behavior now?

Is there anything you know she is dealing with in her life currently?  Any life changes or an addition of some sort – dating, friends, activity, family change.

Unfortunately you won’t always know the answer to this if she has conflict or problems happening with people you aren’t familiar with.  If you don’t know there is a girl at school that threatened to beat her up at lunch you might not understand why she is so anxious or avoiding school.  It's still good to question it and consider you might not know something.  If you think "something doesn't add up" don't overlook your intuition.  Keep investigating.

WTFwhat’s the function?

There is always a function for the behavior.  It serves some purpose.  Often it is a reaction to difficult emotions or poor problem solving skills.  Sometimes the function is to get your attention.  Girls RARELY admit this but the truth is all of them want to be known and seen by mom and dad and they will act out in ways good or bad to have you focus on them.

Does she have a sibling that gets a lot of positive praise and attention?  Often, she will act out in opposite ways especially if she is the middle child or sibling just below the “all-star”.  Remember all teen girls are in identity development and they will try a lot of different personas over the years.  I’ve had girls tell me they really like being the “black-sheep”.  It makes her feel different and special.  She isn’t able to see how it hurts her more then it helps.

Your daughter will have a very difficult time verbalizing to you what is going on.  It’s pretty normal to not discuss everything with parents as a teen.  This can keep you out of touch with what is happening in her life at times.  It can be very helpful to have other adults in her life that she will open up to when it’s too hard to talk to mom and dad.

Also, most of the time she has no clue.  When I work with girls we spend time investigating a variety of factors that are contributing to her behavior.

For instance, I’ve worked with girls who struggle with self-harming behaviors and after assessing a variety of factors we could trace a common trigger of physical illness.  Whenever she is not feeling well it impacts her emotions so much that she is not able cope.  It’s not the cause of the behavior but it was a significant impact.

Finally, if you are asking yourself if you should be concerned, get educated.  Talk to other parents, research online or call a professional.  Many counselors will do a consultation with you either on the phone or in person.  Depending on the length you may have to pay a fee but at least you can get some confirmation and potential guidance.  I've done consultations with parents over the years and helped them understand the behavior better, providing some anxiety relief.  You are welcome to call me!