Teen Behavior

Teen Health and High-Risk Behavior Image

The teen years are a time of rapid growth and change that mark the physical and emotional transition from childhood to adulthood. With these changes come new challenges. The average teenager is faced with:

  • A changing social landscape (e.g., the start of dating and new pressures from peers)
  • A surge of pubertal hormones
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Increased responsibilities at school and home.

Given all these challenges, it’s not surprising that adolescence can be a time when many health and behavioral problems first emerge. Teens with such problems are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors that can affect the rest of their lives.

Common Health and Behavioral Problems in Teens

While it is normal and healthy for teenagers to seek independence and want to try new things, they may not yet have the emotional maturity to make good decisions. The key for parents is learning to distinguish between normal teenage defiance and the warning signs of a genuine health or behavioral problem. Below are some of the health and behavioral issues that are common in teens and require intervention from parents.

  • Alcohol/drug abuse: Teens who regularly abuse drugs or alcohol have higher rates of emotional problems, including depression, than their peers. They are also more likely to drop out of school, commit suicide and get into trouble with the law. Furthermore, teen drinking is linked to future alcoholism. For these reasons, drinking and drug use among teenagers are serious problems.
  • Self-harm: Self-harm is the act of inflicting injury on oneself. In teenagers, the most common form of self-harm is cutting with a blade or other sharp object. This behavior is typically a means of coping with anxiety and stress, but it can be an indication of depression or, more commonly, a mental health condition called borderline personality disorder. Self-harm treatment strategies focus on providing healthier ways of handling uncomfortable feelings.
  • Teen sex: Engaging in sexual activity carries with it many responsibilities. Teens that have unprotected sex, or have sex with multiple partners, put themselves at risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Many teens, especially teenage girls, also find that being in a sexual relationship has a heavy emotional burden. Peer pressure and low self-esteem may contribute to high-risk sexual behavior among teens.
  • Teen violence: Acts of violence committed by teenagers can take many forms. Some teens bully others at school or get into physical fights with their peers. Gang violence among teenagers is on the rise, as is teen dating violence. In its most extreme form, teen violence includes school shootings that take the lives of classmates and teachers. Violent behavior or the threat of violent behavior is a serious sign of an emotional problem, and it must never be ignored.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Fact sheets: Underage drinking. Retrieved August 16, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Healthy youth: Alcohol