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  • Erika Bugbee, M.A.

Do you work with teens? Making sense of ‘extreme behavior’ in young people

I recently had a therapist who’s worried about her teen client. This client spends most waking hours under her covers. She dropped out of the school play, two sports, and stopped going out with friends.


She mentioned another young client that gets so angry playing video games he’s broken two Xbox controllers, a tv, and 4 iphone screens.


I could tell she was intimidated and insecure about the behaviors she saw in them, in part because those behaviors don’t often show up in her adult clients or friends.


And nervous that maybe she’s not experienced enough to help them.


At first glance, teens can look like an entirely different species than adults. In fact most teens worry that they're broken, they’re weird, they’re from another planet.


But the truth is, teens are EXACTLY like adults.


If you’re a practitioner that works with teens (or you live with them) chances are you see some form of extreme behaviors on a regular basis.


What I’m calling extreme behaviors are things like instant rage, debilitating social anxiety, obsessive thoughts or behaviors, sadness that stretches over days at a time, often with no explanation. Emotional outbursts that are giant, frequent, and sudden, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, above-average wreckless or risky behavior, and chronic or excessive drug-use. Just to name a few.


Since I spend most of my days working with teens and parents, extreme behaviors are part of the normal landscape of my conversations. In the world of tweens, teens, and young adults, some form of extreme behavior is so common it’s normal.


If you slow things down and look behind, or before, human behavior, you see a mood or a feeling. When people get tense, they tend to get hostile. When they feel overwhelmed, they get scattered and distracted.


The more extreme the mood, the more extreme the behavior.


Teens experience more growth and change than any other age group besides infants. Their chemistry and hormones are all over the place. As a result, their mood states often become chaotic and unpredictable.


So when they get upset, they don’t just get a little upset, they get REALLY upset.


And just like adults, they find a way to let off steam that’s built up. Adults build tension, then explode by snapping at their spouse. When adults get overwhelmed, they’ll have a melt-down or fall apart.


That’s exactly what teens do, but because they have bigger, louder mood states, and no life experience handling them, they let off steam through extreme behaviors.


This may sound obvious to some of you.


But if you’re a therapist, practitioner, or personal development coach, seeing extreme behavior in a young client might be unsettling or catch you off-guard. Especially if you’re in charge of helping them and feeling like you’re on the spot.


But having some understanding around the fact that teens are normal and work the same way adults do, just with more intensity, will put your mind at ease and give you your confidence back.


And that’s all they need -- a little reassurance. Teens get scared of themselves too. If you’re scared, that comes across. Teens are intuitive. They pick up on those things.


Fortunately, because they’re intuitive, they also pick up on my certainty that they’re perfectly healthy, normal and intact. That they get lost in the heat of the moment of their moods, just like adults, and that extreme behavior is the human mind’s best attempt to survive and reset.


If you work with teens, today’s video gives a little extra insight around extreme behavior in a way that will give you a level of hope and confidence that will find its way into the hearts of all your struggling young clients.



'Working with Teens: A 4-month Virtual Mentoring Program for Practitioners’ is starting January 2022, and I can't wait to share more details with you - look out for more info via my newsletter.



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