10 Signs of a Toxic Teenager: What You Need to Know

Your teen slams their bedroom door in your face, steals money from your wallet, sneaks out with their friends at night and only talks to you if they need something. Wahh! What happened to your beautiful kid who wanted snuggles on the couch? Welcome to the signs of a toxic teenager.

As teenagers grow and develop, not just their bodies change – their minds do too. It’s a normal part of raising teenagers to see them push boundaries, become more independent, and find their voices. This can be a wonderful time as you watch them develop deep thoughts and ideas about the world, but it can also be challenging.

Toxic behaviour can be internal (against themselves) or external (against others). It takes time, skill, self-awareness, and talent to strike a balance between giving them the space to grow and still being there every day.

10 signs of a toxic teenager

What does teen toxic and manipulative behaviour look like? Here are 10 of the common signs of a toxic teenager:

1. Excessive criticism

Constantly criticising themselves or others can lead to low self-esteem and strained relationships. Teens who engage in excessive criticism might have underlying issues with self-worth or insecurity.

2. Manipulation

Manipulative behaviour in teens can stem from a desire for control or fear of rejection. This can look like guilt-tripping, playing parents against each other, playing the victim, retaliation, explosive outbursts, or using emotional blackmail. Teens may resort to manipulative behaviour due to insecurity, a need for power, or ineffective communication skills.

3. Isolation

Teens who isolate themselves or try to isolate others may struggle with social skills, anxiety, or depression. It may also be a way to avoid dealing with problems or seeking help, leading to further isolation and distress.

4. Anger issues

Extreme anger or frequent outbursts can be signs of a toxic teenager and can indicate unresolved emotions or underlying trauma. Teens may struggle to regulate their emotions and resort to aggression as a way to cope with stress or frustration or to intimidate parents into giving them what they want.

5. Controlling behaviour

Wanting to control every aspect of their own life or others’ lives can stem from a fear of uncertainty or a need for validation. Teens may exhibit controlling behaviour as a way to feel powerful or secure in their environment.

6. Lack of empathy

A lack of empathy can indicate difficulties understanding or connecting with others’ emotions. Teens lacking empathy may struggle to form meaningful relationships and inadvertently hurt others’ feelings.

7. Self-destructive behaviour

Engaging in self-destructive behaviours such as substance abuse, self-harm, or risky sexual behaviour can be signs of a toxic teenager. They can be a coping mechanism for underlying emotional pain or trauma. Teens may turn to these behaviours as a way to numb their feelings or gain a sense of control over their lives.

8. Refusal of responsibility

Teens who consistently deflect blame and refuse to take responsibility for their actions may struggle with accountability and self-awareness. It may stem from a fear of failure or a desire to avoid facing consequences for their actions.

9. Constant negativity

A negative attitude can contribute to a pessimistic outlook on life and hinder personal development. Teens who constantly focus on the negative may struggle to find joy and fulfilment in their lives.

10. Peer pressure and bullying

Engaging in peer pressure tactics or bullying behaviour can harm both the perpetrator and the victim. Teenagers may engage in these behaviours to fit in with their peers or exert power over others.

signs of a toxic teenager help
Sometimes, it’s so frustrating when your kid is showing signs of a toxic teenager. Source: Bigstock

How can you help your teen with their manipulative behaviour?

What works to reduce this toxic behaviour:

Feel your feelings: Once you realise your teen is acting in a toxic way, you’re probably going to experience a roller coaster of anger, self-blame, sadness, and confusion. Make space to feel your feelings. Talk to your partner, a close friend, a family member, or a therapist for some empathy and guidance.

Establish boundaries: Set a firm line in the sand and clearly define consequences if your teen crosses that line. You don’t have to or deserve to be their verbal punching bag.

Communicate: Keep calm. They are trying to push your buttons. It’s not easy keeping a level head when your teenager is stepping on every last nerve you have. And as counterintuitive as it seems, ignore the little things like shrugging, rolling their eyes, dramatic sighing. If you can find an opening for a laugh, humour can be a great tool in diffusing a tense situation.

Model the behaviour you want to see: Set an example by acting and reacting as you would like your teen to. And be consistent. I occasionally (ok, maybe more than occasionally) drop an F-bomb when I need to vent. So, it’s not fair and confusing for them if I react negatively to my teens doing the same thing.

Be prepared to discipline: Catch them on a good day and have a conversation about actions and consequences. Involve your teen in setting adequate discipline for certain behaviours and ensure they follow through. Limit them to a few, but make them significant to the action.

What unfortunately doesn’t work (but sometimes feels easier in the moment, right?):

Getting defensive: Easier said than done, I know. Try not to take it personally.

Arguing: Getting into a verbal sparring match is the reaction they want from you. Try to keep your cool and think before you react.

Getting angry: When we get angry, we tend to speak and act without thinking. This can create a bigger divide between you and your teen. It’s okay to stop the argument in its tracks and set a time for you to discuss it when you’re both calmer.

Lecturing/nagging: Never, in all my time as a teenager, did it work if my caregiver lectured or nagged me to do what they thought I should do. It had more of an impact when they actively listened and responded thoughtfully.

Mirroring behaviour: It’s easy to match their energy when emotions are heightened. This will escalate the situation and create resentment.

A growing teen is a whole new ball game. And it’s true what they say: The parent they trust and feel the safest with usually bears the brunt of everything. But it is equally valid that they do come back to you. It might take months or years, but they turn around and become a more grown version of the child who was once attached to your hip.

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Avatar of Tina Evans

Tina Evans is a complete introvert, an avid reader of romance novels, horror novels and psychological thrillers. She’s a writer, movie viewer, and manager of the house menagerie: three kelpies, one cat, a fish, and a snake. She loves baking and cooking and using her kids as guinea pigs. She was a teenage parent and has learned a lot in twenty-three years of parenting. Tina loves Christmas and would love to experience a white Christmas once in her life. Aside from writing romance novels, she is passionate about feminism, equality, sci-fi, action movies and doing her part to help the planet.

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