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Why Is My Teen so Mean to Me? Part 3: Mental Health Issues

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

Every teen behaves in ways that are frustrating at least on occasion, and perhaps even numerous times. While some measure of defiance in teens is normal as they strive to assert their burgeoning independence, very frequent occurrences of noncompliant, blatantly defiant or angry behavior can indicate a mental health disorder.

As we mentioned in the previous articles of our series, an invalidating environment is one factor that can lead to teen behavioral problems. It can also, simultaneously, lead to mental health issues. As a rule, mental health and behavioral challenges often go hand-in-hand.

For example, a child raised by chronic instability or parental conflict can grow up to develop borderline personality disorder. Teens with BPD have conflicted relationships, lack of sensitivity towards others, and high reactivity. An abused child can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can involve anger outbursts, anxiety, and acting out at home or school. Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, both of which involve severe defiance against authority, negative attitude, and temper tantrums, are often the result of an invalidating childhood.
Let’s summarize these diagnoses in more detail.

Most Common Teenage Diagnoses

Sometimes, when a teen’s behavior is too much out of line with what you would expect, there may be some underlying mental health issues.   Some of the most common diagnoses include depression, anxiety, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and technology technology addiction in teens.

All of these disorders can manifest as a disrespectful teenager and can send parents searching for answers to questions like why are teens so mean and why do teenagers hate their parents.  You aren’t alone.  Untreated mental health conditions can cause teens to be irritable, unable to concentrate, have trouble controlling their emotions or engage in reckless behavior. If a teen is exhibiting any combination of these behaviors, get your teen help,  it may be beneficial to seek professional help to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. With proper support and treatment, teens can learn how to manage their mental health better and have healthier relationships with those around them. It is important for adults in a teen’s life to remain available as they go through this process.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Oppositional defiant disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorders in children and adolescents. If your teen has ODD, they often have angry outbursts. They get upset by the seemingly smallest things and defy rules you set when they’re angry. They are spiteful, irritable, and make hurtful remarks on a consistent basis. A teen with ODD can be verbally aggressive and physically aggressive, too.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)

It feels like your teen is persistently irritable or angry—all the time, every day. Adolescents with DMDD commonly explode in rage or anger, physically and/or verbally, at home and at school. Additionally, other family members, friends, and teachers notice these displays of anger. You always feel like you need to walk on eggshells in order to prevent setting them off. DMDD and ODD are very similar, but DMDD is more severe.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Your teen might have BPD if they’ve always had rocky relationships with parents and friends. In addition to a chronic pattern of unstable relationships, teens with BPD often have intense irritability or anxiety, difficulty controlling their anger, and problems with impulsivity. They might get very attached to certain people, but then retreat completely if the person does something that hurts them. Teens with BPD are very emotionally sensitive and emotionally reactive. Think adolescents can’t have BPD? This article will show you why we disagree.

Other mental health issues that could be the source of your teen’s behavioral problems include Conduct Disorder, PTSD, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD in particular can significantly interfere in many areas of a teen’s life, including social life, family life, and school/academic performance.

Teen Diagnoses: Mental Health and Behavioral Issues

First, a disclaimer: not all teens who fight with their parents or are intensely rude to them have a diagnosable mental health issue. Teens could be just going through a phase or struggling with a crisis in another area of their lives (such as school or friends). Look back to our first article to see some examples of other factors that could be impacting your teen’s challenging behavior. (e.g. substance use, developmental or cognitive delays).

In any case, even if your teen is in fact struggling with one of the aforementioned mental health issues, the point of our blog is not to diagnose your teen. Only a mental health professional can do that. If you suspect your teen might be suffering from one of these disorders, visit a licensed therapist, social worker, or other mental health professional and ask them to conduct an assessment of your teen.

Let us reassure you, though: Even if your teen ultimately receives a diagnosis for their mental health or behavioral challenges, a diagnosis is just a starting point. A name for the challenge. A diagnosis’s sole purpose is to help choose a course of treatment. (And of course, to help insurance help cover the costs of said treatment.) So while a diagnosis might help you understand more fully the struggles and symptoms of your teen, it’s important not to get too caught up in the label and lose sight of the main focus: treatment.

Tips for Parents: How to Handle Disrespectful Teenagers

One of the hardest parts about parenting teenagers is dealing with disrespectful behavior.  Remember that you are not alone.  There are millions of parents out there struggling with the same issues.  Also, there are many professionals available to offer support, therapy, and coaching.

It is essential for parents to remember that parenting teenagers is a process and to be patient as they work towards teaching their teens how to respect themselves and others. With consistent effort and understanding, parents can create an environment where respectful behavior is the norm, reducing the chances of behavioral disorders.

Establish Rules to Encourage Respect

Respect must be earned and not demanded, so it’s important for parents to foster an environment where respect can be built. To do this, parents should focus on setting boundaries and expectations for their teens in a positive manner. This can include clear rules and consequences that are consistently enforced. 

Don’t Take Disrespect Personally

Why is my teenage daughter so mean to me?  The answer is not because you deserve it.  Parents should not take their teenager’s disrespectful behavior too personally as it is often a normal part of adolescent development and is usually temporary. Teenagers are learning to become independent people and may be acting out simply to test boundaries or express frustration, which is an important part of developing their own personalities.

Aim to Solve Problem Problems

Parents can strive to work together with their teens to solve problem behaviors by encouraging open communication, setting clear expectations and boundaries, and providing appropriate consequences when needed. Additionally, parents should provide unconditional love and acceptance while still being firm on important issues. By utilizing these strategies, parents can help teens develop the skills needed to make good decisions and take responsibility for engaging in the right way to improve teen mental health.  

Promote Growth and Encourage Positive Behaviors

It’s important for parents to listen to their teens and provide them with a safe space to express themselves in order to develop healthy communication skills. Showing understanding and empathy towards adolescents, working with professionals, and getting the right treatment such as  teen DBT programs, can help build trust between parent and child which can ultimately build the life skills that help reduce disrespectful behavior. 

Are There Other Reasons Why My Teenage Daughter or Son is so Mean to Me?

It is common for teenagers to be mean to their parents, and there can be many reasons why. Teenagers are complicated creatures, and they can go through a range of emotions that cause them to lash out or become unkind. From feeling overwhelmed by expectations, to struggling with identity issues, all the way to simply wanting more independence, there are a plethora of factors that can contribute to teenagers treating their parents poorly. Fortunately, there are resources available to help you navigate these turbulent times.

In the next article of this series, we’ll discuss what types of treatment are available for teens with behavioral issues – and their parents, too. When it comes to behavioral concerns and relationship conflict, the entire family needs to get help: not just the teen.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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