Pathological Behavior in Teens

Teen Behavior
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In dealing with a troubled teen, parents may hear the term pathology, which can be confusing because medical and mental health professionals may use this term in slightly different ways.

Different Uses of the Term "Pathological"

Medical health professionals use the term pathology to describe the study of disease and other abnormal conditions to include the causes, progression, and consequences.

In developing an accurate diagnosis for a teen exhibiting strange behavior or having hallucinations, an adolescent psychiatrist might speak in terms of brain pathology, meaning the doctor is looking for possible diseases of the brain that could be causing this condition.

Medical doctors and mental health professionals use the term "pathological" in different ways.

Mental health professionals who do not have a medical background may use the term pathology to refer to any variation in normal or healthy functioning, which can be mild to severe in degree.

In this usage, the term pathological refers to abnormal (not typical) behavior or thinking that is caused by mental or physical disease.

A therapist might describe a teen's problems with anger this way, "He has reasons to be angry, but his anger is pathological to the extent that he hurts other people because he can't control it."

What Is Pathological Behavior in a Teen?

Truly pathological behavior in teens is abnormal behavior that actually impairs the teen's ability to function. In other words, throwing a tantrum is not a pathological behavior unless it results in self-harm, hospitalization, expulsion from school, or other major outcomes.

Teens who never have temper tantrums, never question authority, and never step out of line are extremely unusual, as these are actually typical teen behaviors.

What does truly pathological behavior in teens look like? Here are a few signs parents should look out for:

  • Your child is hurting herself by cutting, burning, pulling out hair, etc.
  • Your child is damaging his own or others' property, or intentionally injuring other people.
  • Your child has developed an eating disorder (bulimia or anorexia), or is unable to curtail his or her eating and has gained a great deal of weight.
  • Your child is abusing alcohol or drugs.
  • Your child is engaging in excessively risky and/or illegal behaviors such as serious gambling, stealing, cheating, or sexual promiscuity.
  • Your child is a compulsive liar.

If you see these behaviors in your teen, it is important to take action. You might start by checking your impressions with other adults who know your child well to be sure that what you are observing represents the full picture of your teen's daily life.

If your impressions are supported by others, it may be time to contact a mental health professional who can help you to help your teen.

In some cases, pathological behavior in teens is caused by biological changes — anything from a head injury to chronic illness and mental illness. Environmental stress, abuse, and anxiety can also cause pathological behavior in teens.

Once you understand the causes of the problem, you can begin to change the situation or provide medical intervention to help change your teen's behavior.

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Article Sources
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