Is Your Teenager’s Behavior Normal?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

A teenager’s biggest job is to realize their independence as individual human beings. However, there tends to be a number of missteps along the way. So how do you know if your teenager’s problems are just an occupational hazard or an indicator that something is very wrong? In this episode, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen give you the characteristics to look for in an honest evaluation of your teenager’s behavior.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Welcome back. We are still in teen week, and today we're going to talk about what's normal and when should you get your teen help. So let's-
Dr. Daniel Amen: But before we do, let's go to another one of the reviews. Thank you so much, Hannah [Raul 00:01:09]. "I can watch and listen again and again. It's so helpful and important." Great.
Tana Amen: Love it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Thanks. I love it too. Well, we love you back. Thank you so much.
Normal. So this is actually going to surprise people, because kids act badly and they go, "Oh, he's just a teenager. That's normal. Well, that's not normal. They actually did a study out of Chicago a long time ago looking at 10,000 teenagers. A third of them never had any problems. Pretty much like Chloe. She's consistent, hardworking, loving.
Now she can be anxious and worried, but she doesn't ...
Tana Amen: Not to the point that-
Dr. Daniel Amen: We're not constantly thinking about teenage therapy.
Tana Amen: There's no drugs, alcohol, that kind of stuff.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We scanned, but we do that 'cause she's in our family.
Tana Amen: No, she wanted to see her brain. She actually wanted to see it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So a third of teenagers, they never have problems. Another third of teenagers, every once in a while they would have problems. And then another third, they had problems all the time.
So if your teenager is really struggling most of the time, that's a sign you need to get them help.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And did you know that when a child or teen first has their, has their first symptoms of trouble, it's on average 11 years before they see their first therapist.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Dr. Daniel Amen: They are suffering for more than a decade before they actually get help.
Tana Amen: that's wow.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm not okay with that. That's why in our high school course, we have a high school course hopefully you know about called Brain Thrive by 25. You can learn more about it at We actually have a module in the course on brain health, mental health issues, like ADD, anxiety and depression, eating disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder. And you just can't believe the number of stories we get after we taught it.
There was a girl that came up to us after class, and she's just crying. She goes, "I never had a name for it, because I have PTSD." I'm like, "Oh, sweetheart, what happened?" She said, "I was babysitting my little brother when I was seven, and he got away from me and ended up drowning. I have nightmares-"
Tana Amen: Seven?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Watching her little brother at seven. She said, "I have nightmares and I'm wracked with guilt, and I see his dead body over and over again."
Tana Amen: Oh, my God.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's horrifying. We said, "There's help for it." And we connected her up with an EMDR therapist to help her work through the trauma. But there are so many kids who are struggling with a mental health issue and nobody knows.
Tana Amen: So let's talk for a second because since ... So Chloe comes up to me about a week ago, and she's really funny. It's actually a funny story. Because we're so open with her, because it's safe to say things in our house, she'll say things, I think, that a lot of teenagers aren't willing to tell their parents. It was actually a very funny conversation. She was sort of pulling back on something that I was trying to talk to her about. She was disagreeing with me, so I talked to her about it. And she said to me, here's what she said. She goes, "I don't know what's wrong with me." And I said, "What do you mean?" And she said, "There's just something wrong with this. Like, I don't know what's wrong with me lately, but the last couple months," she goes, "I all of a sudden feel myself wanting to say no to you for no apparent reason." She was like, "I don't even know why, I just want to say no."
And I had this question in my head. She's being very honest, and I'm trying not to laugh out loud. And she's like, "I have this thought in my head like, 'Well, how do you know what's best for me?' And like, 'How do you know everything for me?'"
I could have reacted and just gotten mad at her, but because I'm armed with information, right, 'cause it's easy to be reactive in that moment and bristle and go, "Yeah, why are you doing that?" But being armed with information, like childhood development information, I sat back, I let her finish. And I said, "Do you actually want to know the answer to that?" She said, "Yes, it's frustrating." She goes, "I know my life is easier if I just do what you say, but I don't want to all the time." She's like, "And that's not really like me." And I go, "Well, it's funny that you say that, because I know the reason why." And she said "Why?"
I go, "I don't want to minimize it by saying it's because you're 15, but what it really is is because it's childhood development, and at 15 your two tasks are to become independent and figure out who the heck you want to be."
Dr. Daniel Amen: Separate, separate.
Tana Amen: Right, I said, "You're now figuring out 'I'm not the hero of your entire life.' You may look up to me, you may respect me, but you're starting to want to take charge of your own life."
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. It's so irritating-
Tana Amen: And that's normal, though.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... that when they're 15, they began to see all of your flaws. Then they point them out on a routine basis. Then when their brain's done, they are back to "You're amazing."
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And they can hold the fact that you're not perfect-
Tana Amen: Right, because they're not perfect.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... with the fact that you're amazing, and your relationship can go back to being more normal. So I often tell parents, we just got to get them to 25. Let's just keep them safe-
Tana Amen: Once they get out of college, right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... until they're 25.
Tana Amen: But my point with that was this, many people see that as teenagers are being rebellious, they're irritating they're whatever. It is irritating, but that part of it is normal. So how do you sort of differentiate that normalness from the problem child? Like I know that that's normal.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, what I want to do before we're over with this podcast is talk about when to know when they need help.
Tana Amen: Right, but part of it is knowing normal from not normal.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes. So know that chronic trouble is not normal for teenagers. That's a sign of trouble. So if you find six or seven or eight, nine, 10 days out of 10, you're struggling with them, something's going on either with you or with them. And so getting assessed is important.
Tana Amen: But what kind of struggling are we talking about? Problems in school?
Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm going to talk about it.
Tana Amen: Okay. Thank you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Listen. Any form of self-harm, cutting, talking of suicide, suicidal gestures, having their friends tell you that they told them about suicide, that's a 911 emergency call that they need to be assessed immediately. And cutting is actually very common. Substance abuse, marijuana use is common, but it's not good for them.
I had that conversation earlier this week with one of my friends, a 14-year-old starting to smoke pot. Pot increases the risk of psychosis 450%.
Tana Amen: But so many-
Dr. Daniel Amen: I don't care if everybody's doing it-
Tana Amen: Right. So many parents think it's normal.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... because it's not good for them and it's damaging a developing brain. Sadness. Now, not that sadness is there for an hour.
Tana Amen: Transient, right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But sadness that's, it just like it's been a week or two weeks or three weeks.
Tana Amen: So persistent.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Irritability that, you know, they're snapping, they're more negative than they used. High highs and low lows. You have to be concerned about kids having panic attacks. There's treatment for that, and it's important to get, because if you don't, they begin to start avoiding friends, sports, classes and so on. If they're chronically fatigued, if their sleep cycle really begins to change, those are some symptoms that something may be going on in their brain.
More common after head injuries. They are more common during when parents are getting divorced, which has been very common the last three decades, right? If they're struggling in school, it's important to assess why. There's actually a brand new SPECT study out this morning on learning disabilities from China. And SPECT, you could see the differences on scans, which I've known for a long time. So those are some of the things. We love helping children and teenagers here at Amen Clinics.
Tana Amen: Yeah, because they're amazing when they ... Even when they're struggling, when they start to figure it out and trust you and get help for themselves and they don't feel that shame in being able to share it and get help, teenagers are cool. They're amazing.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, I had an appointment earlier this week with this girl that was diagnosed with ADD, and I figured out she also had something called the Irlen Syndrome, which is a visual processing problem. And we're actually going to have Helen Irlen on in a couple of weeks.
Tana Amen: Yeah, fun.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We're really excited about that. But when she put on the glasses, she actually saw her mother's full face for the first time.
Tana Amen: Is that crazy? It's crazy.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Isn't that wild?
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So when a child is struggling, notice it. Get them the help they need. Stay with us.
Thank you for listening to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.