Social, Emotional, & Behavioral Problems in Teens


If you are worried your teenager might be facing some learning difficulties be on the look out for these three common types of behavior as a potential red flag.  

By Julia Knight

Discovering your child may have additional educational needs (AEN) is for some a traumatic experience but for some parents, it often answers those niggling questions that have been lingering.

As a pastoral leader of teens between the ages of 11 and 16 in both the UK and Thailand, delivering the news that a child might not be meeting his or her social or academic milestones is very difficult especially if it hasn’t been picked up on before.

Some developmental learning issues aren’t discovered until the teenage years for a number of different reasons. Firstly, a child often learns to hide and mask their difficulties by either copying their peers and or using behavior to distract adults from the underlying reasons, that’s not to say that a child is always aware that he or she can not do something or is consciously manipulating situations to divert attention. As the curriculum changes and becomes more diverse, learning needs can manifest in different types of behavior.

The three most common are as follows:

  1. Complicit complianceThis behavior is always the most difficult for a teacher to detect, a pupil who sits quietly completing all her work including homework usually goes under the radar. This type of student may be struggling to cope and their grades may be below expected. He or she will not answer questions in class but will always turn in work on time. They are quiet by nature and do not like any form of attention including praise. They can not seem to meet simple targets even with one to one support and become inwardly anxious. There may be an emotional barrier to learning such as a breakdown of parental relationships. For this type of learning need, it is recommended to see a school Counselor if there is one. Usually by talking about the problem, a student can begin to feel more in control of their learning.
  2. Deliberate defianceStudents who display defiance and a lack of care towards rules are obvious to most teachers but their behavior is an outcome and should be regarded with a retrospective view. A negative event can trigger defiance, for some students it is a way of maintaining control when they feel they have lost it elsewhere and this can manifest in violent and angry behaviors. Timing is key to preventing students such as these from being excluded from school and defiance needs to be dealt with a early on. Exclusions for these types of students are damaging and can lead on to other behaviors such as drug and alcohol use.
  3. Acting the clownPlaying up to peers is often a sign of low self esteem. Confident displays of humor and messing around is linked to pupils who are desperate to fit in. They tend to make the class and their peers laugh and teachers will often describe them as ‘distraction’ to other’s learning. There may be an underlying cause such as a feeling of academic inadequacy, which can be supported with a learning mentor (extra help after school may further damage learning esteem) or it may be an emotional response to a trauma. Either way it’s a spotlight away from the issue which the child seeks to hide. Low self esteem and confidence are not the same and may work in tandem or be displayed in polemic behaviors such as above

Good pastoral teachers will take a holistic approach to finding out what is the cause of the behavior. A scrutiny across the curriculum looking at positive attributes such as teacher/peer relationships is also helpful as it identifies what works. This is also crucial in fixing what doesn’t.

A plan can be put in place to support a child in need which is supportive and measured, as with most things, a time frame and early intervention is key to securing a child’s success.

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