Mean behavior in teens such as verbally threatening or physically hurting another person is not a normal part of growing up. Acting cruelly towards others strongly suggests a serious underlying problem for the teen exhibiting this behavior.
Reasons for Mean Behavior in Troubled Teens
There are two primary reasons for a teen to act mean:
1. Something terribly painful has happened to them and they don’t have the resources to deal with it, such as being physically, sexually or emotionally abused. Or the teen may be getting severely bullied or threatened by peers.
2. The mean behavior is a symptom of drug or alcohol use or the onset of a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety. There are other emotional and psychological disorders that can cause this type of behavior.
In both cases, something significant is causing the mean behavior. The teen feels powerless in addition to other difficult feelings they are not equipped to deal with. Meanness in teens is an extreme form of acting out that signals the teen may be in serious trouble.
An Example of a Mean Teen:
Joey, age 14, is expelled from school for beating up a student who had to be hospitalized as a result. Prior to this incident he was fighting and threatening students and teachers. The student he hurt presses charges. Joey is then court ordered into individual therapy during which time he reveals having been molested by a baby sitter. He has never told anyone about what happened and has turned his anger into violence towards others.
Why it's Critical to Respond to Mean Teen Behavior
While it’s tempting to want to stay as far away as possible from a mean teen, this behavior is a clear warning sign that they are in a significant amount of pain. Parents need to pay serious attention to teens who are mean. An evaluation by a mental health professional specializing in adolescents is recommended to get the teen the help they need before the situation gets any worse.