Acting Out! Understanding Seemingly Senseless Behavior in Teens

When your teen is behaving in ways that are confusing or irrational, that is the time for you, as a caregiver, to slow yourself down to consider the logical reasons behind their behaviors. Many of our teen’s erratic behaviors result from simple deficiencies in everyday needs.


EVERY teen needs significant protein intake every 2 hours. Because the teenage brain is in its last stage of the most rapid development, calories are burned at extremely high rates. Teenagers become hungrier, faster. Within minutes of being hungry, a teen experiences difficulty listening, anxiety, depression, irritability, aggression, and difficulty regulating behavior.


EVERY teen needs to stay hydrated throughout the day. This is harder to do in dry, mile-high Colorado, because your body loses water through respiration at high altitude twice as fast as it does at sea level, according to the Wilderness Medical Society. When teenagers become dehydrated (in less than 45 minutes), they experience concentration challenges, memory loss, erratic anxiety levels, and mood swings.


EVERY teen needs rest and regeneration. Teenagers need 9–9.5 hours of sleep every night! The teen sleep schedule shifts because the timing of melatonin release shifts in their brain. During puberty, melatonin begins releasing around 10:00–10:30 PM, which moves the time when a teen should awaken to nearly 8 AM.

If a family is able to adjust their teen’s school schedule, it is recommended to do so. However, if that isn’t possible, caregivers can support youth getting more sleep by reducing the light in the home and in their rooms beginning at 8 PM, reducing electronics usage (the blue and green colors of light emitted signal the brain to stay awake and alert), and keeping bedtime routines as consistent as possible. When teens are tired and lack energy, they experience irritability, lack of behavior management, and lack of concentration.

As much as teens may push against an adult’s attempt to regulate their lives, it is imperative that caregivers continue to support the hydration, nutrition, and rest recoveries of their children and youth.

Beyond Biology

If your youth’s behavior is frustrating and seems unrelated to these biological needs, your teen may need your nonjudgmental attention. Josh Shipp, an expert on teens who lived through several foster homes and multiple traumatic experiences until he was able to build trust and connection with his final foster family, suggests in this short video that caregivers lean in to their teen when they really want to lean out. Even when your teen is really testing you, “you are the most trusted and needed person in your kid’s life; they are relying on you,” he says, “whether it seems that way or not.” Watch the video and find more insight at

Biology source: Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development