RAD… or just “normal” teenager stuff?

Parenting a teenager is hard. And…parenting a teenager who has RAD is even harder.

Here’s the thing—sometimes we blame RAD when our teen is actually acting on par with their peers. For example, you might be frustrated with your RAD teen’s chronically messy bedroom and unmade bed, and blame RAD. You find a pizza box in their dresser drawer with half eaten pizza and say in exasperation: “That’s RAD!”

But, no. This is totally normal teenage behavior. In fact, I once found a half eaten pizza in my kid’s dresser drawer—and it was my birth son who doesn’t have RAD.

The Baltimore Sun calls this messy bedroom issue an “age-old impasse between teens and parents.” Their parenting experts suggest that we ignore the mess whenever we can. This is often the best approach with our RAD kids too. And, it’s easier if we can recognize it for what it is: normal teenager behavior. Of course, there are cases where RAD compounds this issue; for example, when our kid is collecting feces and urine in their bedroom. That IS a RAD thing and can’t be handled in traditional ways.

RAD can exacerbate normal teenage behavior or make it harder for parents to manage. Some of the behaviors can also be more dangerous for RAD kids who are particularly vulnerable due to their poor impulse control, under developed cause and effect thinking, propensity for risk taking, and lack of close relationships with adults they can go to for help. Still, it’s important to know the difference between normal teen stuff and RAD so we don’t lose perspective and we can better temper our expectations.

Below is a list of normal  behaviors teenagers commonly engage in. I’m not condoning them or necessarily passing moral judgement. I’m not suggesting you ignore them with your RAD kids. However, very high percentages of teenagers engage in these behaviors and only a tiny percentage of teens have RAD. I’m simply pointing out that these behaviors, in themselves, are not RAD.

Having a messy bedroom – Messy bedrooms, including food in drawers, unmade beds, uncleaned bathrooms, and mountains of dirty laundry are part of the teenage lifestyle. The Baltimore Sun calls this an “age-old impasse between teens and parents.”

VapingAccording to the CDC, 1 in 5 high school students have vaped in the last month. This is easier for kids to access than other substances and easier to conceal from teachers and parents.

Having a secret phone – 95% of teens have access to a smart phone according to Pew Research Center. Teens see their phones as an extension of themselves and when they are taken away they are very clever in finding ways around the punishment or they get a secret phone.

Watching porn and sextingBy age 18, 93% of boys and 62% of girls have been exposed to porn. Even more frightening are the statistics around sexting, sending sexually explicit texts. 1 in 4 teens are receiving sexts. 1 in 10 are forwarding sexts without consent which can have serious consequences including being placed on the sex registry list.

Having no motivation – Unlike generations of the past, today’s teenagers seem unmotivated to get jobs, drive, or move out of mom and dad’s house. According to USA Today, teens aren’t eager to get their driver’s license. Thanks in part to the pandemic, it’s become socially acceptable for kids to stay longer and longer in their childhood homes (New York Times).

Self-diagnosing mental health– One of the latest fads for teens is to diagnose themselves with bipolar, depression, an eating disorder, or any other myriad of conditions. And they don’t usually want treatment. This dangerous social trend seems to have begun with TikTok videos. Teenagers are doing this for a variety of reasons ranging from being in crisis and unable to access mental health resources to seeking attention.

Grappling with gender – One recent study in Pennsylvania found that 1 in 10 teens identify as gender diverse. A Gallup poll found that 1 in 6 GenZ adults identify as LGBT and with today’s teenagers this number is on the rise. This teenage generation has embraced gender and sexual diversity like no other before it.

GamingThe highest risk for video game addiction is for males aged 18-24. Research shows that young people spend more than eight hours online for entertainment (including gaming) every day. This is such a growing problem that the World Health Organization has added Gaming Disorder to their International Classification of disorders.

Addiction to Social media – According to one academic study teens use social media apps over 7.7 hours per day and 46% of them say they are “constantly” online. TikTok, SnapChat, and Instagram are the favorite apps for teens. Being addicted to social media is not only something normal for teenagers but for our whole society.

This is an excellent article on the hallmarks of this generation: Is This Normal? My Teens’ Gen Z Characteristics & Slow Adolescent Development

Leave a Reply