Toxic behavior is any behavior that harms others physically, mentally, or emotionally. While toxic behavior can be displayed by people of all age groups and genders, teenagers are known to be toxic.
Dealing with teenagers is known to be a difficult time for parents. It’s mainly because teenagers go through rapid physical and psychological changes.
Generally, boys go through a period of masculinization, and girls a period of feminization.
Their masculine and feminine traits are accentuated during this time to attract potential mates. This surge in masculinity and femininity is likely to spill over to toxicity.
That’s when we get toxic masculinity and toxic femininity.
Almost all teen toxicity is the result of selfishness. Masculinity and femininity are also significant contributing factors.
Teenagers go through a phase where they have to compete reproductively. To do so, they need to raise their status. To do so, they need to get their needs met. To do so, they need to form an identity that can go out and meet those needs.
The reason why teens are so obsessed with looking better (wanting to be cool) and showing off is that looks are a major status-enhancing factor.
Teenagers’ needs often contradict the needs of their immediate family and friends. Their parents want to protect them and take care of their survival needs (career) first. They compete with their siblings and friends for access to resources and mates.
Hence, teens are in the process of shaping their identities. Forming a stable identity is a major psychological milestone, but it’s not easy. This adds to the troubles teens experience, making them likely to become toxic.
Signs of a toxic teen
Following are the signs that a teen is being toxic:
Toxic teenagers deploy all kinds of manipulative techniques to have their way. Since they’re dependent on others, usually parents, they’re unable to meet their needs independently.
So, they have to manipulate their parents, siblings, teachers, and peers.
Guilt and fear are standard tools of emotional manipulation. When their demands aren’t being met by their parents, a teen may say things like:
“You don’t love me.” (Induces guilt)
“You love my brother more than me.” (Guilt)
“I will not eat if you don’t buy me X.” (Fear)
Teens can get aggressive physically as well as verbally. Since boys witness an increase in muscular strength during puberty, they’re more likely to be physically aggressive. Girls are more likely to be verbally aggressive.
The goal of aggression is to dominate the other person so they can comply. Aggression in teens often involves explosive behaviors like throwing tantrums and bullying.
Examples of verbal aggression include:
- Constant criticisms and put-downs
- Saying hurtful and mean things
Teenagers tend to be rebellious because their needs clash with the needs of their parents. Many of them are also in the process of forming a separate identity from their parents.
Parents may approve or disapprove of these identities.
Teenagers can form any identity they want. That’s part of their natural psychological development. However, their identities mustn’t harm anyone.
For instance, it’s common to see teen boys wanting to be gangsters. If they actually join a gang and hurt people, it will bother their parents and society. At this point, the new identity becomes toxic.
On the contrary, there’s nothing toxic about a teen wanting to follow their own career path, even if parents disapprove.
4. Turning people against people
While toxic boys engage in physical aggression, toxic girls engage in relational aggression. Girls derive their power from their social connections, not their muscles. So, they’re likely to turn people against other people by:
- Spreading rumors
- Creating drama
Mean Girls (2004) is the movie for you if you want to see examples of these behaviors.
Increased competition for resources and mates in teenagers automatically increases comparisons and levels of jealousy.
The human brain is a comparison machine.
Comparison and jealousy evolved so we could focus on what we lack, increasing our chances of survival and reproduction. By focusing on what we lack, we’re likely to find ways to obtain it and ease the feelings of jealousy and envy.
While it’s natural to feel jealous, jealous behaviors like sabotaging others’ success or ruining their reputation are hallmarks of toxic behavior.