At Sundance Canyon Academy, we have received questions from parents who are concerned that their teen’s attention seeking behavior is unhealthy. Though some attention seeking behavior is common during the teen years, it can also be a sign of histrionic personality disorder. We are writing on the topic today to help parents understand the differences between typical teenage behavior and unhealthy attention seeking behavior.
Attention-seeking behavior is widespread during the teen years. When kids are young, their world revolves around their families. They want the approval of their parents, and they want their parents’ attention. When your kids were little, you probably heard, “Look at me!” and “Watch this!” more than you could count.
As kids grow up, their focus shifts from family to friends. Though they still want their parents’ love, they start caring more about their friends’ approval. They want you to do everything with them and help them with every project. Next, they want you to drop them off a block from the movie theater, so their friends don’t see you.
Because they are so focused on what others think of them, teens can start acting more like the popular kids at school or actively try to be “cool.” They might start dressing differently, talking differently, or hanging out with a new crowd. As a parent, it can be disheartening to see your kid start to crave the approval of their peers so much.
Teens want peer approval because their peers determine their social status. In turn, their social status determines where they go, who they get to hang out with, and their life during high school. Being liked means they are more likely to have friends, have romantic interests, and go to fun events.
Such self-focused and attention-seeking behavior is a natural part of puberty. Trouble comes in when attention-seeking teen behavior becomes all-consuming. Teens who rely on the approval of others to determine their self-worth could be struggling with mental health problems like a histrionic personality disorder.
What is a histrionic personality disorder?
A histrionic personality disorder is a mental health condition characterized by dramatic, attention-seeking behavior. People with histrionic personality disorder tend to have drastic mood swings, unstable emotions, and a distorted view of self-importance. They rely on the approval of others to make them feel good about themselves.
Some of the common symptoms of histrionic personality disorder include:
- Needing the approval of others to feel valued
- Needing to be the center of attention and feeling uncomfortable if attention is on anyone else
- Changing their behavior or opinions to fit in with the group
- Following others and being easily swayed to do things they wouldn’t do on their own
- Focusing on physical appearance more than average
- Behaving or dressing in inappropriately sexual ways to get attention
- Frequently asking reassuring questions of those around them
- Having trouble forming and maintaining meaningful relationships
- Thinking that relationships are more profound than they are
- Responding to minor inconveniences with theatrical reactions
- Threatening self-harm or suicide to get attention
In teens, histrionic personality disorder stems from having low self-worth and relying on others to provide worth for them. There’s no specific cause for histrionic personality disorder, but it seems to stem from genetic and environmental factors.
Improving teen self-worth
The most crucial aspect in overcoming attention-seeking teen behavior is to help your teen improve their self-worth. When teens are confident in their own value, they don’t need to try to make other people like them.
You can do several things to help your teen improve their self-worth.
Talk with your teen and have them identify their values in life. Ask them to go beyond physical items they value or specific people they respect and dig into the more profound things that matter to them.
You can start by asking questions like:
- What personality traits do you value in a friend?
- Think of someone who you respect. What is it about them that makes you appreciate them?
- Think of behaviors that irritate you or make you angry. What are those behaviors? What is it about those behaviors that upset you?
- Describe a perfect day. What would it look like? What would you do that day? What makes it perfect?
Use the answers to the questions to help them identify their values. When teens know and understand their values, they are more likely to act based on them. They can feel more secure in themselves and won’t have to rely on attention-seeking behavior to win the approval of others.
Participate in activities that they enjoy
Teens with a histrionic personality disorder will go along with whatever the crowd is doing. Even if they don’t enjoy the activities, they participate so that they will be liked.
Help your teen find activities that they genuinely enjoy. They can enjoy the moment and have fun doing something that suits them. If they are having a good time, they won’t need attention from everyone else.
Get professional therapy
Severe attention-seeking teen behavior might require professional therapy. If your teen is likely to say whatever you want to hear to try to make you happy, they could benefit from talking to someone else. Therapists trained in working with teens with histrionic personality disorder can use various strategies to help improve self-worth.
If your teen son’s attention-seeking behavior gets him into trouble, he might benefit from attending a residential treatment center. While enrolled in the program, he would receive individual, group, and family therapy to help him develop the self-worth needed to lead a productive life.
Contact us today for more information and find out if our school can help your family.