4 Things Your Teen Might Be Doing That’s Triggering Drama and Unhappiness in Their Life

Does your teen send "cryptic messages" on social media? Are they gossiping or involved in heavy drama? Chances are it's robbing them of their happiness...

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: 4 Things Your Teen Might Be Doing That’s Triggering Drama and Unhappiness in Their Life

Written By: Jessica Manning

I recently wrote a post entitled, “When Your Teen Never Seems Happy (Despite All You Do for Them,” that resonated with a lot of parents. The post highlighted that our teens need to understand (and become far more aware) that sometimes the choices they make can directly lead to their unhappiness.

In fact, our kids have FAR more control over their happiness than they realize…

 In my line of work, I have found that common teenage behaviors predictably result in feelings of stress, discontentment, and sadness. But, for whatever reason, teenagers repeat them and then question why they feel the way they do. As a high school counselor, I have found this to be true time and time again with many of the students I work with.

4 Things Your Teen Might Be Doing That’s Triggering Drama and Unhappiness in their Life


Here are a few (not so obvious) examples I consistently see with teenagers that impede their happiness.

1. Sending Cryptic Messages Through Social Media Re-Posts

The other day, a student thrust her phone in front of my face while choking back tears and said, “Look at this; it’s totally about me.” All I saw was a TikTok of a couple of girls sitting on a bed with a caption about cheating. But my student insisted that the person who re-posted the TikTok was spreading rumors that she had cheated on her boyfriend. I didn’t see how the student could be certain it was actually about her, but she was correct. I called the other student in, and she admitted to the accusation. 

Do you ever check what your teen is re-posting? (Re-posting means they didn’t create the content themselves, but something about it resonates, so they share it.) Many teens use other people’s posts to send a cryptic message about how they’re personally feeling. For example, a student was constantly re-posting sad TikToks about being ditched by friends for their boyfriends. Rather than talking to her friends about it, she used social media to communicate how she felt. Such re-posts leave teens’ friends analyzing why they re-posted something and wondering to whom they’re directing the message. (Note: TikTok isn’t the only social media platform teens use to re-post cryptic messages.) 

Kids who post this way to exhibit their feelings or emotions often struggle socially because they put themselves out there for speculation and then don’t like the aftermath. I encourage my students to lay low on social media because I’m convinced that the teens who do are happier (or at least have fewer social problems) than the ones with an active presence who leave others guessing their motives.  

2. Focusing Primarily On Online Friends

I recently dealt with a situation where a student was distraught because an online friend (she had never met face-to-face) posted messages that were suicidal in nature. My student had no way to contact her friend – she didn’t know what school she went to and didn’t have any way to contact the family. (Fortunately, her friend ended up being fine.) While this might sound foreign to you as a parent, I know many teens who have connected with other kids online often bonding over mental health issues. Although their online friends are supportive, finding a sense of camaraderie over serious mental health issues can be a slippery slope. 

From a high school counselor’s perspective, the problem with kids settling for having only online friends is that they become complacent with no longer trying to make friends at school. School can be a lonely place when you don’t have friends in classes or to sit with at lunch. If a teen spends all their time after school cultivating online friendships, it means they’re not investing time to foster face-to-face friendships in sports, clubs, or other after-school activities, which certainly isn’t healthy.

Teens’ relationships still need monitoring for their own emotional well-being, which is nearly impossible for parents to do when their kid is hanging out with people virtually. If you can ward this off before connections get too deep, do! But if your kids already have online relationships they’re relying on, it’s not too late to share your concerns and regulate their time with their online friends. 

3. Gossiping 

Teens who gossip get gossiped about. I’m sorry, but if your teen comes home complaining that everyone talks about them and that they have no idea why, it’s likely that their own gossiping has something to do with it. When kids find themselves in this situation, like with social media, I encourage them to lay low. I repeat these two lines often to my students: “If you don’t like someone, DON’T talk to them, and don’t talk ABOUT them.” And, “Just because you THINK IT doesn’t mean you have to SAY IT.” 

I’ve learned that some kids need to be told directly that repeating negative things they’ve heard about a friend to that friend isn’t helpful. Being in the know gives kids a sense of power. But before they tell their friend that Jack was making fun of their car, Katie doesn’t like their new haircut, or Madelyne thinks their religion is weird, teens need to consider the impact of their words. Saying, “I thought they should know,” doesn’t justify passing on hurtful information that often stirs up trouble.

Be direct with your teen about how damaging gossiping can be. If your teen finds themselves in a cycle of gossiping with their friends, the root may likely be found in how your teen and their friends talk behind one another’s backs. Maybe your teen can be the one who stops the cycle.

4. Making Choices Incongruent with Their Morals

Some of the most unhappy teens I know do not like themselves for a very poignant reason. I recently worked with a student who reluctantly shared that he was struggling with a pornography addiction, and he hated himself for it. It went against the morals his parents had instilled and the values he held for himself. (I think most of us parents can relate to how unsettling it is to have made a choice incongruent with what we believe to be right.)

The tricky thing about being a teenager making decisions that go against your values (or your family’s) is that there’s usually a lingering fear of getting caught and having to face the consequences from parents. Plus, such choices might be embarrassing to admit – especially if it becomes public.

We have to accept that our kids will make mistakes – they’re learning, they’re curious and they’re practicing independence. It’s also important to recognize that not every mistake should result in punishment. Self-disappointment or self-loathing is natural punishment enough for some situations. When my kids seem sad or quiet or have difficulty sleeping, I will often flat-out ask them if they’ve made (or are making) a choice that goes against their values. I want them to recognize that unsettling feeling of making choices that go against their morals or beliefs. I also want them to know my love is unconditional, AND that they need to listen to their conscience. 

Some teens learn best through trial and error. If your teen is repeatedly making choices that aren’t in their best interest or causing unhappiness or drama in their life, point it out to them so they can learn.

And when they do mess up (even royally), love them through it, and remember… they are still learning how to make choices that lead to a happier state of being. 


About Jessica Manning

Jessica is a high school counselor with over 20 years of experience working with teenagers. She earned an M.A. in school counseling and a B.A. in English and secondary education. Jessica is married to a high school principal and has three teenage boys; her current life revolves around all things teen. When not working or following her sons’ sporting events, Jessica appreciates any opportunity she gets to veg at home with her family and her dog, Phyllis. 


If you enjoyed reading, “4 Things Your Teen Might Be Doing That’s Triggering Drama and Unhappiness in Their Lives,” you might enjoy reading these posts, too!

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