For teens – and even for some adults – attention-seeking is an absolutely normal behavior. It fits closely with our desire to be loved and accepted. And to be loved and accepted, you first have to be noticed!
What is not “normal,” however, is using high-risk or unacceptable behaviors to attract notice. Some less-desirable attention-getting behaviors include:
- Demanding to be the center of attention all the time
- Wearing provocative clothing or being overly flirtatious
- Behaving completely outside of family values
- Acting loud or obnoxious
- Starving or purging to lose weight
- Self-harm or suicidal threats
- Emotions that are exaggerated or excessive compared to the situation
In young adults, these actions may indicate a lack of security or attachment. Attachment gives us a sense of security – the assurance that we can trust others, especially those closest to us. It also allows us to internalize love and recognize, “Although I’m not perfect or even ideal, I am loved.” Without these healthy feelings of attachment or sense of being loved, we are less able to face our imperfections or overcome losses in our life with stability. Instead, we may push others away through our behavior or engage in actions that give us the attention and affirmation we crave.
If your teen is engaging in any of these risky attention-seeking behaviors, you can help by providing safety, comfort and predictability. Recognize relational needs, and meet them relationally. Resist the temptation to problem-solve when what your teen really needs is time with mom and dad or empathy from a loved one. Parents can help kids learn to reach out to others for help by being warm, understanding and taking the time to listen.
Understand that kids need to connect with you and be comforted, but they also need freedom to explore their world. You are connecting with them and providing the sense of safety and stability that they need to then create the space necessary to be their own person and have their own experiences.
Finally, reassure her that she is loved regardless of her behavior or performance. Help her see the value of being a “loved person” versus being a “good enough” person.
To learn more about how to cope with attention-seeking behavior from your teen, contact ustoday.