Compulsive habits can occur at any age but are most common amongst teenagers.
The average teenager faces a lot of change over such a short time – how they look, feel and behave. All of this sudden change can make them feel out-of-control and as if they don’t have a grip on their own lives.
In some cases, compulsive behaviour or habits can develop as the teenager struggles to regain control of their ever-shifting reality. This is a common coping mechanism amongst teens and compulsions to do things are a normal response to anxiety and stress. Your teen might double or even triple check to make sure she turned off her hair straighteners or put her lunchbox in her schoolbag, and that’s perfectly normal.
However, a number of factors can aggravate the compulsive habits in your teen. Examples include:
  • The stress of exams
  • Having to make a big decision, for example, what subjects to study, choosing a college etc.
  • Bullying
  • Bereavement
  • Parents separating/divorcing
  • Starting a new school
  • Peer pressure
Compulsive habits can take many forms. For example, your teen may repeatedly put things in a particular order or symmetry, repeatedly wash their hands or hair more than they have to, spend longer than usual putting on or taking off their make-up, pull their hair, repeatedly check to ensure the doors are locked or cooker is off.
How to deal with compulsive habits in your teen:
  • Take note of your teen’s compulsive habits. Understanding what triggers these habits will help you manage her behaviour and help you notice if it is getting worse.
  • Try not to get frustrated or annoyed. This won’t help your teen and may only make the habits worse.
  • Don’t intervene every time you see the compulsive habit – it may increase your teen’s anxiety.
  • Help your teen redirect her attention elsewhere. If your teen’s habit is putting things in perfect order, suggest that she go for a walk, run, swim or bike ride. When you redirect her attention elsewhere, it helps her to refocus her attention and stop thinking obsessive thoughts that will likely turn into compulsive habits.
  • Give your child the chance to tell you how they’re feeling – they may realise that chatting about the habit is a better way to deal with anxiety.
If your teen has compulsive habits that none of their friends have, don’t assume there’s a problem. This may only be a temporary coping technique for your teen. However, if you feel this behaviour is worsening and affecting their life in a big way, it may be best to see your GP.