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My Preteen Exhibits Attention Seeking Behavior, Detrimental To Himself

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My preteen son seems to need to be the center of attention. He is a gifted kid who doesn’t really like school. He speaks out of turn, has said mean things, and doesn’t really seem to care about authority or following the rules. (all of this is sometimes)
Sometimes, he’s great. He tends to NOT be helpful or kind and is causing himself many issues. He’s had several school detentions for doing things such as name-calling or being disrespectful to his teachers. He is involved in scouting and loves it, but won’t listen to adult leaders or scout leaders. He’s had privileges taken away, and will now need to have his scouting experiences limited as he is not reliable in that setting. He doesn’t want his behaviors restricted but I can’t have him acting out everywhere. He is developing a reputation as kind of a jerk.
His dad and I have divorced 5 years ago and he sees us both regularly and he also has a stepdad in his life that he cares about. All the parents are engaged to assist him in getting what he needs. I have a flexible work arrangement and am able to be home most days right after school gets out. I help with homework, we eat meals together–I’ve made a point to tell him in no uncertain terms that my love for him is unconditional. My other kid exhibits none of these behaviors. I’m at a loss.
The school principal has assured me that while my kid is on the “watch list” at school he’s by no means the worst offender. He wandered off at a recent scout outing doing something that could have endangered himself and there will be consequences for that.
So far, being grounded, having detentions, etc don’t really seem to matter to him. He gets really wound up and doesn’t listen and it feels like attention seeking behavior. We’ve also recently done Neurotherapy (biofeedback) for him which seemed to make a positive difference–but he’s now continuing with the bad behaviors. Looking for a suggestion, a book, a counselor in some sort of modality I should look for.
Thanks much (From the USA)

My Preteen Exhibits Attention Seeking Behavior, Detrimental To Himself

Answered by on -


I think the collection of behaviors that you’ve identified along with his age lend themselves to a cluster of symptoms that may point to a unifying cause. Of course, it wouldn’t be possible for me to offer a diagnosis, but I will say that if this were a test I were taking in graduate school and this was the information of the intake interview there are a number of top choices I’d have that would at least be the things to rule out.

What I am advocating for is very thorough testing. Neuro-Psychological testing would allow for a way of understanding his strengths and relative areas that he needs some help in. The reason the Neurotherapy worked initially is that it provided him with the means through which he could self-regulate. The testing I am recommending often suggest other ways he can develop these skills.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

My Preteen Exhibits Attention Seeking Behavior, Detrimental To Himself

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2019). My Preteen Exhibits Attention Seeking Behavior, Detrimental To Himself. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 May 2019 (Originally: 15 May 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 May 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.