The Myth of the “Troubled Teen”
Typically, in the past, when social scientists embarked on a study of teenagers, they concentrated on issues such as delinquent behavior, the dropout rate, or other problem projects, but over the last several decades, the focus of research has significantly broadened. Sociologists and psychologists have been able to get a more comprehensive overview of teenagers by studying the population as a whole and not just a narrow sampling. The results of their expanded research has been an increased body of knowledge leading to valuable insights into how teens think, how they feel, and why they respond the way they do.
Do you find yourself, as a parent, thinking that there is no way around the troubling teen years? Do you fear drug abuse, rebellion, or the evils of peer pressure? Research that involves all teens and not just the troubled segment of society has uncovered that many issues surrounding the so-called troubled teen are, for the most part, myths.
Teen Years Are Not Intrinsically Difficult
Many times, teenagers are associated with bad behavior such as drug abuse, delinquency, and irresponsibility, but studies show that this is not a normal part of adolescence. In fact, about eight out of ten teens are not prone to engage in this type of extreme behavior. It’s the attention drawn to the minority of teens that have severe problems that gives rise to the myth of the “bad teen”.
Peer Pressure Isn’t All Bad
Are you a parent that shuns the evils of peer pressure? When parents think about peer pressure, they usually think about it in negative terms, but research shows that many teens are being shaped by the force of positive peer pressure. There is no getting around the fact that teenagers are vulnerable to the effects of peer pressure. They care about what their friends think about what they do and they definitely want to find their place in the social arena, but peer pressure is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. It depends on what the peer group is focused upon. Many teens are being influenced by groups that are reaching for high academic accomplishments or lofty sports goals. Guiding your teen into the right group is the key to letting peer pressure work for you instead of against you.
Do Parents Make a Difference?
There is one caveat to this research that parents should be aware of and it involves another myth. Parents sometimes have the false notion that time spent with their teen doesn’t make a difference. The truth is that an involved parent not only makes a difference, but it makes the difference. Parents that consistently spend quality time with their teen give them the much-needed security and sense of approval that adolescents desperately need to make the transition from child to adult. At all stages, parents influence their kids more than any other factor and studies prove that teenagers feel that time spent with loving parents is beneficial, meaningful and memorable.
Although adolescence is a time of change, it doesn’t’ mean that relationships with teens must change for the worse. When parents invite their children to go through the natural process of growing up and make the time to share in the process, the teen years can be a satisfying and rewarding time for the whole family.
L. Steinburg, Adolescence, 9th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011)
W.A. Collins, “Contemporary Research on Parenting: The Case for Nature and Nurture,” American Psychologist, 2000, 55, 218-32.