The Stereotype of the Moody and Rebellious Teenager
A recent article in the WSJ examined the expectations American parents have when their children reach their teenage years. The stereotype of teenagers as moody, rebellious, emotional, and troubled is deeply ingrained in popular culture, and is central to some psychological theories.
In reality, research has shown most teens do not have an especially difficult time. Many do, and the teenage years certainly present challenges, but the moody and rebellious teenager is the exception. In addition, many rebellious, risk taking behaviors have been on the decline amongst teens for years. Rates of drug and alcohol abuse and unprotected sex have been falling for decades, with the exception of marijuana use.
It is important for parents to have realistic expectations for their children’s behavior. There is a danger that, if parents expect emotional instability, they could miss serious psychological warnings signs. Anecdotally, teens suffering from depression, and even suicidality, often report difficultly getting their parents to allow them to seek treatment.
If parents expect rebellious and risky behavior, they tend to excuse it. If they excuse (or even sanction) such behavior , it will probably increase. The teenage years are a time of increased independence and boundary testing, and it is important that parents do not prematurely abandon their role in defining what is appropriate. Parents should not allow or promote risky behavior, such as underage drinking, without expecting that behavior to increase.