Teens: expect the worst

‘Mom, look at this!’ says my son, outraged.

‘Alcohol, bulimia, drugs, insecure, problem, puberty, rebellious, relationship, self-conscious, smoking...’

He’s studying his English text book, and has come across a list of words aimed at broadening the vocabulary when talking about being a teen.

‘Why are there so many negative words? Is this what they want us to think of ourselves?’ he asked.

He’s right. In every depiction of teens, from newspapers and TV even it seems to text books, we think of teens as a problem to be solved. If there’s a teen in a television programme, chances are pretty high that he or she will slip into one of these stereotypical problems soon enough. Well-behaved teens are often ridiculed and made out to be nerds or sychophants.

There’s a real social cost to this attitude, says a US study done at Wake Forest University and published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence. Teens whose mothers expected them take risks or be rebellious were more likely to do just that.

We make a mistake if we assume our well-behaved children will change into badly behaved teens just because they enter that age group. If we assume they will start experimenting with drugs and alcohol, for example, they may be less likely resist pressure if it comes.

Expecting positive behaviour may take a mindshift for many teen parents. We tend to spend those teen years bracing ourselves for trouble.

Changing the ways we talk about teens and to them is probably a good place to start. There are so many positive words that could be used to describe teens: healthy, energetic, social, curious, passionate, funny, inventive...

Let’s not allow our negative view of youth to colour their experience of this exciting time of life. Because if we expect the worst from them, how can we demand they do their best?

Which words would you use to describe teens?

Read more by Adele Hamilton
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