You’ve heard the stereotypes about the teenage years:
- All teens are moody.
- If a teenager’s mouth is moving, they’re lying.
- Today’s teens are lazy.
- Teenage boys don’t show emotion easily and get angry a lot.
- Teenage girls are irrational and cry frequently.
- Adolescents are full of angst.
- Teens are over dramatic most of the time.
These generalizations are not true; while they might be true of some teens in some cases, they are not a good way to describe all teenagers all of the time. While it might seem harmless to stereotype adolescents, the truth is that this type of behavior can be damaging to your teen’s mental health. Take a look at some reasons why stereotyping your teen can be damaging in many ways.
You Can Create a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
When you tell yourself something over and over again, you begin to believe it. Once you believe it, you will find instances and examples that only reinforce your belief. Consider the current political climate: Whatever “side” you are on, you undoubtedly find plenty of references on the news that support your opinion. The other “side” has opposing information that you might ignore or disregard. In this way, confirmation bias causes your opinion to become more and more cemented over time.
The same phenomenon occurs when stereotyping your teenager as moody, difficult, or full of angst. Rather than dealing with behaviors as they come up while appreciating the good things about your teen in between the poor behaviors, you might begin to identify your teen by his or her frustrating attitudes and actions. This will end up rubbing off on your teen, who will continue to live up to your low expectations. It creates a vicious cycle that is hard on not only your teen’s psyche but yours as well.
You Risk Not Taking Real Mental Health Concerns Seriously
When you characterize your teen’s troubled behavior as normal because, after all, teens are difficult, you risk ignoring the symptoms of serious (and potentially deadly) mental health conditions. For example, if you believe that all teens are over dramatic and full of angst, you might not realize that your teen is suffering from social anxiety, severe depression, or even suicidal tendencies.
Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of these mental health concerns. A teen who is crying a lot, socially withdrawn, and has a hard time getting out of bed in the morning might be dealing with depression, which can ultimately lead to suicide. If your son or daughter is experiencing a racing heart or refusing to go to school, anxiety might be to blame. An adolescent who is very concerned with his or her weight might be developing an eating disorder. Know the difference between normal teen behavior and the signs that something more serious is going on.
Your Teen Can Internalize Your Opinions
While your teen wants to be independent and grown up, he or she looks to you for support and approval. Teens do want the approval of their parents, and most will try to avoid disappointing mom and dad the majority of the time. Even if your child rolls his or her eyes at your suggestions, it’s likely that they’re taking them to heart. They also take to heart negative comments made by you.
Stereotyping your teen can make him or her feel bad and lower their self-esteem. Remember that as your teenager’s parent, you are there to love them unconditionally and to see the best in them when others do not. If your child thinks that you don’t see anything good about them, they might begin to feel that they’re unlovable or that something is wrong with them. This can lead to depression and anxiety. Talk to your teen about specific behaviors that need to change while also reinforcing the idea that you love them and that they have many good qualities.
You Could Perpetuate the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
By classifying symptoms of mental health troubles as difficult behaviors, you are contributing to the stigma that mental health conditions already carry. Remember that if your teen is struggling with a mental health concern, treating it as though it’s their fault does him or her no favors. They already feel bad and are stressed out; don’t add to it by labeling them as lazy, moody, overdramatic, or other negative attributes.
Instead, talk to your teen about ways to decrease the stigma of mental illness. This will help not only your own child but also his or her peers, some of whom will deal with mental health conditions. Help your teen understand the symptoms of various mental health concerns so that they can break the cycle of the stigma among their own group of friends.
You Risk Damaging Your Relationship With Your Teen
A good relationship with parents helps many teens avoid the pitfalls of drinking, using drugs, and having unprotected sex. Also, teens need their parents to help them navigate the journey of growing up into a responsible, productive adult. Stereotyping your teen by creating and believing negative stereotypes can disrupt that positive relationship. That can cause difficult feelings in your teen, which might lead to them self-medicating with alcohol or other substances. It can also cause anxiety or depression.
Learn how to communicate better with your teen so you can foster a more positive relationship and stop stereotyping. Once you begin to see your teen for who he or she is, rather than as a stereotype, you’ll begin to appreciate his or her positive qualities.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
If you are not sure how to relate to your teen and improve your relationship, a family counselor is an excellent place to start. Ask your child’s pediatrician or family doctor for a referral or recommendation. Work with the counselor on your own and also with your teen and other household members so you can communicate more effectively and strengthen your relationship. No matter what your teen is going through, he or she will be comforted knowing that you are standing by his or her side, and that will set the stage for a better relationship now and for many years into the future.