What Does Stereotyping Do to Teens?

Young woman scratching her head and laughing
Teen stereotypes can prevent adults from getting to know teens individually. (Image: Jack Hollingsworth/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Parents who view an impending 13th birthday with doom and gloom may be doing themselves and their teen a disservice. Although teens have a longstanding reputation for being rebellious, moody, antisocial and caving to peer pressure, these stereotypes may not be applicable for every child. Stereotyping teen behavior can have the unfortunate effect of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and can lead to long-term negative effects. Taking the time to know and understand teens individually may be the better choice.

Parent Relationship

One problem with stereotyping teen behavior is that it can negatively impact the teen-parent relationship, according to the Phys.org article, "Stereotypes can Fuel Teen Misbehavior." Teens who maintained positive relationships with parents and a successful record of behavior throughout their childhood may feel dismayed or resentful if parents suddenly impose draconian rules or consequences based on assumptions about future teen behavior. This can erode trust and create a wobbly foundation as the teen proceeds through her adolescence. Parents may benefit from maintaining the status quo, adding consequences or restrictions only when needed. Avoiding disparaging remarks, even in jest, about the teen, especially if they’re unwarranted, can help build and maintain trust.

Self-Fulfilling

Stereotyping behavior can have a self-fulfilling effect, according to the Psych Central article, "Long-term Effects of Stereotyping." When teens hear from parents, teachers or the media that “typical” teen behavior includes acting out, experimenting with substances or losing interest in school or church activities, they may decide to meet those expectations, according to the 2009 Science Daily article "Stereotypes Can Fuel Teen Misbehavior." Stereotypes can become an excuse for poor decision-making. For example, it becomes easier for a teen to shrug off a broken curfew if rule breaking is a well-known teen stereotype.

Surrounding Community

The National Association of Social Workers states that generalizing or stereotyping teen behavior can have negative effects for teens within the community. For example, small convenience stores near high schools sometimes limit the number of students who may enter the store at the same time, fearing theft. This sends a strong message of distrust, or even dislike, to teens. Adults may look askance at teens hanging out in a park or sitting on a bench at the bus stop. Teens who feel excluded from their broader communities may retreat more deeply into peer groups, increasing a sense of isolation or misunderstanding.

Policies

Stereotypes surrounding teen behavior can obscure the national conversation about what teens actually need and create misconceptions or miscommunications that incorrectly skew policy decisions or budget allocations, according to the National Association of Social Workers. For example, if adult decision makers determine that teens fear drugs on campus, more money and resources may be dedicated to this issue. However, if the case is that teens actually have more concerns about cyber or online bullying, this becomes a missed opportunity to address the real problem.

Lasting Impact

Teen stereotypes can have a lasting impact for adolescents. Teens who are pegged as troublemakers or unmotivated students may carry these labels with them into their adult lives, impacting their decisions about higher education, careers or relationships. Choices made by teens based on stereotypes (for example, experimenting with substances or engaging in vandalism or petty theft) can also have long-lasting legal ramifications that affect future employment or financial security.

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