The idea that adolescence is a time for emotional turmoil is hardly a new one. Teenagers are often depicted in fiction as being generally bad-tempered or easily upset, and even unreasonable. It’s a popular line of thought, and indeed there are many parents who complain about their children’s behavior once they reach a certain age. Starting in the early 1900s, psychologists like G. Stanley Hall have described adolescence as a very stressful period. Anna Freud, psychologist and daughter of the famous Sigmund Freud, encouraged this idea, saying that a lack of emotional turmoil is actually abnormal. Others, from Dr. Phil to James Dobson, have described adolescence as the worst time for parents. It’s a very pervasive stereotype. However, the idea that the majority of adolescents experience this is actually untrue.
The media has a habit of showing the more troubled side of being a teenager. Many popular movies revolve around the struggles that such teens face, and very few of them feature happy and well-adjusted adolescents. Albert Bandura, another psychologist, even pointed out that most people would associate the word “adolescent” with times of stress and conflict. Even with those in the health industry – such as doctors and nurses – this idea is pretty widespread. Examining the common domains of teenage behavior – mood swings, issues with parents, and dangerous behavior – allows one to better evaluate these stereotypes. Though there is some truth to this notion, as, after all, some adolescents do experience these feelings, particularly in American society. However, it should be noted that these cases primarily happen with teenagers that have psychological issues already, such as depression, or have a disrupted family life (such as parents getting a divorce).
In fact, evidence suggests that most teenagers are relatively happy and well-adjusted, particularly in countries other than America. In Japan, the majority of teenagers describe their home lives in happy terms, for example. In fact, increasing Westernization has been shown to also increase the presence of distress in the lives of adolescents. It has been suggested that this is because in Western civilizations, parents ted to treat their teenagers as children, rather than as maturing young adults. Treating teenagers this way, and associating their problems with the idea of them being immature or unreasonable can even be harmful. It can dismiss their legitimate worries or stresses as some kind of phase, or as overreaction. While some teenagers are simply being overdramatic, or trying to gain attention, the vast majority are not, and it is important to remember that.
Though it is a very common belief that teenagers are more prone to taking risks, lashing out at parents, and behaving erratically, the truth is that not all teenagers act that way. The vast majority are generally happy with their lives, and don’t have any psychological issues. Though there are definitely teenagers that act badly, they are in fact the rare exception rather than the rule. Understanding this myth can help people to better understand teenagers in general, and therefore offer support when they do feel distress. It is only one of many psychology myths, but it is a particularly pervasive one.