5 Lies We Believe About Our Teens

“Teenagers are so…” How would you finish that sentence? Far too many of us finish that sentence with a derogatory phrase. It’s not that we don’t like teenagers. We just worry about them. We think about our experience as teenagers and compare it to theirs and, inevitably, we see problems.

There are many teenager stereotypes out there. These are things we’re convinced are true about all teenagers because they are true about our teens, or at least they’re true about the teenagers we hear about on the news or in our social media feeds. But at least some, if not most, teenager stereotypes are not true. At least they aren’t true the way we think they are. Here are 5 lies we believe about our teens.

1. They’re selfish.

On the one hand, this is true. Teens are more self-centered than their parents are but not than their parents were when they were teens. Developmentally, teenagers are in a stage where they’re trying to figure out their identity, so it requires that they be a bit more self-focused. At the same time, self-focused and selfish aren’t the same thing. In fact, a recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that teenagers are far more likely to be concerned with issues like global warming and racism than older generations. And if you know teenagers, you know they can surprise you with remarkable acts of kindness. While we all struggle with selfishness from time to time, accusing teens of selfishness is an overgeneralization to say the least.

2. They’re lazy.

It’s common to categorize teenagers as lazy. After all, they love to sleep ’til noon, and they spend most of their time in front of screens. Meanwhile you remember working a part time job while in high school and staying out until dark playing baseball with your friends. However, this is less about laziness than it is about shifting patterns in technology and socialization. First of all, studies show that teens literally need more sleep than adults. So teenagers sleeping in isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Secondly, what you may not see is that part of why your teen is glued to her screen is because that’s how she’s connecting with her friends. To simply classify teens as lazy is just, well, lazy.

3. They’re uninformed.

When we say that teenagers are uninformed, typically what we mean is they disagree with us. Actually your teenager is likely aware of far more at his age than you were when you were in his shoes. Why do I say this? Simple: the internet. Your teen has access to more information than he’s capable of processing, and he likely knows more far more than you did as a teen about political and social concerns. He has plenty (in fact too much) information. What he lacks is wisdom.

4. They’re spoiled.

We think teenagers are spoiled because they have technology that was unthinkable to us at their age and most of them enjoy resources that we didn’t have access to. Higher education is the default for many teens in ways it never was for us. We could go on and on sharing about the ways our teenagers are spoiled. And if I’m honest, this teenager stereotype isn’t exactly a lie. The lie is that it’s somehow their problem. Let’s be clear—if our teenagers don’t know how to be responsible, work hard, or delay gratification that’s not their fault; it’s ours. One does not get spoiled on one’s own. One is spoiled by another person. If this is true, this one is on us folks.

5. They’re fragile.

This accusation gets levied because there is so much focus on anxiety in particular, and mental health in general, among teens. There’s also a lot of talk about avoiding offense. Dads often scoff at these things. When we were teens, no one ever talked about mental health. And we said offensive things to each other all the time, and we turned out OK, right? However, I believe the focus on mental health and thinking about others are just two of many reasons why teens have to be stronger and more courageous now. It takes real courage and strength to be honest about your anxiety. It’s hard work thinking about how your words impact others and working to create spaces where everyone feels they belong. These aren’t the types of things that fragile people who easily fall apart do. They are done by those who are strong enough to face real challenges head on.

Sound off: What other teenager stereotypes come to mind, and do you think they’re accurate?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you hear people say about teens? Do you think it’s true or false?”