How Changing Teen Stereotypes Can Help Them Shine

How Changing Teen Stereotypes Can Help Them Shine

Alexa by CTA trainEfforts to help teenagers see themselves as responsible and thwart common negative stereotypes can help them flourish, according to new research co-authored by Northwestern University’s Yang Qu, a developmental psychologist at the School of Education and Social Policy.

Often characterized as moody, rebellious, and bored by school, teenagers also possess positive and constructive qualities during a time of rapid physical and emotional change, research suggests. The same biological influences that lead to risk-taking and self-destructive behavior can also stimulate positive changes in a supportive environment.

Qu, the study lead author, and his colleagues designed and tested an intervention to debunk the stereotype that teens are irresponsible. They found that middle school youth who participated in the intervention viewed teens as more responsible than their peers and that the counter-stereotyping intervention could be used as a tool to support youth during adolescence, according to the study published online in the journal Child Development.

“Guiding youth to see teens as responsible can help them thrive during adolescence,” said Qu, whose research highlights how important it is to change negative stereotypes about adolescents at both the policy and societal level. “When society begins to view teens more positively, the adolescents themselves may hear more positive messages, which may further promote their development in constructive ways.”

More than 400 middle school youth in mainland China participated in the study. After describing teens as "irresponsible" to the volunteers, the researchers offered more information suggesting that teens, in fact, are responsible. The teenagers then came up with their own examples of responsible teen behavior that they’d personally seen.

This group that received the counter-stereotyping intervention was compared with the control group, which consisted of adolescent volunteers who generated examples of typical teen behavior they’d seen. Those participants also reported their views on teens as well as their interest in school and risk-taking behavior, such as cheating on an exam or hanging around with kids who get in trouble.

The study indicated that teens can flourish if they see themselves as responsible, Qu said. In the three days following the intervention, the youth who received the counter-stereotyping training reported higher academic engagement and lower levels of risk-taking behavior.

“When youth view constructive behavior as normal, they’re more likely to see it leading to more benefits and fewer costs,” Qu said.

The study “Countering Youth’s Negative Serotypes of Teens Fosters Constructive Behavior” was co-authored by Eva Pomerantz, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Guohong Wu, associate professor of psychology at Fudan University.


By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/30/18