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Ages & Stages

Teen Years: Truth Telling & Myth Busting

By Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, FAAP, FSAHM

What words come to mind when you think of the teen years? Rebellious, risky, or self-centered? Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, FAAP, FSAHM, author of Congrats—You're Having a Teenager! Strengthen Your Family and Raise a Good Person, says these are myths and encourages parents to start with positive expectations. Dr. Ginsburg hopes that his book will fill you with excitement about adolescence and empower you with the skills to prepare your child to thrive as an adult.

Here are 7 truths and 7 myths Dr. Ginsburg wants parents to know.

Truths about teens

Truth #1: Adults are the most important people in the lives of young people, and teens like adults. In fact, adolescents care more about what their parents think than they care about anybody else's opinion.

Truth #2: Adolescence is a time of astoundingly rapid brain development, and we can shape our children's future far into adulthood by nurturing that development.

Truth #3: Adolescents are super learners, and they will learn more during this period of their life than at any other time that follows.

Truth #4: Young people care deeply about safety and want to avoid danger, but need guidance as they learn about risk. Because adolescents are super learners, they are also driven to explore limits and to engage in experimentation. This makes sense because new knowledge is gained by expanding limits and peeking beyond the edges of what is already known.

Truth #5: Teens can be as rational and thoughtful as adults. To take advantage of this capability, we need to talk to them calmly, in a manner that acknowledges their intelligence and recognizes that they are the experts in their own lives. Although they need the wisdom you've earned over the years, they hold unrivaled expertise on the lives and circumstances they navigate.

Truth #6: Adolescents are driven by idealism and committed to repairing the world.

Truth #7: The most important truth by far is that you, the parent, matter. In fact, you matter as much now to your teen's healthy development as when your child was a toddler.

We need to state the truths explicitly because the teen years are surrounded by myths.

You need to bring the undermining myths to consciousness to defend yourself against believing them and prevent your child from incorporating them into how they see themself. As you read each myth, reflect upon this question: "Is this myth something I have been told or I have assumed to be true?" I suspect that, in many cases, the answer will be "yes," and that your view of teens may have been tainted as a result. Your work begins! I hope it will help you discard these false notions entirely and that you'll use the truths about teens to enable you to build the relationship both you and your teen deserve.

Myths about teens

Myth #1: Adolescents don't care what adults think, and dislike their parents.

Myth #2: By adolescence, a young person's development is pretty much on autopilot.

Myth #3: Adolescents are lazy and don't care much about what they learn. They'd rather just hang out with friends and have fun.

Myth #4: Adolescents think they are invincible and are wired for risk.

Myth #5: Adolescents are driven by emotion, and it is hard to talk sense into them.

Myth #6: Adolescents are self-centered and selfish.

Myth #7: Teens prefer to figure things out on their own. Because they are inherently rebellious, they are uninterested in what their parents think, say, or do.

Can these myths really do harm? Yes!

If you believe those myths, you may believe that what you do doesn't matter. After all, if your child doesn't like you or care what you think, why engage? If you believe that your child is naturally inclined toward risk, why not just protect them with restrictions instead of guiding them to think for themself and making wise, healthy decisions? You could reasonably believe the best thing you can do for your child is protect them from themself, rather than invest in their developing wisdom. If you believe that teens can't be reasoned with, why would you even bother trying to guide them to think things through?

These myths hurt the way adults view and interact with adolescents, but, just as critically, they undermine the way adolescents view themselves. Research shows that parents' negative expectations of adolescence predict worse parent-child relationships and more risk-taking and difficult behavior over time. In other words, our attitudes create a self-fulfilling prophecy by shaping the way we interact with our teens and the way they end up behaving!

More information

About Dr. Ginsburg

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, FAAP, FSAHM. Dr. Ken Ginsburg practices Adolescent Medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and is a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He has worked with youth enduring homelessness for over 30 years and directs Health Services at Covenant House Pennsylvania. His focus is on supporting adults to be the kind of people young people deserve in their lives. He is the Founding Director of The Center for Parent and Teen Communication, which empowers parents with the strategies and skill-sets that will strengthen their family connections and position them to guide their teens to become their best selves. His books include Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings and Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love with Expectations and Protection with Trust.

Last Updated
Adapted from HealthyChildren Magazine, Summer 2022 (Copyright © 2022 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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