What Does Stereotyping Do to Teens?

By Kay Ireland
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While teen behavior can seem pretty constant across the board -- moodiness, rebellion and the need for independence included -- teen stereotypes can be a dangerous way to generalize teen behavior. Each teen is an individual and expecting certain behavior based upon gender, race or even past actions can pigeonhole your teen into a certain set of expectations. Stereotyping your teen's actions now could even have a detrimental effect on her future.


A study published in a 2009 issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence found that teens often live up to their parents' standards -- for better or for worse. The study found that when parents treated their teens in a manner indicating they expected them to engage in risky behavior -- acting pre-emptively -- those teens were more likely to act out and engage in risky behavior. While it might seem like you're acting like an informed parent, expecting your teen to make poor decisions could become a self-fulfilling prophecy as your teen understands that misbehavior is expected of him.

Self-Esteem Issues

Expecting your teen to look, dress and act a certain way -- particularly when within societal norms and expectations -- can hurt your teen's self-esteem over time. A teen girl who doesn't conform to the "look" that is expected of her might feel badly about her image, warns the child study center at NYU Langone. The same could be said for a teen boy who prefers theater to sports. Expecting your teen to act a certain way, particularly when it comes to gender roles, could diminish self-esteem, leading your teen to feeling "different" or to not feel accepted.


In an article for Psychology Today, counselor Raychelle Cassada Lohmann connects teen stereotypes to teen self-harm, such as cutting. When a teen has a mental health issue -- and certain stereotypes are attached to that issue -- a teen might turn to self-harm as a way to deal with those feelings, instead of getting professional help. According to Lohmann, "[Mental health] stereotypes can lead to discrimination, harassment, and low self-esteem." This leads teens to feeling alone and helpless in the face of a mental illness that could be treated with the help of a qualified mental health professional instead.

Prejudice and Discrimination

You might not realize it, but your personal stereotypes about the people around you could lead your teen to be prejudiced against certain cultural groups, sexual orientations or lifestyles. Hearing you use certain racial slurs or apply a stereotype to a person with an alternative lifestyle could make it seem OK for your teen to do the same within his peer group, creating a legacy of discrimination. Instead, the American Psychological Association points out that while it's natural to notice differences in people, it should never affect your treatment of a person, race or group, or a person's sexual orientation, a lesson that should be taught to teens.

About the Author

Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.