Emo Explained for Parents

Noting drastic changes in your teen’s appearance is not necessarily cause for alarm, even if he comes home talking about being emo. Each subculture of youth develops its own look and behavior 2. Maintaining a healthful relationship with your child will help you navigate these years together, and determine whether this trend is a molehill or a mountain to tackle.


The word “emo” was originally coined as an insult to those who listen to a type of music called “emotive hardcore.” The music is a convergence of punk rock with sad or depressing lyrics. At a glance, it is difficult to separate an “emo” from a “Goth” based on outward appearance. The real difference lies in an emo’s interest in experiencing deep emotion and potentially exalting self-harm.


Pale, white faces along with black eye and lip makeup accompany a completely black wardrobe for the stereotypical emo. Clothes can be Gothic, such as corsets and Celtic crosses, or multiple layers of black on black. Overall, emo style is androgynous. Emos might sport an asymmetrical or spiky haircut -- dyed jet black, of course -- along with multiple body piercings and black fingernails.


Several Internet emo sites glorify the emo life, emphasizing how to dress and promoting musical artists and poetry. The most prominent poetry tends to be romantic and morbid, and songs are usually melancholy. If a teenager feels like no one understands her, then she is only one click away from a community of like-minded emos. Even the film industry has tapped into the emo and Goth market, producing vampire and horror films with cultlike followings.


Self-mutilation is one characteristic of emo culture that frightens parents. While not all emos cut themselves, self-harm is celebrated in some corners of the emo counterculture, to the point that showing off wrist scars is considered cool. Over-eating is a no-no, because an emo should be too sad and emotional to eat a lot. Generally, emos focus on self-pity, deep thoughts and dramatic interpretation of their life events. Parents who are concerned that their child has journeyed from simply looking emo to pursuing self-harm should get help as soon as possible.