Should I Be Worried If My Teen Is Emo?

Emo is short for “emotive hardcore.” Descended from goth and punk, emo music is angsty, sad and sometimes angry. It focuses heavily on relationships, particularly heartbreak, and is an outlet for the surging emotions that teens often feel. The emo lifestyle is frequently maligned by the popular media. When a happy, healthy teenager suddenly begins dressing in black clothes and listening to depressing music, parents might become concerned. Yet emo, like goth, is nothing more than a choice in music, fashion and lifestyle.

What Is Emo?

Like goth and punk before it, emo goes beyond a type of music to define a movement. Emo teens typically dress in black and other dark colors. Asymmetrical hairstyles, often dyed outrageous colors, and thick theatrical makeup are common. Ironically, the emo look is generally less extreme than its predecessors. Although it is not necessarily true for all emo kids, the lifestyle tends to attract those who are artistic, sensitive, intelligent and sophisticated. The emo scene consists largely of going to concerts, writing poetry and hanging out with others who share the emo point of view.

Normal Psychosocial Development

Noted developmental psychologist Erik Erikson described adolescence as the search for an identity 3. As teens grow and develop, they must individuate from their parents and develop their own sense of self. Many teens try on different identities, including new groups of friends and new dating relationships, to see what feels comfortable. Many emo kids outgrow the lifestyle, while others find that it is a perfect fit. Like elder goths, older emo kids act as role models and support systems for younger kids who are new to the scene.


If your child is emo, keep in mind that identification with any group is merely a form of self-expression. At any high school during any generation, it would be easy for adults to tell at a glance which kids belong to which group. Jocks, cheerleaders and nerds are heavily stereotyped, but no school would be complete without them. Emo is just another group of individuals who share a way of looking at the world.

Myths About Emo

As the emo scene is often vilified in popular media, many parents have a wrong impression of the scene. Self-harm, violence, eating disorders and drugs are real problems faced by today’s teenagers, but emo kids are no more likely to be involved than those in any other subculture. In fact, many emo teens claim that the scene provides a safe place to openly express negative feelings, making them less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Of course, being emo does not guarantee that an individual teenager will avoid harm, just like cheerleaders and nerds are not immune. You know your child best. Whatever identity he chooses, seek professional assistance if you suspect emotional or behavioral disturbances.

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