Happy Teens: Not A Myth

What Makes Adolescents Truly Happy

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The angsty persona has long been the stereotype for teenagers, but research has proven that the mental health of teenagers is an important topic today. According to the Parent Resources site, an average of more than 5,000 US students in grades 7-12 attempt to take their lives each day. The site goes on to say, "More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED."  

The importance of ensuring that teenagers are happy is greater than ever, especially as we see rising rates of bullying, increased pressure from society to fit impossible ideals thanks to photoshop and filters, and a world that seems to place greater value on reputation and fitting in than personal satisfaction and individuality. However, not all is lost. studies suggest that teenagers can be happy—in the right situations.

Although the popular conception of the teenager is of a stormy adolescent in constant conflict with his or her elders, such an image may be more of a myth than a reality. As reported in Psychology Today, a study of 2,700 middle and high school students conducted by SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) showed that the majority of teenagers report being happy every day. In addition, the SADD study showed that the majority of respondents reported that they had positive relationships with their parents, and teens’ positive relationships with their parents mean that overall, they are less likely to drink or use drugs.

So, while conventional wisdom holds that teens are disruptive and show risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, many teens are acting in positive, connected ways.

What are some factors that foster happy teens, and how can parents raise happy teenagers?

Unplugging & Avoiding Social Media

Studies have shown that even an hour on social media can negatively impact a teenager's mood, so imagine what an entire day of social media exposure can do to someone's mood.

This doesn't mean ban social media completely, but it does mean having conversations with your child about how much time should be spent on social media, and finding ways to get teens to unplug completely and live in the moment, IRL (in real life). Even though they might initially resist, your happy teens may thank you for it in the future.

Reflecting on what we're grateful for

Grateful teens are happy teens. According to research conducted by Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., a professor at California State University, being grateful reaps many mental health benefits for teens. The most grateful 20% of the teens in Dr. Bono’s study of 700 people were 15% more likely than the least grateful 20% to have a sense of meaning in their lives and had a 15% lower likelihood of having depressive symptoms. The study concluded that parents and teachers should help teens cultivate gratitude, which may bring with it vital skills such as cooperation and perseverance. Teens who are able to develop gratitude tend to feel better about their lives, and grateful teens are more connected to others.

Live a Healthy Life: Eat Right and Exercise

This should seem like a no-brainer to most of us, as this is important for humans of any age, but helping teens discover the joys of living healthy is an important lesson early in life.

As reported in Science Daily, teens who cultivate healthy habits tend to be happier. According to Understanding Society, a study of by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) that looked at 5,000 young people in the United Kingdom between the ages of 10-15, teens who had never tried alcohol were four to six times as likely to report high levels of happiness than those who had tried alcohol. Teens who smoked were five times less likely to be happy. In addition, higher consumption of fruits and vegetables and participation in sports were associated with higher levels of happiness. Therefore, raising happy teens means keeping them healthy and active.

According to another study reported in U.S. News, teens who participated in moderate to vigorous outdoor activities were happier than their peers who spent time in front of computer and video screens.

While many teens enjoy playing video games and many schools are using iPads in class, parents who are raising teens should take steps to reduce their teenagers’ screen time and get them active outdoors. Happy teenagers tend to spend more time with others and spend more time outside than their less happy, sedentary peers. So, make sure your child joins a sports team, club or other group that gets him or her to unplug and engage with other youth of the same age with similar interests.

The Importance of Happiness in Adolescence

The benefits of a happy adolescence transcend the teenage years. As reported in many recent news articles, studies, such as one conducted by University College London and the University of Warwick that looked at a survey of 10,000 Americans, have found that happy teens reported higher incomes by the time they reached age 29. In fact, very happy teens earned 30% more than their less happy peers, even considering other variables such as IQ and levels of education.

While there is no doubt that adolescence can at times be difficult, there is also ample data that it can be a time of creativity, compassion, and connection to adults and peers. And studies also show that it is vital for teens to experience happiness for their future well-being. Interestingly, income had little effect on teens’ happiness. While extreme poverty can affect children’s happiness, teenagers do not need to be wealthy to feel happy. Teens tend to value the increased social activities that increased income can afford them, rather than valuing the increased income for its own sake. Teens are happiest when connecting to others, not necessarily when purchasing goods.