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Psychology of Teenagers 101

Psychology of Teenagers 101

When I meet people for the first time and I’m asked what I do for a living, I typically reply, “I am an adolescent counselor” to which people all too frequently respond, “Are you nuts?!”

I wouldn’t describe myself as nuts (not just yet) and I find my work very rewarding, but working with teenagers tests your patience!

Teens often give off the impression that they are stressed, unsure of themselves, and frustrated.  But considering that they are dealing with drastically changing bodies in an increasingly technological society, it is understandable why adolescence is so awkward.

If you could relive any period in your life, what would it be?   You may choose your childhood, or maybe the first time you felt self-sufficient.  You may look back on your carefree college days and smile.  Perhaps you reminisce of the days when your adolescent children where once innocent little babies.

The fact of the matter is that virtually no one wants to relieve their teen years and for totally legitimate reasons!  Do you remember your awkward teen years?

  • Acne
  • Having a crush on a significant other but not knowing what to do
  • Things getting stuck in your braces
  • Feeling so self-conscious
  • The thought of having to take a swimming class
  • Boys to the left and girls to the right side of the gym during middle school dances, with a few ‘advanced’ girls and boys mingling in the center
  • Fashion mishaps on a daily basis
  • Having the best day and the worst day—all on the same day

A colleague of mine once told me that middle school is the range of strange.  As a professional working with teens, you see kids varying on a spectrum in regards to their physical, emotional, and social development.  In comparison to each other, teens drastically differ in terms of their intelligence, maturity, height, confidence, self-esteem, athleticism, awkwardness, etc.  It isn’t until their later high school years when teens’ development tends to plateau and less inter-peer differences are noticeable.

You may be a teenager.  You may have a teenager.  You may anticipate one day having a teenager or you may just be interested in learning more about teenagers.   So to help you better under the psychology of teenagers, in addition to helping you navigate through the range of the strange, I will be providing you with tips, stories, research, statistics, and yes humor to help make those teen years just a bit more enjoyable.

Developing Satisfactory Peer Relationships

According to Research:

  1. Adolescents who do not develop positive peer relationship are at a greater risk for developing problems such as delinquency, substance abuse, and depression (Simmons, R., Conger, R., and Wu, C., 1992)
  2. Teens that have friends also have increased self-esteem, emotional support, and guidance
  3. 69% of girls in parent-adolescent surveys commented that they “very much” wanted help learning how to make friends (Stromme & Stromme, 1993)

The following tips can be used to help teens develop satisfying friendships.  If you are a parent, consider the following discussion points with your daughter to help her learn how to make more satisfying relationships.  If you are a teen, consider the following discussion points as a means to evaluate your current friendships.

Identify Desirable Qualities:  Think about past friendships or relationships that you have formed.  Does anyone stand out as an exceptional friend?  Or, what are the qualities that you value in a family member?

It is important to make friends with people who exude these same positive qualities because friends serve as an interpersonal bridge to the world and will contribute to your evolving identity.  Choose friends who bring out the best in you.

Choose Friends who Treat you with Respect:  How do you feel when you hang out with your friends?  Do your friends value your uniqueness and make you feel good about yourself?   Since adolescences is the time when the greatest degree of conformity and susceptibility to peer pressure occurs, peers become central to an adolescent’s support system, identity, and feeling of “belonging-ness.”

It is important to choose friends who do not make you feel that you need to change or conform to the group’s expectations.

Get Involved: Get involved by joining activities, clubs, and sports that interest you.  By joining these activities, you are putting yourself in a position in which you can meet new friends and these new friends already share a common interest with you.  A BONUS!!

Make an Effort to get to Know Someone: Building interpersonal relationships does not always come easily.  Sometimes it can be really hard to ‘put yourself out there’ and meet new people.  Just remember that you are not the only one who is shy or the only one who wants to meet new people.  Consider starting a conversation with someone that you don’t know by complimenting something about that person.  By giving someone a compliment you are instantaneously putting the other person into a positive frame of mind as well as establishing yourself as a caring and thoughtful person.

Talking About Drugs & Alcohol With Your Teen

Talking with teens about drugs and alcohol is extremely important but it can also be a very difficult conversation to broach.  Just thinking about having a conversation with a teen about drugs and alcohol can be stressful, so below I have listed some advice to help ease the tension.

  1. Begin Conversations at an Early Age:  It’s very important to start having conversations about drugs and alcohol at an early age.  It isn’t possible to control all factors in teens’ lives such as their choice of friends or what media messages they encounter.  As a result, you may not know when and what kinds of messages are being received by your teen.
    It’s important to proactively educate teens to the dangers associated with drugs and alcohol so that they are less inclined to be swayed by external sources, including friends and the media, when they do come in contact with these serious issues.
  2. Have Multiple Talks: It’s important to begin conversations at an early age and to follow up your conversations because issues that teens face in regards to drugs and alcohol will change as they get older.  For example, peer pressure or the chance that they know a classmate who uses drugs tend to become more significant as teens get older.
  3. Change the Way in which you Discuss Important Issues with children to meet their developmental needs:  For example, late elementary kids tend to think in concrete thoughts while teens are capable of processing more abstract thoughts.  A conversation with a 6th grader may provide the child with concrete reasons as to why drugs are harmful followed by steps to take when confronted by peer pressure.  A conversation with a teen may focus on the effect of drugs and alcohol on academic success, the teen’s family, and future goals.
  4. Look for Teachable Moments:  Instead of initiating your talks in the same manner, look for alternative ways to communicate your message.  For example, after watching a TV show involving drugs and alcohol, ask your teen his thoughts on how the main character’s life changed as a result of using drugs.  Or, perhaps you read an alarming statistic regarding teen drug use in the newspaper.  Use this statistic as a springboard into a discussion with your teen.
  5. Be a Good Role Model:  Evaluate your relationship with drugs and alcohol and analyze your behavior through your teen’s eyes.  Do you smoke in front your child?  Do you come home after a stressful day and mix yourself a large rum and coke?  Do you frequently verbalize your need for alcohol?  It is important to provide consistency in terms of the messages that you directly and indirectly send your teen.


Simmons, R., Conger, R., & Wu, C. (1992).  Peer group as amplifier/moderator of the stability of adolescent antisocial behavior. Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Washington, DC.

Stromme, M.P., & Stromme, A.I. (1993).  Five cries of parents.  New York: HarperCollins.

Psychology of Teenagers 101

This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on November 8, 2010.

Ann Naragon

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APA Reference
Naragon, A. (2019). Psychology of Teenagers 101. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 May 2019
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