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'No such thing' as terrible teens

Adolescents are being wrongly branded as moody and troublesome, says a leading child psychiatrist.
by BBC News

Adolescents are being wrongly branded as moody and troublesome, says a leading child psychiatrist.

Professor Philip Graham says it is a myth that teenagers are confused about their identity and frequently argue with their parents.

The child psychiatrist from London's Institute of Child Health said numerous surveys over the last 40 years showed 80% do not show such characteristics.

He was speaking at a Royal College of Psychiatrists' meeting in Harrogate.

Moody myth

Professor Graham believes that the social attitudes towards the "adolescent stereotype" are having a negative effect on the mental health of young people.

"There is a widespread belief among the public, often shared and, sometimes, at least in the past, regrettably fostered by mental health professionals, that young people aged between 14 and 19 show various undesirable characteristics that are specific and 'natural' to this phase of life."

Sadly, young people are easy targets for criticism
Andy Hamflett, chief executive of UK Youth Parliament

He said people often attributed extreme moodiness and high rates of suicide, risk taking, and sexual promiscuity to the raised levels of sex hormones surging around the bodies of young adults.

"I think it is vital that psychiatrists are encouraged to do their best to counter the adolescent stereotype," he said.

He warned that stereotyping could in itself lead to undesired behaviour.

For example, low expectations of behaviour are often shared by teenagers themselves, leading to low self-esteem.

Dangers of stereotyping

The legal position of young people, including the ages of criminal responsibility and eligibility to vote, smoke and drink alcohol, is wildly inconsistent, he said, and results both in injustice and in inadequate preparation for adult life.

A BBC survey of 16,000 teenagers in 2002 found many adolescents agreed they get "a bad press" - with only 13% agreeing that society values teenagers.

Almost one in five felt that this stereotyping was the hardest thing - above exam pressures and boyfriend/girlfriend relationships.

Andy Hamflett, chief executive of UK Youth Parliament, said: "Sadly, young people are easy targets for criticism."

He said a culture change was needed to make negative stereotyping unacceptable.

"Sure, there are lots of voices calling for young people to be more respectful, but that needs to work the other way as well - so young people can be respected as citizens and not just lazily labelled as troublesome or moody."

He hoped the government's "respect" agenda would tackle both sides of the issue.

"One way UKYP is tackling the issue is to counter the constant stream of negative images of young people in the press," he added.

Written by: BBC News
23 September 2005

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