The truth is that adolescents, despite occasional or numerous protests, need adults and want them to be part of their lives, recognizing that they can nurture, teach, guide, and protect them on the journey to adulthood.Directing the courage and creativity of normal adolescents into healthy pursuits is part of what successfully counseling, teaching, or mentoring an adolescent is all about.Much has been written, both in the lay press and the scientific literature, about adolescents’ mental health problems—such as depression, suicide, and drug abuse—and about the serious problems that some adolescents experience.
Gang violence, school shootings, alcohol-related accidents, drug abuse, and suicides involving teens are all too frequently reflected in newspaper headlines and movie plots.
In the professional literature, too, adolescence is frequently portrayed as a negative stage of life—a period of storm and stress to be survived or endured (Arnett, 1999).
So, it may not be surprising that a 1999 survey of the general public by Public Agenda reported that for 71% of those polled, negative terms, such as “rude,” “wild,” and “irresponsible,” first came to mind when they were asked what they thought about American teenagers (Public Agenda, 1999).
Many other negative attitudes were also expressed by those surveyed.
At the same time, however, the survey found that 89% of the respondents believed that “almost all teenagers can get back on track” with the right kind of guidance and attention.
In fact, most adults agree about the kinds of things that are important for adults to do with young people—encourage success in school, set boundaries, teach shared values, teach respect for cultural differences, guide decision making, give financial guidance, and so on (Scales, Benson, & Roehlkepartain, 2001).
However, fewer actually act on these beliefs to give young people the kind of support they need.
Despite the negative portrayals that sometimes seem so prevalent—and the negative attitudes about adolescents that they support—the picture of adolescents today is largely a very positive one.
Most adolescents in fact succeed in school, are attached to their families and their communities, and emerge from their teen years without experiencing serious problems such as substance abuse or involvement with violence.
With all of the attention given to negative images of adolescents, however, the positive aspects of adolescents can be overlooked.
Professionals can play an important role in shifting perceptions of adolescents to the positive.