12 Surprising Scientific Facts About Teens

Judy Dutton | Dec 19, 2014 Tweens & Teens
12 Surprising Scientific Facts About Teens

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Teenagers can be tricky creatures: one moment they're insisting, "I'm not a child!" and the next they're blubbering because you said they can't have the newest gadget. It's enough to make any parent throw up their hands. But don't give up just yet!

Scientists have actually studied teens and figured out a whole lot about what makes them tick so you can be better during these trying times. For some surprising scientific facts about teens -- plus some advice on how to talk to them and keep them from getting in trouble -- read on.

If you tend to yell at your kids, you'd better read #9!


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  • The Teen Brain Shuts Down When You Nag

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    Ever feel like your lectures go in one ear and out the other? You may be right. In a new study, researchers at the Universities of Pittsburgh, California-Berkeley, and Harvard placed 32 teens and tweens in a brain scanner while listening to recordings of their mother nitpicking them. Results reveal that certain key areas of the teen brain shut down when listening to criticism, and that throws a wrench in their ability to process what you're telling them.

  • Be Grateful if Your Teen Talks Back

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    Ah, if only you could bring back that sweet child who never argued with you. But a recent study found that kids who argue with their parents may actually end up better off than those who don't. The reason: teens who can disagree and say "no" to Mom and Dad are also more likely to have the guts to say "no" to friends, and not cave to peer pressure to do drugs, have sex, or engage in other risky behaviors.

  • They're Online Way More Than You Think

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    While three out of four parents say they keep close tabs on what their teens are doing online, a recent study shows they're completely clueless.

    For instance: parents think their teens spend two hours a day online. The reality? Teens spend five hours a day online surfing who knows what. And while half of parents think their kids tell them everything they do online, 44 percent of teens visit websites their parents disapprove of, and 23 percent of teens lie about it.

  • Facebook? More Like Lamebook

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    Think your teen is logged onto Facebook non-stop? On the contrary, a November 2014 study by Global Web Index found that a full 50 percent of teens are using the popular social networking site less frequently than before. When asked why, 37 percent said they were bored, and 30 percent claim they're worried the site isn't secure or private enough.

    More from The Stir: 10 Skills to Teach Your Teen Before College

  • Teens Don't Hold Up TV Stars as Role Models

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    Stop worrying about television role models. It turns out teens don't blindly follow in the footsteps of the reality stars they see on TV. Instead, teens see them as cautionary tales.

    As proof, this study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the MTV show 16 and Pregnant led to fewer teen births -- by 5.7 percent -- in the 18 months after it premiered. The show also led to more searches and tweets from teens about birth control and abortion. In other words, kids saw what was happening on screen and decided, "Ugh, being a teen mom is the pits, no thanks."

  • Teens Really Aren't Awake for School

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    If it takes Herculean effort to drag your teen out of bed to get to school, don't blame them: studies show that teens are just wired to sleep later. In fact, one study found that delaying the start of school from 8 to 8:30 a.m. resulted in better moods, motivation, and attendance. This may explain why the Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all schools start at 8:30 instead.

    More from The Stir: 11 Toys & Apps to Get Teens Hooked on STEM

  • Fighting Peer Pressure Is Harder Than You Think

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    In a study by Temple University, researchers had teens play a video driving game -- sometimes they were alone, other times they were told they were being watched by two friends. "Watched" teens, it turns out, ran 40 percent more lights and had 60 percent more crashes than unwatched ones. The perceived presence of friends nudged teens to take more risks. Definitely something to keep in mind if you allow your teen to drive to school ... and pick up friends along the way.

  • Being Too Strict Can Backfire

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    If you rule the roost with an iron fist, know this: studies suggest that overly strict parenting can backfire, leading their kids to rebel. Why? Because denying your teens any fun or say-so undermines their respect for you. And this can lead them to disrespect all sorts of authority figures, leading them down the path toward crime, substance abuse, and other problems.

    More from The Stir: 7 Important Skills Kids Just Can't Do Anymore

  • Yelling Is As Bad As Hitting

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    Of course you don't hit your kids, but yell? Hey, every day! Well, it turns out a study by the University of Pittsburgh has found that yelling, rather than diminishing bad behavior, does the opposite: yelling spurs kids to misbehave more. The researchers also found that harsh words can have the same negative emotional effects on your teen as physical discipline, leading to antisocial and aggressive behavior. So perhaps it's time to tone it down.

    More from The Stir: I Routinely Yell at My Kids (Because They Don't Listen Until I Do)

  • They're Better at Making Friends Than You

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    Think all teens do is mope in their room listening to goth music wishing someone would give them a call? On the contrary, recent studies suggest that your teen is less lonely than you were as a kid. Research in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin about teens' attitudes and activities found that loneliness has declined steadily from 1978 to 2009. Kids are also less likely to join clubs and make close friends, but that doesn't faze them. They savor their independence, and that has its admirable qualities.

  • Maturity Doesn't Happen at 18

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    By 18, teens are considered "adults" in that they graduate high school, can vote, enlist in the military, move out of your house -- in many ways, they can act just like you! And yet, MRI scans from recent research have shown that the brain doesn't fully mature in the teen years. On the contrary, parts of the brain involved in decision-making -- and those are the important, adult-like parts! -- don't become fully developed until age 25.  

  • They're Not As Badly Behaved As You Think

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    "Juvenoia" is the belief among older adults that their kids are more spoiled, ungrateful, badly behaved, and sexually depraved than ever before. In case this helps you sleep at night, some experts say these fears are overblown. For instance, incidents of youth violence are about half of what they were 20 years ago. All your worries that society is headed downhill are all in your head!

    More from The Stir: Dad's Choice of Discipline for Sexting Daughter Sparks Controversy

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