This post offers 12 scientific facts about teenagers – post updated June 2023
Any parent of teenagers knows… teens can be ridiculously hard to figure out.
Between the swinging hormones, eye rolls, and unpredictable behavior, our kids’ crazy, tumultuous ride to adulthood is enough to leave most parents exhausted and, in some cases, wondering where the heck they went wrong.
But, what if you found out that not only is your teen’s behavior, (in most cases, anyway), totally normal, there are actually science-backed reasons why they act the way they do? And, chances are, once you read these “dang, I sure wish I knew that sooner” scientific facts about teenagers, it might just make you a better parent in the long run.
At the very least, you might be a little more knowledgeable, a little more patient, and a lot more understanding.
Here are 12 “Nope, I’m not kidding,” scientific facts about teenagers that just might make you a better parent.
#1 Nagging and Criticism Cause Teen Brains to Shut Down (Literally)
When it comes to science-backed facts about teenagers, this one takes the cake! Ever wonder why it feels like your teen isn’t listening when you’re yelling, nagging, or criticizing them? It turns out, they really aren’t.
According to an article in Wired.com, neuroscientists from several leading universities in the United States conducted a study that mapped brain activity in pre-teens and teens as they listened to clips of their own mothers criticizing them. What they found is that areas of their brains actually shut down. It’s true… teen brains don’t absorb the information, which is exactly why it “appears” they’re ignoring you or blocking you out. (Hmmm… makes you think twice about nagging.)
#2 The Mere Presence of Your Teen’s Cellphone Reduces Their Cognitive Ability
We all know how much our teens can’t live without their phones and how distracted they are when they’re staring at it for hours a day, but new research suggests that the mere presence of your teen’s cell phone can reduce their ability to function.
The study, conducted by McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas Austin gave 800 participants specific tasks to perform and found that participants who had their phones in another room significantly out-paced those who had their phones on their desk or even out of sight in their pocket or bag.
The takeaway here is that even though our teens feel as though they’re giving their full attention to a task, homework, school, or a conversation, if their phone is with them, they probably aren’t.
#3 Teens Who Argue with Their Parents Are Less Likely to Cave Into Peer Pressure
Teenagers who are given a little latitude to voice their opinions with their parents, (okay, call it what it is… argue), have been found to be more likely to use that same spunk and “guts” to push back when peer pressure knocks on their door.
Basically, when your rebellious teens say “no” to you, research says they may be gaining enough inner strength to say “no” to friends when it comes to risky behavior including alcohol, drugs, and having sex. (You might not want to share this one with your teen.)
#4 Your Teen’s Cell Phone Could Be Making Them Cranky and Even Depressed
If your teen is like a lot of other teens, they’re spending countless hours at night texting, surfing the net, and watching videos long after you’ve gone to bed. Aside from the frustration that your teen never seems to sleep, their cell phone could be a big factor not only in the quality of their sleep due to the emitted blue light from the screen but in their mental health.
A study in the Journal of Child Development reports that nighttime usage of cell phones suppresses melatonin, stimulates the brain, and can increase the risk of anxiety and depression, and even reduce self-esteem, especially in girls who they found tend to be more vulnerable to the effects of sleep loss.
#5 Do You Have a Clumsy Teen? There’s a Reason for That!
When our teens hit the teen years they go through a tremendous growth spurt that starts on the outside and works its way in. Feet and hands are first (hence, the reason your son’s feet look way too big for his body), next the arms and legs, and so on.
Interestingly, their bodies are growing so quickly that their brains simply can’t calculate the new rules for balancing and their center of gravity becomes “off.” The good news is, when their brain catches up, they’re not quite as clumsy. (In the meantime, guard your vases.)
#6 Your Teen’s Unpredictable Behavior is Just As Confusing to Them
According to Psychology Today, our kids’ brains are under the influence of massive hormonal messages and they’re being completely reshaped and reconstructed. Information highways are being sped up (a process called myelination) and some old routes close down which is called pruning. (Is this the reason they forget how to hang up towels?)
Above all, old information highways are making lots of new connections to other highways and cities and towns (called sprouting) and like most massive construction projects – nothing ever runs smoothly. (Well… that explains why our teens’ behavior seems to take a lot of detours that confuse them and us.)
#7 Holding Off on Sex Until Later Could Make Your Teen Destined for Happier Relationships Down the Road
If you want your teen to be smarter, make more money, and be happier in their romantic relationship down the line, encourage them to hold off on having sex. A study done by the University of Texas found that people who lost their virginity later in life (defined as older than 19) tended to attain a higher level of education, a higher income, and, yes, a greater level of satisfaction in their romantic relationships in adulthood. (Now you have a research-backed reason to lecture your kids about not having sex.)
#8 Shy and Introverted Kids May Hold the Golden Ticket
Are you worried your shy teen never puts himself out there? Well, according to research, it turns out shy or timid people learn faster, make better bosses down the road, and are even more emotionally mature than their louder counterparts. Plus, shy kids have a little thing called sensory processing sensitivity which is a personality trait characterized by sensitivity to stimuli that makes them better equipped to pick up on subtleties in their environment.
Basically, even though our shy kids aren’t total chatterboxes, they’re taking it all in – even more so than other more chatty kids. (Who knew our shy kids were holding the golden ticket?)
#9 Despite What Teens Think, No One Really Cares About Their Screw-Ups
You know how your teen gets so wigged out when they do something wrong totally convinced that everyone noticed? Heads up teens, most people really don’t care or even notice.
Researchers conducted experiments to determine to what degree people thought their behavior was noticed by others. People were asked to wear embarrassing t-shirts in front of friends convinced they would be mocked and ridiculed.
The funny thing is, the people in the study predicted that twice as many observers actually noticed their embarrassing t-shirt than actually had. (This goes to show you that teens often believe others are just as aware of them as they are of themselves. Not!)
#10 The More You Yell At Your Teen, The Worse They’re Likely to Behave
If you’re a yeller, you might want to tone it down a notch. According to researcher Ming-Te-Wang, assistant professor of psychology in education at the University of Pittsburgh, parents who used disciplinary tactics that included yelling, shouting or even swearing at their children at age 13 found that their children experienced far more conduct problems and even symptoms of depression at ages 13 and 14.
The study suggests that harsh discipline could lead to a vicious cycle of kids acting out and parents escalating their harsh discipline actions in return. (Good reason to stop the yelling, parents.)
#11 If You Take Your Teen’s Cell Phone Away, They’ll Get Sleepy
You would think that when you separate a teen from his phone he’d become jittery and frustrated. But Michelle Hackman, an Intel Science Talent Search Finalist, locked 150 of her slightly addicted texting-obsessed peers in a classroom for 45 minutes. Half of them had their cell phones, the other half didn’t. Interestingly, the half that didn’t have their phones drifted off to sleep. (Proof in the pudding that most teens are likely sleep-deprived and that without the constant distraction and stimulation of their phone, they’ll grab a few quick Zzzzs.)
#12 Teenagers Really Do Like Their Parents
Of all the facts about teenagers we rounded up, this one will likely be the biggest eye-opener, especially for parents who are convinced their teenager doesn’t like them. Heads up, parents… your teen may act like they don’t like you, but they actually do! According to a survey, 84% of teenagers think highly of their mothers and 89% think highly of their dads.
And, (get this), more than three-quarters of teens actually enjoy spending quality time with their parents. (From here on out, don’t let your teen’s apathetic attitude fool you. They’re pretty darn crazy about you!)