Acknowledging Teens’ Perspectives May Improve Their Mental Health

Parent and young teen daughter sit on sofa having a conversation. Teen looks downcast. Adolescents who feel heard have better mental health and a greater sense of self-worth in both the United States and Ghana, according to a study published in the journal Child Development. Teens in both cultures had more positive outcomes when their parents listened to them, suggesting the importance of open communication between children and parents in vastly different cultures.

But giving teens the chance to share in decision-making and make their own choices only benefited American teens, pointing to the role cultural values can play in adolescent outcomes. This indicates that mental health practitioners may need to adjust their approach to shared decision-making based on the expressed needs or cultural values of those they work with in therapy.

Listening to Teens: Outcomes in Individualist and Collectivist Societies

The United States is widely regarded as an individualist nation that prioritizes self-reliance, independence, and autonomous decision-making. According to the study, Ghana is a more collectivist nation. Collectivist cultures are concerned about the impact of an individual on the family or social group and tend to see a person as inextricably linked to a broader community.

Researchers gave questionnaires to 245 seventh and eighth graders from the United States and 156 from Ghana. The questionnaires asked questions about the extent to which parents let teens play a role in decision-making and whether the teens’ parents listened to and acknowledged their views. They also asked about how controlling parents were, how motivated teens were at school, and mental health factors such as depression and self-worth.

Teens whose parents encouraged them to openly share their opinions expressed higher levels of academic motivation, school engagement, and self-worth. They were also less likely to have depression. In the United States, shared decision-making further improved mental health, motivation, and other outcomes.

Previous studies have reached conflicting results about the value of shared decision-making and encouraging teens to express themselves. The study’s authors argue that their results help resolve some of these conflicts. They emphasize, however, that variation between families and parents may be as important as variation between cultures.

References:

  1. Marbell-Pierre, K. N., Grolnick, W. S., Stewart, A. L., & Raftery-Helmer, J. N. (2017). Parental autonomy support in two cultures: The moderating effects of adolescents’ self-construals. Child Development. doi:10.1111/cdev.12947
  2. Value of acknowledging adolescents’ perspectives. (2017, October 24). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171024103324.htm

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  • Whitt

    Whitt

    October 30th, 2017 at 11:31 AM

    Although I know that there are families who discourage input form the children, I just think that this is doing a huge disservice to them. We have to allow our children to have some freedom and a voice that they feel comfortable with using, and that might mean disagreeing from time to time. But give them some freedom, some room to spread their wings and fly.

  • Cady

    Cady

    October 31st, 2017 at 6:54 AM

    Well that’s pretty logical. Any of us feel better when someone actually takes the time to acknowledge us as a person and listen to what it is that we are feeling.

  • lawson

    lawson

    November 4th, 2017 at 6:24 AM

    I am convinced that there are too many times where teens are dismissed just because of their age and adults are not listening to the things that they are trying to tell us. Sure, it might be over blown and dramatic at times, but then there are bound to be other times when what they have to contribute is valid and worth listening to to gain their knowledge and value. I don’t think that there are many people who believe that, but as a teacher I see the validity of many of the thoughts and feelings that teenagers have and to some it might be too simplistic, but if you get right down to it, sometimes they have a much better perspective on life than anyone because they are not clouded with the over thinking that many of us tend to do.

  • Britany

    Britany

    November 7th, 2017 at 2:15 PM

    I’m not all that far removed from my teen years and I can tell you that I remember vividly just wanting to be heard, wanting to be taken seriously. Why can’t more of us commit to doing that instead of dismissing what teenagers have to say? Of course they still have some growing up to do, we all do, but how are they going to ever feel comfortable with getting their thoughts and their voices out if we don’t give them a forum to do so?

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