Dismantling stereotypes: How adolescence can be reframed?

Telzer, E. H., Dai, J., Capella, J. J., Sobrino, M., & Garrett, S. L. (2022). Challenging stereotypes of teens: Reframing adolescence as window of opportunity. American Psychologist, 77(9), 1067–1081. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0001109

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Adolescents are associated with stereotypes that negatively affect their behaviors and self-concept.
    • For example, many people believe they are self-centered, irresponsible, prone to risky behaviors, and vulnerable to negative peer influence.
  • Adolescents are more likely to reinforce these stereotypes if they believe that that’s what being an adolescent is.
  • This review aims to dismantle these misconceptions about adolescents. It also explores how the developing brain strengthens positive development.
  • Risk-taking isn’t imminent and can be malleable and positive.
  • While existing psychobiological models on adolescent risk-taking behaviors have positive implications, they can simultaneously encourage people to overuse adolescents’ limited ability to exercise cognitive control to justify why adolescent risk-taking is inevitable.
  • Adolescents’ cognitive control is flexible and can, in turn, provide adolescents space to engage in risks and examine their surroundings in ways that promote learning (in other words, adolescents can be strategic and logical when making risky decisions).
  • Risky behavior can be positive (e.g. disclosing personal information or trying out for a challenging sport).
    • Evidence suggests positive and negative risk-taking might have some overlapping correlates in adolescents and that the tendency to pursue rewards promotes both prosocial and risky behaviors.
  • Given that adolescents come from different cultural backgrounds, their cultural backgrounds affect the extent that reward sensitivity and cognitive control are triggered in the brain.
    • Additionally, an adolescent’s values, cultural background, and other macrosystem factors play an essential role in influencing adolescents’ neural reactions while engaging in risk-taking behavior.
  • Although adolescents can be selfish, they can also maximize their elevated sensitivity to rewards to align with eudemonic rewards and be prosocial.
    • Prosocial behaviors can bolster an individual’s sense of belonging, happiness, and self-worth.
  • Adolescents start developing their “social brains” (refers to a network of brain regions responsible for overseeing self-centered impulses, perspective-taking, mentalizing, and other processes of the self) during this time.
  • While adolescents might be more selfish when they are by themselves, they are more likely to engage in socially acceptable behaviors when their peers are present.
  • Some adolescents are more likely to be influenced by their peers than others.
  • Future studies on adolescence need to adopt strengths-based perspectives, account for cultural & individual differences in adolescent development, account for the social context in adolescent development, and analyze other stereotypes associated with adolescents

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract) 

In this review, we seek to challenge negative stereotypes of adolescence and unpack the many ways that the developing brain contributes to positive development during the adolescent years. In particular, we will show that risk-taking is not inevitable and risks can be highly adaptive and positive; adolescents are not overly self-centered but engage in other-oriented prosocial behaviors in remarkable ways; adolescents are not only susceptible to negative peer influence but can resist negative peer influence and conform more to positive peer influence; and adolescents do not orient away from the family, but the family remains a constant and important source of influence into adolescence. We outline considerations that researchers can use to reframe their research questions to provide a more balanced perspective on adolescent development, thereby promoting positive development.

Implications (Reprinted from the Conclusions)

In this article, we reviewed the theoretical and empirical work on adolescent development in the past decades. To better understand adolescent development, we call for developmental scholars to focus on the diverse facets of adolescent development, including positive aspects of adolescents, in the next generation of research. Ultimately, we provide several interdisciplinary directions that will guide researchers to reframe their research questions to provide a more balanced perspective on adolescent development and thereby promote positive development.

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