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Social Norms in Teenagers

By Eliza Martinez ; Updated June 13, 2017

Teens are entering or going through puberty and gaining more independence. With those changes, they often don't see life the way you do and want to spend much of their time with friends. Social norms are groups of ideas that teens and adults think are common among kids of this age. Understanding social norms helps you get through these years while maintaining a healthy relationship with your teen.

Actual Norms

There are two types of social norms. Actual norms are true norms for a given group of teens. For example, if most teens go home and do their homework, then the act of homework after school is an actual norm. Teens might feel that everyone skips school, but the actual norm is that most teens attend school on a regular basis, as the national chronic absenteeism rate is at about 10 percent, reports Johns Hopkins University.

Perceived Norms

A perceived norm is a belief that most other teens are engaging in a specific activity. For example, if your teen tries to talk you into going to a party by claiming that everyone drinks alcohol and everyone will be at the party, her beliefs are a perceived norm, since only 26.4 percent of teens reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days, according to a 2012 survey conducted by Students Against Destructive Decisions. Parents fall prey to perceived norms, too, so be prepared with your own research.

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Other Social Norms Statistics

The teen years can be difficult for kids because they want to identify with peers and make friends to spend time with. Often, the behavior of the popular crowd can influence your teen's perceived social norms. You and your teen might feel that most other kids her age smoke cigarettes, have tried drugs or alcohol or use it on a regular basis, and are having sex. True, some teens are doing these things, but statistics show that they are largely perceived norms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2011, 40 percent of teens had tried marijuana and 22 percent admitted to binge drinking. Armed with these statistics, you can help your teen see that her idea of social norms is skewed.

Positive Social Norms

Not all social norms are negative. Plenty of teens use their time and talents to do good things. Helping your teen understand these social norms is an effective way to aid her in making good choices that will make her life better and won't get her into trouble. The National PTA recommends communicating with your teen by listening to her and encouraging her to make good choices, which helps your teen conform to positive social norms, such as abstaining from sexual behavior or practicing safe sex, volunteering, taking part in school activities or sports and avoiding drugs and alcohol.

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