What Really Makes Teens Happy Sit down. If you haven’t heard the news about teens this should make you and every other parent smile. And it’s about time. A seven-month study conducted by MTV and The Associated Press interviewed nearly 1,300 young people aged 13 to 24 years old. The results found that the majority of teens find the most happiness in family. What’s more, most respondents listed their parents (i.e. you) as their heroes. And (it gets even better) most young people (over three-quarters) said being with their parents brought them even more joy than being with their friends.
This is great news. They like us. They really like us! These days, we usually hear the doom and gloom stuff about American teens, so these results couldn’t come at a better time. Here are the five findings in the survey that I think all parents need to hear. I’ve included the good along with the bad news about what is really on the minds of our young people today. I’m also including a few parenting suggestions I shared on the TODAY show when I reported the results. 1. They like us! Not only did the teens say they like us, but they also want us in their lives. Wow! Word of warning: don’t wait for a personalized invitation from your teen. “Yo, Mom, lets go have a great talk about our family values.” The trick is that we parents still need to be a bit crafty and find ways to stay involved in our kids’ lives without invading their space. They do want privacy. They do want time with their peers. Find ways to get into your kid’s zone. Find the time he is most receptive to talking and then be available. (Forget the first few hours in the morning. I swear teens are in a different time zone and don’t wake up until at least noon. Bless their teachers). I finally discovered with one of my kids that the best time was five o’clock in the afternoon—near the refrigerator. And that’s where I’d plant myself. Watch the judgments and criticisms. Nothing turns a teen off faster. Listen twice as much as you talk. And wait. They are processing and sometimes those words take a little longer to come out. Finally, find “common connectors.” What are things you and your teen could enjoy doing together? Is it going to be a basketball game, yoga, a book club, exercising, watching Friends reruns, shopping. Find one common connector so you can stay involved together. 2. Tune up your behavior. The survey also revealed that teens put us as their top hero and role model. They choose their parents even over their friends. Such power we hold. Such influence! It also means our kids are copying our behavior. A word to the wise: Model what you want your kids to copy. Ask yourself every night one question: “If my teen had only my behavior to watch, what would he have caught today?” How are you doing? I swear kids come with videocam recorders planted inside their heads. They are watching us. 3. Money matters and concerns. Surprisingly, only one percent of teens listed money as the thing that would make them happiest. That one shocked me a bit because the research I read always stresses the materialistic nature of teens. The good news is that they are choosing relationships over money to bring them joy. Yes! Research also confirms that relationships are the single greatest source of happiness. On the other hand, 70 percent of teens still want to be rich in the future; 29 percent want to be famous. Nothing shocking there. After all, this is the “American Idol Generation.” Though the results may sound like a contradiction, the reality is teens (and mostly males) are concerned about their future. They say they are worried about money matters. It’s interesting to note that young people with highest-income families seem happier with life overall (hmmm) and middle income kids feel the most financial pressure. I don’t blame them. It’s tough out there. 4. Stress and pressure. Here was the big red flag. Thirty-eight percent of teens said they feel stressed frequently; 47 percent said they felt somewhat stressed. The biggest stressor for teens was school. This result confirms every other study I’ve read. Our kids are stressed and the stress is mounting. And why not? This is an era of “leave no child left untested.” A word to the wise: keep an eye on your child. Watch those stress signs. Watch his workload and her non-stop schedule. How does your child handle stress? What things exacerbate it? How well does your child cope with pressure? What can you do to reduce that stress? Those are the big questions today’s parents should tune into. What tools and strategies have you taught your child to handle stress? The key parent question is always: “Does the stress stimulate or paralyze my teen?” The answer tells you what direction you need to take for your child’s health and happiness.