Helping Teens Through The Downturn

This is a particularly difficult time for teens whose families have been hit hard with the economic changes. Why especially hard for teens? This is a time when teens want to break away from their families more and turn to the peer group. Yet if the family is in crisis, it becomes very hard to break away just when everyone needs to pull together. So the changes work against the developmental task of the teen years. It is also possible that being with the peer group would involve money that is no longer available .To go out to eat or on field trips or other youth activities requires money that the other kids may still have and your teen will be left out. Sometimes families have to relocate and the teen loses the peer group that is so important and finds it hard to break into a new one. And of course, teens are often materialistic and group status may depend on wearing certain clothes, shoes, etc. In addition many teens are aware that plans for college may have to change and this can be upsetting especially if older siblings have not had to deal with this stress.

The Iowa Youth and Family Study project was started during the period when many families were not able to keep the family farm ( late 80’s) and had to weather a serious economic downturn. 500 7th grade students were followed over a period of 20 years, making this one of the most comprehensive studies of family life done. What do you imagine caused these teens the most trouble? The emotional distress of their parents!!! They were able to adapt to the changes in circumstance but if the parents were irritable, depressed , withdrawn, fighting with each other, etc. , these teens did worse than the teens whose families pulled together and weathered the changes with greater acceptance and calmness.

See also the current February issue of Money magazine for an interview with me that talks further about helping teens through this time.