By Raising Children Network
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Gothic style teenager
Teenagers sometimes change their behaviour or appearance to be part of a social group. Try not to worry – it’s normal for teenagers to identify with different groups as they develop their own identities.

What you need to know

Belonging to a social group or subculture is often about exploring who you are and what you stand for.

During adolescence, teenagers need to form an independent adult identity. Experimenting with different social groups is one way of doing this. It’s how teenagers can test out being someone new – someone separate from their families.

Belonging to a social group can also be a way for teenagers to comment on the options offered by the adult world. They can give teenagers a way of exploring their own values and deciding whether they agree with those of their parents.

Social groups can also offer a set of guidelines about how to behave, dress and think. This can be attractive to your child if she’s feeling confused by the choices and opportunities available to her.

Belonging to a social group can boost your child’s social skills and teach her the rewards of commitment. And it can also just be fun.

Not all young people choose to belong to a subculture. For those who do, membership might be long term, short term, or on and off.

All of this can be challenging for parents, but it’s a normal part of growing up.

Try thinking back to your own adolescence. You might have belonged to a subculture yourself, such as punk, arty type or geek. Some 21st-century subcultures include gothic, cyberculture, emo, gamer, hip-hop and hipster.

Staying positive about subcultures

All young people need to feel validated and valued. You might not understand your child’s attraction to a particular social group, but it’s important not to belittle his interest in it. 

If you’re finding this phase difficult, here are some tips for staying positive:

  • Treat conversations about your child’s social group as a chance to learn about something new and also about your child’s developing identity. Show an interest in what your child is doing.
  • Keep your conversations with your child respectful. When people are critical, rude or cross, discussions might be less effective. Also, your child just might not see things the same way as you do.
  • Keep the lines of communication open – this is a vital part of having a healthy relationship with your child. One way to do this is to take opportunities to actively listen to her.
For more tips on talking and relating to your child, read our articles on staying connected and tricky conversations.

When to be concerned

You might worry that your child’s social group is having a negative influence on him. It’s normal for teenagers to sometimes have low moods or trouble sleeping, but if problems continue for a few weeks, talk with your child. Warning signs might include:

  • low moods, tearfulness or feelings of hopelessness
  • aggression or antisocial behaviour
  • sudden changes in behaviour, often for no obvious reason
  • trouble eating or sleeping.

If you’re concerned, talk with your child. The next step is to talk to your GP, who can put you in contact with your local child and adolescent health team or another appropriate professional. 

You could try ringing a parenting hotline or contacting Beyond Blue and Reach Out (Reach Out is a service aimed at young people, but it can be useful for parents too). And you might also like to read more about teenage mental health and wellbeing.

Understanding more about youth subcultures

It’s easy and normal to worry that your child is spending time with people who might put her at risk, or encourage her to engage in risk-taking behaviour. Negative stories in the media might add to your concerns.

You might also worry if you see your child developing enthusiastic connections to a group or philosophy that you don’t know anything about. Some of the subcultures might seem strange or even threatening to you.

Video scenes, trends and fashion

In this short video, parents and teenagers discuss separately how trends and fashions can influence teenagers to look and act in certain ways.

Teenagers share the trends that are most important to them, including fashion and technology trends for iPods and mobile phones. Many of the teenagers say that they don’t always care too much about having the latest stuff. Parents share mixed feelings about giving their children this stuff.

  • Last updated or reviewed 23-12-2011