Youth subcultures: what you need to know
Belonging to a social group or youth subculture is often about exploring who you are and what you stand for.
During adolescence, teenagers strive to form independent adult identities. Experimenting with different social groups is one way of doing this. It’s how your child can test out being someone new.
Belonging to youth subcultures or social groups can also be a way for teenagers to decide what they identify with in the adult world. It gives your child a way of exploring new values and deciding how these fit with their family values.
Social groups can offer a set of guidelines about how to behave, dress and think. Dressing, behaving and thinking like the rest of a subculture can give your child a sense of belonging and identity. And belonging is important for teenage mental health and wellbeing.
It can also just be fun.
For young people who choose to belong to subcultures, membership might be long term, short term, or on and off.
All of this can be challenging for parents, but it isn’t unusual and can be a passing phase.
Try thinking back to your own adolescence. You might have belonged to a subculture yourself, like punk, sporty, arty type or geek. Some 21st-century subcultures include goth, cyberculture, emo, gamer, hip-hop and hipster.
Staying positive about subcultures
All young people need to feel validated and valued.
You might not understand why your child likes a particular subculture, but it’s important not to put your child down for it. In fact, criticising your child’s subculture might alienate your child and actually make them feel more strongly connected to it.
If you’re finding this phase difficult, here are some tips for staying positive:
- Treat conversations about your child’s subculture as a chance to learn about something new and also to learn 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 are less effective. Also, your child just might not see things the same way 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 actively listen to your child.
When to be concerned about youth subcultures
You might worry that your child’s social group is having a negative influence on them – for example, if you notice that your child seems more moody or is getting into trouble at school or other places.
It’s normal for teenagers to sometimes have low moods or trouble sleeping, but if problems continue for more than two weeks, talk with your child. For example, you could say, ‘You seem a little sad lately. What’s worrying you at the moment?’
- low moods, tearfulness or feelings of hopelessness
- aggression or antisocial behaviour
- sudden changes in behaviour, often for no obvious reason
- sleep problems
- large changes in appetite or weight
- changes in academic performance.
If you notice these signs, the next step is talking to your GP or school counsellor. Your GP can put you in contact with your local child and adolescent mental health team or another appropriate professional.
Understanding more about youth subcultures
It’s easy and normal to worry that your child is spending time with people who might put your child at risk, or encourage your child to take part in risk-taking behaviour. Negative stories in the media might worry you too.
You might also worry if you see your child getting enthusiastic about a group or ideas that you know nothing about. Some subcultures might seem strange or even threatening to you.
The more you talk with your child about their subculture, the more you’ll know whether you really need to worry. Even if your child is involved with a subculture, you’re still very important to them. Teenagers need love and support from their parents. Staying connected to your child will help them feel safe and secure.