Subcultures: what are they?
A subculture is a group of people who share a way of life, a way of dressing, or special interests or beliefs. For example, 21st-century subcultures include goth, cyberculture, emo, gamer, hip-hop and hipster.
Subcultures can be face-to-face groups or communities. They can also be online groups or communities – for example, on social media or gaming platforms.
About pre-teen and teenage subcultures
During adolescence, pre-teens and teenagers are working out who they are and what they stand for. That is, they’re working on identity.
Experimenting with subcultures is a way of doing this because it helps pre-teens and teenagers decide what they identify with in the adult world. It gives them a way of exploring new values and deciding how these fit with their family values.
Also, subcultures can offer a set of unspoken guidelines about how to behave, dress and think. Dressing, behaving and thinking like the rest of a subculture is a clear way of signalling identity. This can also give pre-teens and teenagers a sense of belonging.
The sense of identity and belonging that pre-teens and teenagers get from subcultures can help them feel good about themselves. And hanging out with people who share your interests, ideas and values can also just be fun.
Not all pre-teens and teenagers join youth subcultures, but many do. For young people who choose to belong to subcultures, membership might be long term, short term, or on and off.
Try thinking back to your own adolescence. You might have belonged to a subculture yourself, like punk, sporty, arty or geek.
When pre-teens and teenagers belong to subcultures: tips
If your child belongs to a subculture, it’s important to show interest and take it seriously. This sends the message that you value and respect your child’s developing identity.
Talking with your child about their subculture is one of the best ways to do this. Talking can also help you learn more and understand your child’s subculture. This understanding can be important if you have concerns about the subculture at any stage.
Here are tips for talking about subcultures:
- Be curious and ask questions about your child’s subculture. This sends the message that your child’s interests are important to you. For example, ‘What are some of the best bands to listen to?’
- Be positive, respectful and non-judgmental about your child’s subculture. This will mean your child is more likely to open up and talk to you. For example, ‘Those badges on your jacket look cool’.
- Try to find common ground with your child and talk about parts of your child’s subculture you can relate to. For example, ‘I used to spend hours on my goth make-up when I was in my 20s’.
It’s also important to support your child’s subculture interest, if you can. For example, if your child is keen to learn how to skateboard, take your child to a skate park to practise.
When to be concerned about subcultures
Being part of a subculture is usually a healthy and typical part of pre-teen and teenage development. But sometimes it can put pre-teens and teenagers at risk, just like other aspects of adolescent development and behaviour.
For example, if your child is engaging in risky behaviour, getting into trouble, using alcohol and other drugs, experiencing bullying or involved in bullying, the first thing is to let your child know that you’re concerned about them.
If you want your child to listen to your concerns, you need to stay calm and listen to your child’s point of view too. Active listening can help you understand what’s going on for your child and send the message that your child is important to you. It can also encourage your child to ask for your help if they need it.
A supportive and close relationship with you can also protect your child from risky behaviour and mental health difficulties like depression. That’s because it helps your child feel safe and secure. You can build and strengthen this kind of relationship by staying connected to your child and setting clear boundaries and rules.
If you notice your child is experiencing low moods, sudden changes in behaviour, sleep problems and so on, you can talk to your GP or school counsellor. Your GP might put you in contact with your local child and adolescent mental health team or another health professional. You can also call a parenting hotline or contact Beyond Blue and Reach Out.