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Teenagers and youth subcultures

9-18 years

Teenagers sometimes change their behaviour or appearance to be part of a social group or ‘subculture’. Try not to worry – it’s not unusual for teenagers to identify with different youth subcultures as they develop their own identities.

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 – someone separate from your family.

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 his own values and deciding whether he agrees with your 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 to a subculture can boost your child’s social skills and teach her the rewards of commitment.

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, 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 why your child likes a particular subculture, but it’s important not to put him down for it. In fact, criticising your child’s subculture might actually make him 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 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 your child.
Our Talking to Teens interactive guide takes you through some tricky parent and teen situations, like talking about subcultures. You can also check out our article about difficult conversations.

When to be concerned about youth subcultures

You might worry that your child’s social group is having a negative influence on her – for example, if you notice that she 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 a few weeks, talk with your child. Warning signs of more serious problems like depression or anxiety 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
  • 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. 

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). 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 him at risk, or encourage him 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 subcultures might seem strange or even threatening to you.

The more you talk with your child about her subculture, the more you’ll know about whether you really need to worry.

Even if your child is involved with a subculture, you’re still very important to him. Teenagers need love and support from their parents, and staying connected to your child will help him feel safe and secure.
Video

Peer influence on teenage trends and fashions

3:52

In this short video, parents and teenagers discuss how peers, 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.

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Last updated or reviewed
03-08-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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