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Surprising Science

Teenagers Are Happier Than Their Parents Think

Turns out parents just don’t understand.

Teenagers are known for their “wealth” of emotions during their transitional period to adulthood. However, a new study indicates that parents may be misinterpreting their teen’s level of happiness.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, was led by Dr. Belén López-Pérez and Ellie Wilson. The team gathered information by questioning 357 children (10 to 11 years old) and adolescents (15 to 16 years old), as well as their parents, on their self-reported levels of happiness. The parents were also asked to assess how happy they thought their children were.

López-Pérez said in a press release:

“Being unable to read children’s happiness appropriately may increase misunderstanding between parents and children/adolescents, which has been shown to have negative consequences for parent-child relationships. Furthermore, parents might not be able to provide the appropriate emotional support or attend to their children’s needs accurately.”

The researchers found an interesting bias in the parents’ abilities to rate their kid’s happiness. The parent’s own emotional status related closely to how they perceived their child. In no way resembling their kid’s reported level of happiness — showing that there’s a clear bias in perception.

But there was also another interesting trend that emerged. How parents rated their child’s level of happiness seemed to be closely tied to their child’s age. Adults with kids between 10 and 11 years tended to overestimate their child’s happiness, whereas parents of teenagers tended to underestimate their kid’s happiness. This finding shows not only “egocentric bias” on the parents’ parts, but also that there’s a decline in the adult’s happiness once their kid reaches adolescence.

In his Big Think interview, author Bruce Feiler explains how exploring these shifts led him to write his latest book, The Secrets of Happy Families.

Read more at Science Daily.

Photo Credit: Michael Cohen / Stringer/ Getty


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