Strange Things Your Teenager Does, Explained
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Strange Things Your Teenager Does, Explained

Baffled by your teen’s odd quirks? We have answers.

Young woman with arms up in the park
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Teenagers have always baffled their parents. But while most Gen Xers actually want to understand their kids, the omnipresence of social media, the impact of the pandemic and an array of other disruptive influences have left us speaking wildly different languages.

Here are some of the mysteries of the modern teen, explained.

1. Why does he wear a hoodie when it’s 85 degrees out? 

For some, it’s just convenience—my 18-year-old says he throws on a hoodie, even in summer, because he’s in a hurry and it’s easier than digging for a clean T-shirt. But for others it’s like a hooded security blanket that helps curb anxiety and make them feel safe. 

Some studies have found that weighted blankets can relieve anxiety for people on the autism spectrum, and that can be true even for non-autistic kids. “A thick shirt and hood can feel like armor protecting them from the world,” says clinical psychologist Stephanie Newman.

2. Why do some teens, instead of sneaking out to a keg party, spend their weekends at home, gaming or talking to kids on Snapchat? 

The first weeks of the pandemic, I worried about my boys spending too much time alone. What I quickly realized was that even though they were physically alone, they were never alone. Instead of riding their bikes to a buddy’s house, they shout-talked to them on Discord, the text, voice and video social media app made popular by gamers.

The pandemic put a spotlight on how teens connect online, explained Jeff Haynes, a senior editor for Common Sense Media. And it might be a connection stronger than what they have with kids in the neighborhood or at school. 

“Specifically with Discord, there’s an opportunity to find a ton of different avenues and areas for virtually every interest they might have,” Haynes says. If they can’t find a community on Discord, they can create a server and build a community.

Talking online in this way might be a better option for teens than going to a high school football game or a crowded party. “In the digital space they feel a little bit freer, a little more confident,” says Haynes.

3. Why do teenagers constantly wear headphones? 

Teens wear their headphones for obvious reasons; they like music and want to listen to YouTube or TikTok instead of to adults talking. But for some teens, headphones or earbuds put them at ease in a chaotic world. 

One recent study found that listening to music on headphones can decrease anxiety in psychiatric patients. Even if your teen isn’t struggling with mental illness, being tuned in can (according to some parents) provide them with a safe space. As one parent blogger wrote, “My daughter’s earbuds and her music are her protectors.”

Just be cautious of the volume on those headphones. More than 1 in 10 American kids ages 6 to 19 develop permanent hearing loss from noise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.  Retired audiologist Jan Mayes set the listening settings on her kids’ headphones before they started using them. “My kids have normal hearing, and they were comfortable listening around a 20 to 30 percent volume setting,” she says.

4. Why aren’t some teens motivated to get a driver’s license? 

The number of teens getting their driver’s license when they turn 16 dropped 44 percent from 1983 to 2018, according to Green Car Congress. That number dropped even more during the first year of the pandemic. 

It’s at least partly because of the hassle. Back when we turned 16, driver’s ed classes were available for free. Today, it’s not part of most public high school curriculums, even though many states still require students to take a class. California teens need six hours of behind-the-wheel training by a professional driving instructor, which costs money.

Time and money may not be the only reasons. When we were teens, “the barrier to freedom was a license and that’s just not there anymore,” says pediatrician and author Cara Natterson. Today they can get that same independence with a rideshare app or by jumping on an electric scooter or bike—or by communicating entirely online.

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