According to practically everyone, vaping/e-smoking/Juuling is the newest teen fad, the latest college craze, the thing unsuspecting parents need to be watching out for. The FDA has called teen vaping an “epidemic.” Reading people’s comments about the topic, I’ve been thrown by how truly ubiquitous this habit appears to be.
“My teen says everyone at school Juuls,” writes one parent.
“They’re all doing it,” says another. “They’re even doing it in class when the teacher turns around. It’s everywhere.”
Is that true? Are all teens sucking the Juul all day long?
I’ve seen similar statements about how sending nude selfies is all the rage among the young folk, along with drinking, pill-popping, secret social media accounts, and more. I’ve seen multiple people say that “all teens” engage in such behaviors and parents are fooling themselves if they think otherwise.
I have no doubt that Juuling is popular. I know that some teens are sharing inappropriate pics and I have no doubt that there’s peer pressure to follow the crowd. Parents absolutely should be aware and wary and watch for signs that their kid might be doing something unhealthy or unwise.
But I also have zero doubt that not all teens are doing those things. Not all teens are doing anything. They never have been. In the 60s, they weren’t all doing LSD and engaging in “free love” fests. In the 80s, they weren’t all experimenting with hard drugs or drinking and driving. There have always been fads and trends and whatnot, and there are times when manyyoung people are doing something. But never in the history of humanity have all, or even most, teens been doing the same thing. Ever.
In fact, research shows that today’s teens are doing pretty great. According to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, this generation’s teens drink less, smoke less, have less sex, get pregnant less, get into fights less, and engage in less troublemaking than my generation did. Each generation has its vices, but teens today seem to engage in fewer risky, unhealthy behaviors compared to others.
That’s why it’s frustrating when people say “all teens” are doing X, Y, Z. My teenagers and their friends who don’t Juul or drink or send nude photos—and have no interest in doing so—know it’s not true that all teens are doing it. And they’ve expressed genuine annoyance when people say that they are.
Teens are as diverse a group as any other age demographic, so it’s offensive to say or imply that they’re all engaging in some kind of unhealthy/undesirable behavior. Yes, there are some risk-taking tendencies in the teenage brain. Yes, there is a natural sociological pull toward group behavior at that age. But for every teen who chooses to fulfill a stereotype I can find you a teen who chooses not to. For every teen who parties or is promiscuous or smokes pot or vapes, I can find one who does none of those things and genuinely doesn’t want to.
Stereotyping teens is not just offensive; it can negatively affect how teens view themselves. Ginger Wilkerson, a Los Angeles-based licensed marriage and family therapists who specializes in working with teens and young adults, says that overgeneralizing about teens is not helpful.
“The teenage years are plagued with feelings of uncertainty, questioning identity, navigating how to make the right choices in the face of societal expectations and peer pressure,” Wilkerson says. “When society, parents, teachers or loved ones talk in overgeneralizations, it affects how teens identify themselves. This thinking equates to being all bad or all good. With this erroneous thought pattern, it does not allow for teens to make mistakes and recover from them or allow for teens to simply be human.”
Some teens will rebel or sneak around or make poor life choices, but not all will. And nobody benefits from being stereotyped.
“Subscribing to the ideal that all teens are ____ (fill in the blank), is not helpful,” says Wilkerson. “What is helpful is for people to discuss concerns and to discuss solutions and to have most importantly a listening ear to understand the why behind certain behaviors. The facts are that teens are still developing, and learning how to make healthy choices. The facts are that teens need guidance and support in making informed decisions.”
Like all human beings, teens run the gamut when it comes to choices they make. As a high schooler, I had no desire to do a lot of the risky or stupid things teens were supposedly “all” doing, and neither did most of my close friends. That’s not to say I didn’t go through my own phases of foolishness and questionable choices in my young adult years, but even then I knew others who didn’t do that. No one likes being generalized, and teens are no different.
Let’s nix phrases like “all teens” and “they’re all doing it” from our conversations when we’re talking about young people. It’s not fair, it’s not accurate, and it’s definitely not helpful.
Annie Reneau is a writer, wife, and mother of three with a penchant for coffee, wanderlust, and practical idealism. On good days, she enjoys the beautiful struggle of maintaining a well-balanced life. On bad days, she binges on chocolate and dreams of traveling the world alone. Her writing can be found on Upworthy and Scary Mommy, in O Magazine, and in a big ol’ slush pile inside her head. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.