How Confirmation Bias Impacts Our Teens
Hoping to see your child change their behavior? Well, changing the way you think about them can do just that. Crazy, right? Of course we want our teens to become independent individuals who take responsibility for their own actions, but the truth is, our thinking not only impacts the way our children view themselve, but how they behave.
I recently read an interesting article by Your Teen magazine, which discussed that if parents expect the worst in their kids, studies have shown they are more likely to see high risk behaviors, like drinking, drug use, and sexual activity in their adolescents. This study also reported that parents who expect moody, emotionally charged teens are more likely to have teens that experience significant mood swings.
What’s up with that? Well, it actually makes a lot of sense. When we expect the worst, we are way more likely to tune into negative behavior. There is actually a psychological term for this called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias means that we interpret information that supports our existing beliefs (and fears) as evidence to support that belief. Once a parent has seen enough information to support their existing beliefs or fears, then they will view their child in a certain way and then will respond to their child according to those beliefs. Problem is- sometimes this evidence isn’t evidence at all, but our minds tuning into information that supports our beliefs while discounting any evidence that might challenge or give a different view.
Let me give you an example. If you are worried your daughter is smoking marijuana, every time she is tired or hungry, you might then assume that she is high. If you think your daughter is high you might accuse her of using drugs, ground her, or be suspicious each time she goes out. Your daughter might assume you don’t trust her or that she’s not viewed as a good kid, which could lead to low self esteem and place her at higher risk to use drugs. While this example is a bit extreme, smaller versions of this happen ALL THE TIME with the teens and parents in my practice.
So remember- while it is so important that you tune into any warning signs for high risk behaviors and assess and address those as they appear, it is just as important to notice and give attention to all of your teen’s wonderful behaviors and foster their strengths.
To battle confirmation bias and shift the way you view your teen remember to
Notice their positive behaviors, no matter how small
Don’t discount positive behaviors by stating that’s what they “should” be doing anyways.
Remind yourself about all of the things you love about your teen
Support activities that build on your child’s strengths
Ask yourself- do I believe this to be true because of facts or my fears?
For more information on how expectations impact your child’s behavior and strategies to increase positive behavior in your teen, check out Don’t Expect the Worst From Teens- Or You Just Might Get It.