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Disagreeable Teens Fail To Understand Their Blind Spots, Research Reveals


Next, let's talk about teenagers, specifically disagreeable teenagers. There are some. There's new research looking at the long-term outcome of teens who are unpleasant to be around. NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam joins us regularly on this program. He's here now. Hi, Shankar.


INSKEEP: I would think that being disagreeable is actually part of being a teenager.

VEDANTAM: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: You get to be disagreeable. It's part of growing up. So what's going on here?

VEDANTAM: Well, this is new research that tracks teenagers over a 10-year period and measures the quality of their relationships, Steve. Christopher Hafen at the University of Virginia and his colleagues, they analyzed teenagers when they were 14 and 15 years old. The researchers gave teenagers a challenge to solve and watched how they solved the problem with a friend. And they noticed that some teens had trouble working cooperatively. They were rude. They were pushy. They argued a lot. They tried to force their friend to see things their way. And the interesting thing is when they track the kids over time, they find the kids who have trouble with friends in their early teens are also reporting trouble in their romantic lives 10 years down the road.

INSKEEP: OK, so the child is father to the man. We're seeing behavior that continues through life then.

VEDANTAM: That's exactly right, but here's the interesting thing - both in their early teenage years and in their early adulthood the teens with the problem behaviors who are overly aggressive and demanding do not report that they have bad relationships. They recognize that there's conflict in their relationship, but they basically say everything's fine. It's their friends, and later on their romantic partners, who report that the quality of their relationships is very poor. In other words, the teens with the problem are blind to the fact they have a problem, which is, of course, why they don't stop to fix the problem.

INSKEEP: Does that mean they need help or advice?

VEDANTAM: That's exactly what the researchers are arguing. There are long-term costs to having these blind spots, and these teenagers might need help to see that they are doing things that cause their relationships to go awry.

INSKEEP: Shankar, thanks very much.

VEDANTAM: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
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