Which countries have happy, successful teenagers? Most of them!

‘Happy teenager’ isn’t the oxymoron that media clichées might have you believe. Most teenagers aren’t in a state of permanent oscillation between angry and depressed. Nor are they out  out happy-slapping or high on glue or cheap cider.  Mostly they working hard at school, wondering about their future and what’s more they’re enjoying themselves. It’s actually parents who find adolescence difficult.

That’s the message of a recent article by  Jennifer Senior in the New York Magazine

Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University and one of the country’s foremost authorities on puberty, thinks there’s a strong case to be made for this idea. “It doesn’t seem to me like adolescence is a difficult time for the kids,” he says. “Most adolescents seem to be going through life in a very pleasant haze.” Which isn’t to say that most adolescents don’t suffer occasionally, or that some don’t struggle terribly. They do. But they also go through other intense experiences: crushes, flirtations with risk, experiments with personal identity. It’s the parents who are left to absorb these changes and to adjust as their children pull away from them. “It’s when I talk to the parents that I notice something,” says Steinberg. “If you look at the narrative, it’s ‘My teenager who’s driving me crazy.’ ”

Link to NYMag article ‘The Collateral Damage of a Teenager’ via MindHacks.com

This is also why the above infograph by BuzzFeed is open to misinterpretation.

Happy, successful teenagers
Countries ranked by school achievement and happiness at aged 15 Created for Buzzfeed by Jake Levy (source)

It presents  results of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2012 PISA survey. Scores were collected for 15 year olds in 65 countries. Happiness scores for students who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel happy at school.” Test scores were the combined individual rankings of the students’ math, reading, and science scores.  But this graph exaggerates the differences between countries because it shows scores by ranking not by absolute difference.  If you look at the scores you will see that in even the lowest ranked country (South) Korea 61% of students were happy.

OECD PISA 2012 happiness at school
OECD PISA 2012 Percentage of 15 year olds agreeing with question ‘I feel happy at school’

The differences in combined math,science and literacy scores does more realistically reflect a pronounced difference in performance between countries. But here the important thing to remember is that the really important comparisons are within country rather than between country. Is the country improving it’s own absolute performance and if not what can it learn from those that are. As the PISA report says:

PISA results reveal what is possible in education by showing what students in the highest-performing and most rapidly improving education systems can do 

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