Navigating your child’s teenage years can be a confusing time as a parent. One minute your teen is hugging you and enjoying your company, and the next minute they are ignoring you or yelling at you to go away. The rollercoaster of emotions that teenagers experience on a daily basis can lead parents to feel like their teen is a stranger living in their home.
Confusion, defeat, and exhaustion are common emotions that I hear the parents of my teen clients express.
The transition from providing around the clock care for your newborn to entering the teenage years in which your teen acts like family does not exist can be a difficult experience for parents. Parents may feel discouraged and uncertain of how to continue loving their child.
Teens prefer to spend time with and feel more comfortable opening up to same-age peers as opposed to family.
While fostering social connections is a normal and healthy aspect of development, parents may feel left out from their teen’s world and unsure of their teen’s needs.
In my experience working with teens, I have noticed some themes regarding what teens want from their parents. Below are three things your teen wants you to know but are not sharing with you:
- “I may act like I do not love you or care for you, but I actually do.” Teens often act like parents are the bad guys and that showing love for family is childish. This is normal. According to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, teens are in the “identity vs. role confusion” stage of psychosocial development. This means that teens are developing their own unique identity and using social experiences to figure out who they are and what they value. Teens are creating their new “tribe,” which typically consists of same-age peers, not family. Though they may not openly express their love for you or desire for your care, teens continue to need nurturing love and guidance from family…though they prefer to receive it at a distance.
- “I need to make my own mistakes in order to learn.” Teens crave independence. They want to perform tasks their way and can become easily irritated when parents offer suggestions or guidance. Rather than gratefully accepting help, teens view help from a parent as a sign that they cannot do things on their own. Though parents may experience a strong desire to rescue their teen from mistakes, letting a teen make their own decisions can help them learn from their mistakes and develop self-control and determination. Allow your teen to experience the natural consequences of their choices rather than imposing your own consequence.
- “All I want is for you to listen to me.” Parents are quick to preach or lecture. We jump into problem-solving mode when something goes awry for our teen. Rather than talking, try listening to your teen. Active listening skills such as eye contact, open body language, reflecting feelings, and asking questions can help your teen feel heard. Take a moment to reflect on your own experience as a teenager and think about what you would have liked to hear from your parents. Sometimes your teen simply wants to vent about their bad day and hear you say, “You had an awful day. That sucks.” Validating your teen’s feelings and experiences can enhance your connection and help your teen process difficult events.
Next time your teen slams the door in your face or quickly shuts down your invitation for conversation, take a deep breath and remind yourself that the teenage years can be difficult for both parent and teen.
Though their behavior may seem confusing, your teen’s behavior is purposeful and they are trying to communicate something to you.
Take a moment to review the three statements mentioned above and then consider what your teen may be trying to tell you.
Written by: Mary Anne Sylvester