Parents Just Don’t Understand: The Teenage Years

To say that the teenage years of raising children can be challenging would be an understatement. Even with all of the technology available to make communication easier, you may be wondering, “Why doesn’t my teenager want to talk to me? Why does my teenager stay in their room or only talk to their friends?” You’ll then hear on the other side that a teenager says that their parent just doesn’t get them. A peek inside the developing adolescent mind may help us understand what is going on.

An adolescent, or a teenager, isn’t a child anymore, but isn’t exactly an adult. We might call them an “interning adult.” While there are various models that put developmental stages in different ages, not every individual will fit nicely into those. This is similar to other developmental stages as they are meant to be guidelines, not hard rules. However, legally, adolescence ends at age 18 in the United States. Brain development, which controls our communication, problem solving, and perspective taking, continues to develop until roughly age 25! Society puts a stereotype on teenagers that they don’t want to communicate with their parents or with positions of authority. Stereotypes of parents of teenagers exist too! There are certainly ways to get out of the stereotype cycle and focus on the relationship with your teen.

There are several biological systems involved in communication. There is the brain stem which assists with automatic processes and reactions. The next player is the limbic system, which houses the amygdala, which is where feelings and emotions are processed. Next up is the cerebral cortex, that houses the frontal lobe, which controls thoughts and behaviors, including goal setting and planning. All of these are important tools in modulating and controlling our ability to communicate! With teenagers, the brain is still developing so some guidance can be helpful in modeling how to appropriately communicate with your teenager.

Here are some quick tips to help navigate miscommunications and foster communication:

  • Establish a goal: What is your goal in the communication? Is it to set a limit, to deeper your bond, or to ask what they want for dinner? Sometimes communications turn into miscommunications because the conversation leaves the goal. There is so much going on in the teenage world, keeping some focus can help establish that stability and predictability that teenagers still need. For example, “Let’s talk about the screen time limits again.”
  • Using “I” statements: One awesome opportunity that parents get is to model conflict management. Using “I” statements stop us from putting the other person on the defense, and allows us to say what a behavior, or lack thereof, of another is doing to us. For example, “I feel like you don’t care about your future when you don’t turn in your homework.”
  • Talk alternatives: Talk with your teen about the choices they have made or might make and discuss the alternative scenarios that can happen after completing or not completing. This can help you both explore the decision and see it in a new light.
  • Reflective listening: Summarize what your teen is saying, which may help gain some perspective and you might be able to relate! It also shows your teenager that you heard them, and gives them the space to let you know if something wasn’t quite right in the summary.
  • Alternatives to “How was your day?”: “How was your day?” is almost always followed with a “good,” “fine” or a “whatever.” You really do want to know, or you wouldn’t ask, so try a question that gives more specific information. For example, “What was the most exciting thing that happened today?” or “What was the most frustrating thing that happened today?” These questions can help start that conversation and get an insight into their world!

Contact us today to learn more about getting through the teenage years!