Surprise: Teens Want to be Understood

by michael on September 2, 2011

I found the following article quite accidentally. I was logging on AOL to get to my email and saw a reference to a story titled It’s Time to Stop Raising Mean Girls. Well, that’s good advice, I acknowledged: don’t raise mean girls, and don’t raise mean boys, for that matter. I read the article. One link led to another and I found this article by Mark Goulston, M. D. titled 6 Rules Teens Want Parents to Know. I began to read that article and was delighted to see that Goulston generously quoted my colleague, Vanessa Van Petter. Coincidentally, just two days ago I wrote about Vanessa’s new book, Do I get my allowance before or after I’m grounded: Stop Fighting, Start Talking and Get to Know Your Teen (Plume, $15.00).

 I offer key paragraphs to Goulston’s article, but I share, briefly and incompletely, my own bias about dealing with teens. In essence, I assert that teens are far more similar to non teens, from four years old to one hundred and four years old, than they are different from non teens. I think it is a mistake to treat teens as if they possess unique qualities that distinguish them from the rest of us and that those unique qualities dictate special treatment. Teens respond to the same incentives and disincentives as the rest of us, and the more uniquely we treat them, the more they will demand that they be treated uniquely, and when we don’t treat them sufficiently uniquely, they then can then condemn us for not understanding them. Nonsense. For whatever it’s worth, Vanessa’s views are in harmony with mine.

 There is much wisdom in Vanessa’s writing and Goulston serves parents by publicizing Vanessa’s scholarship and insights.

 6 Rules Teens Want Parents to Know

Summer is over and now it’s time for the real fun to begin. And I mean it’s time for your teenage children to start back to school and go from the angels of summer fun to being “get off my back” stubborn. You can already probably feel the rumblings of yet another stressful start for your kids, your spouse and you.

I thought you might be looking for some tips to get your parent-teen-school relationship started on the right foot. So I turned to Vanessa Van Petten, founder of and author of Do I get my allowance before or after I’m grounded: Stop Fighting, Start Talking and Get to Know Your Teen (Plume, $15.00). One of the best ways to calm and gain cooperation from another person is to get where they are coming from before you give them unsolicited advice. Van Petten’s work is all about teens giving parenting advice to parents.

Van Petten has discovered that teens love their parents and deep down they want to get along and have a relationship that they can always count on. However, she does mention some things parents do that can drive their kids crazy — and even sabotage a good relationship.

1. Don’t Ask ‘Answer-Questions’

An Answer-Question is a question that already has the answer in it. For example, moms love to ask, “Don’t you think that girl Sheila is mean?” or, “Do you think you should do something about that very important extra-credit assignment?” Sometimes Answer-Questions drive us crazy because it makes us feel like our parents don’t think we know what to do, or belittle our opinions.

2. Comparing Us Hurts More Than You Think

Whenever a parent starts a sentence with, “Why can’t you be more like…” teens automatically cringe. Fill in the blank with perfect best friend, older sibling or a younger, more obedient version of Mom. Many parents don’t realize that comparing us to others makes us feel bad about ourselves and sends us the message that we should be less like ourselves and more like someone else — never a good feeling.

3. The Issues Are the Same, the Circumstances Are Different

We know that every parent was a teenager once — although it is sometimes hard to believe it. Even though all teenagers have some of the same issues, like dating, curfew, pressure at school and bullying, we want parents to know that the circumstances are different. Colleges are more competitive and technologies like Facebook and texting add a new layer of complication to teen relationships. Please don’t assume things are the same as they were when you were a teenager and talk to us about what is different.

4. Risk Is Tempting

Risk is much more appealing to us and this is backed by science. Researchers at the University of Texas found that there are parts of the teen brain that are more tempted to take risks. Teenagers want their parents to know this so that parents can encourage positive risk-taking. Extreme sports, running for student government, going to a theme park these are all positive adrenaline producing activities that scratch that risk itch.

5. Just Because We Are Rolling Our Eyes, Doesn’t Mean We Aren’t Listening

We often pretend to not listen to our parents or care what they think, but we do. Don’t let our eye rolling, lackadaisical attitude fool you, we are often listening and what you say matters to us more than you think.

6. Social Rejection Is Actually Painful

Many parents do not understand why we care so much about what our friends think. Two researchers at UCLA discovered that social rejection actually registers as bodily injury or pain in the brain. There might not be that big of a difference between a punch and a catcall. For us when our friends disapprove or we feel socially rejected it can feel worse than a punch in the gut. So have patience with our obsession with friends and help us find great ones and balance social time with family time, work time and alone time.

In conclusion, ask your own teens what they wish you knew about them — they might surprise you.

More later

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