Inside Your Teen’s Brain: 7 Things Your Teenager Really Wants You to Know


“Have you ever wondered what’s going on inside your teenager’s head?” What  was she thinking when she made that choice? Why won’t he listen to what I’m telling him? It can  seem as if an adolescent is  completely wrapped up in a separate world, feet  planted firmly in the air  instead of on the ground.  As parents, we often come away bewildered or   frustrated when our teen’s perspective seems so utterly different from our   own.

Parenthood  is an ongoing lesson in learning to fearlessly let go of trying to control  someone you would give your life to protect.


It’s normal to feel like communication is difficult during your child’s  adolescence. Your teen may not have mastered the art of communicating his  thoughts and feelings yet, and sometimes you may feel like you have to “guess”  at what he’s experiencing. This is especially true if a teen is oppositional or  defiant (or has full blown ODD), arguing and fighting against your efforts to support  him. Listening to a teenager without trying to fix or change what he’s thinking  can be difficult – after all, as parents we guide and teach. But sometimes all  they really need us to do is listen and hear what they’re trying to say. A word  of caution: the opinion of one (or some) teens is not necessarily the opinion of  all! Each child is unique.

We asked a sample of teens the following question: “If you  could tell  parents one thing – just one thing – and know that they would listen  and truly  understand, what you say?”

“Stop trying to fix things for me.”Adolescence is a time full of  changes: physical, mental and emotional.  When we see our kids struggling, it’s  tempting to jump in and offer solutions,  even if they are well-intended, but too much focus on what is “wrong” can leave  him feeling as if  there is something wrong with him. Before  stepping  in with suggestions on how your teen can do things differently, ask  yourself:  “Is this something I truly need  to fix for my child? Is it a “Big” thing  or a “Minor” thing? Is it a legal or safety  issue?” If not, instead of  jumping in to fix things, offer a comment of support: “I’m sorry you’re going  through that right  now. Is there anything I can do to help or support  you?” Grab every opportunity to communicate to your  teen that you have  confidence in him and his ability to manage his life, and that you’re  always there if he needs you. Ask yourself, “Am I trying to do something for my  teen that he can do for himself?”

Related: Learned helplessness: Are you doing too much  for your child?

“Think back to what it was  like when you were a  teenager. How did you feel?” If someone offered you ten  thousand dollars to go back and relive your adolescence,  would you? Most of us  wouldn’t! Think back for a moment about what it was like: conflict with parents   (which is supposed to be “normal” but still hurts); peer pressure; romantic   breakups and falling out with friends; homework; being told what to do by every   adult in your life; acne, social awkwardness. The further we get from  adolescence, the less we remember  the intense emotions with which we ourselves  also struggled at times (or for  some of us, most of the time). Your teen has  the same type of struggles – maybe  more, maybe less. If you find yourself  having trouble empathizing with your  teen, send yourself back in time to a  struggle you had. How could someone have  responded that might have helped or  supported you?

Related: “Parent the child you have, not the child  you wish you had.”

“I make a lot of mistakes.  And I take the consequences that I get. After I do the consequences, the   lectures need to stop. Trust me that I learned. And if I didn’t…you’ll get your   chance to punish me again.” This teen’s comment  says it all. No  one likes being reminded over and over again of their past mistakes. So  when the issue is over, let it be over. Don’t keep dragging up past  mistakes. And if another incident happens again, give the consequences  you originally laid out. As James Lehman says, “Act as if you are the CEO of  your family. Stay objective.” A good CEO doesn’t bring his or her workers  into their office and remind them of all their past mistakes if they  wants to see good results.

“Sometimes coping skills don’t work for  me.” What this teen is really saying is, “Even when I use the  coping  skills I’ve learned, I still feel awful.” And that can be true. When   your teen feels like “nothing works” and is ready to give up, that’s the time   she needs your encouragement and support the most. Unfortunately, hopelessness   can also look like anger or irritation, which can push our buttons as parents.   When your teen is struggling and seems to be taking it out on you (or her   brother, or the family dog), step back before getting drawn into an argument   over how she’s handling things. She may need your support in using those coping   skills she’s learned. A particularly stressful situation may be taxing the  skills she knows, and she may just need some time, space and encouragement   to use what she’s learned. Coping with stress and difficult situations is hard  stuff.  It’s a learning process that goes on our whole lives. Let’s face  it, we never reach a point  (even in adulthood) where we say, “Wow, I cope with  everything wonderfully, all  the time!”

Related: Does your child use anger to get his  way?

I’m as good as my brother; I’m just better at different  things.” It’s easy  to fall into the trap of comparing our kids. “Why can’t you be more like your  sister? She always turns in her homework and  she’s getting all A’s!” (Remember  Jan from the Brady Bunch? It was always “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”) But everyone  has different talents, capabilities,  strengths and weaknesses. If you were  constantly compared to a co-worker at  your job, you would likely come away  angry and frustrated, too. It would also  tear down that relationship as you came to  resent the co-worker who was held up  as better than you. Resist the urge when  you’re tempted to use a sibling as an  example of the  behavior you’d like to see in your teen.

Can’t it just be about me  sometimes? And can’t that just  be okay?”  Yes, adolescents typically appear to be  wrapped  up in themselves, sometimes to the point that they don’t seem to think of   others. While we want to help our kids learn empathy and step outside of their  own experience to understand how their behavior impacts others, there  are times when they just  need to know we understand. A hug, a pat  on the  shoulder or a simple, “I’m sorry  you had a hard day,” can go a long  way.

Stop trying to control me.” Parenthood is an  ongoing lesson in learning to fearlessly let go of  trying to control  someone you would give your life to protect. Watching someone  you love make  choices you believe are wrong is one of the hardest things to go  through in  life. It can leave you feeling helpless and afraid. But in reality,  you don’t control your teen. In fact, you haven’t controlled your  child  from the moment he was born. (If you could, there would be no crying, no  waking  up in the middle of the night, and no tantrums in the middle of Target.)  You can comfort, soothe, encourage, give consequences, love,  support,  offer suggestions and guidance. But ultimately, your child will make  his own  choices. This is his show. The more he feels you are trying to be a  supporting cast member in his life, rather than his director, the more  likely he will be to  listen to your ideas and input.

Related: How to give “Fail Proof” consequences to  defiant kids.

Even though  we’ve worked with thousands of adolescents over the years, it’s  always  interesting to hear what teens would say if they could choose  just one thing that they wish adults  would truly listen to and understand.  You may decide, in a calm or quiet  moment, to ask your teen the same question.  If you do, be prepared for the  answer and try to truly listen and do your  best to understand their point of view –  it may surprise  you

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