When parents just don't understand. Guest Blog by John Powell


I work in private practice, and about a third of my caseload is teenagers in high school. I've worked with a variety of students, from the valedictorian to incarcerated teens waiting for parole. I've worked with teens of the LGBTQ community, and hetero-normative teens. Most come with fascinating, unique stories, and many similar experiences. What tends to happen ubiquitously around age 14? 


“My parents don't understand me.”


It's funny; growing up, an anthem on the radio was “Parents Just Don't Understand” by Will Smith (at the time he was “The Fresh Prince”) and “You Gotta Fight For Your Right (To Party)” by the Beastie Boys. I would hear those songs and connect to the angst. But those songs are nothing new. Across time, stories and songs share the difficulty of being a teen. And it seems that throughout time, teens and parents don't understand one another.


But parents, despite having felt this themselves as teenagers, and despite pop radio letting them know, still want to understand their children. 


Have you as a parent heard yourself saying any of the following?


“I just want them to talk to me.” “I want to know what they're feeling.” “I want them to know I'm there for them.” “I want to know how to help them.”


You ask them, you try to support them, you give them options, and still they rebuke and rebuff.


If I'm working with parents of teens, they usually share some version of the above concerns. If I'm working with teens themselves, they usually offer that even when they're direct with their parents and tell them exactly what they need, their guardians still don't get it. 


Teens speak teen. Parents speak parent. The two languages do not translate well.


This transition is especially difficult for parents of teens just hitting puberty. They go from sweet, family-oriented kids who talk about everything, to withdrawn, grumpy arguers- almost overnight.


The good news is also the bad news: This is normal, it sucks for everyone involved, and it lasts a few years.


How is this good news?


You as a parent can cut yourself a break. Your teen is not suddenly broken, and they will likely not grow up into delinquent, mean, recluses. It means that if your kid was a brilliant middle schooler and has suddenly become a failing high schooler, then they're not suddenly idiots, but rather focusing on the struggle of adolescence more than school. 


Adolescence affects everyone, regardless of any gender, sex, learning ability, IQ, or any other factor. Hormones ignite brain chemistry, affecting everyone a little bit differently. The growth from child to adult is not a straight line. Some kids might act immature but have hulking adult bodies while others remain petite but can file their own taxes. 


Hormones have an end goal more than a step-by-step process.


It's also good news because it means that if your child begins to act differently, pursuing different habits and hobbies, then they're likely normal, even if they don't seem “normal.” 


What you can do is support your child. There is not rule book on how this goes; (remember, every child is different), but mostly you give your child a lot of space. A lot. Stay out of their room as much as possible. Even if it's gross. Get in only when it begins to smell. Also, you need to set parameters like curfews, conditions for parties, etc., but assume that at some point the rules will be broken. You don't need to punish your kid. You need to TEACH them a skill they're missing, like watching the time better, or asking a friend for a ride. Have them practice it so they follow the rules better.


You also need to know that your kids will at times hate your rules. That's also normal. Rules generally suck. It's okay if they're mad at you. I often work with parents to make sure their rules aren't too tight or too loose, but if your rules are a good fit for your teen, you can hold them and again, know that when your kid fails at meeting them, there's a skill to teach, not a punishment to dish out.


Finally, when your child hits adolescence, and you start to feel frustrated and sad, this is a sign that it's time for you to reconnect with yourself. Your relationship with your child is changing, and so you need to reconnect with what your life means outside of being a parent to a young one. Return to hobbies, reconnect with your partner, take a class... If you turn your attention onto your own growth, you will likely feel less stress about your teen.


John Powell LCMHC, NCC, Reiki Master
Mind*Body*Spirit LLC