As a therapist that has worked primarily with adolescents and their families, one of the things I hear the most from the adolescents I work with is, “my parents don’t understand me”. The first thing I usually ask is how often do you and your parent sit down and talk to each other? Usually, the answer is “hardly ever”, if not less. When I speak to the parents, I usually hear, “they’re always on their phone”, or “they go in their room, and I never see them again”.
Does this sound like your family system? You’re not alone! I literally hear this all the time! Adolescence tends to be a time when there are a lot of emotions, a lot of physiological changes, and fluctuating hormones. Not only does the adolescent feel out of control, but the parents don’t know how to help them. Parenting is hard. Being an adolescent is hard. Most parents find that it’s easier to provide negative feedback rather than positive feedback. The imbalance between emotional immaturity and reasoning can make your teen respond in extreme ways that leave you hurt and angry as a parent. They either become rebellious and rude or cold and withdrawn. Parents also need to adapt their communication to stay connected.
The important thing is to engage your adolescent. Don’t just walk away if they tell you to leave them alone. Most of the time, they really don’t want you to leave. But, they are not skilled at verbalizing their emotions, nor do they understand them. Usually small talk will lead to a more open conversation with your adolescent. Ask questions, but don’t interrogate. Don’t push them to talk, but instead, ask for clarification on things they’ve said, leading to a deeper conversation. And lastly, try not to tell them “you shouldn’t be upset about…” That tends to make them feel that the way they feel isn’t legitimate, or that they don’t have a right to feel that way. The best thing you can do is to say something to the effect of, “wow, I bet that was difficult, disappointing, confusing, scary, etc.” Those kinds of responses tend to validate their feelings and/or help them put an emotion/feeling word to what they feel inside.
I’ll leave you with a wonderful poem I absolutely love:
If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight. If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy. If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive. If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty. If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient. If a child lives with encouragement he learns to be confident. If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love. If a child lives with recognition, he learns it is good to have a goal. If a child lives with honesty he learns what truth is. If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice. If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and those about him. If a child lives with friendliness, he learns the world is a nice place in which to live to love and be loved.