Teens are notorious for thinking that they know everything. And they'll tell you how little you know – communicated through a complex pattern of eye rolls, bad attitude, and sometimes even the profound words, “OMG you are so...” (Fill in the blank here with your teenager's favorite words.)
As much as you thought your teen would never be one of “those” teens, they are. And that’s perfectly normal. Developmentally they are going through amazing physical and emotional changes. Based on brain size alone, they are technically smarter than us. Their brain is at its biggest and highest capacity right now. So they reach this level of knowing it all pretty naturally.
Sadly, what they don’t know, and few of us can articulate at just the right moment, is that their brain is big but not completely developed. They feel passionately about all kinds of things and their sense of justice and what needs to happen at home and school and the world is often turned on full blast. But the fine tuning of emotions that needs to happen is still a work in progress. It’s like they have a gas pedal but no breaks.
Teens need to learn how to tap the brakes on their emotions and learn to regulate themselves. They need to practice using their emotions at the right time, at the right speed, and in the right situations. Here are six things you can say to help.
Find a way to say this as often as possible. Be proud of their knowledge and be proud of things they do or try. Go to games, go to competitions. Go to their plays and shows and concerts. And when you're done, even though they're walking four feet in front of you and acting as though you may possibly be the most embarrassing person on the planet, tell them you are proud of them. Maybe wait until you're in the car, but tell them!
This one hurts, but it’s the very foundation you need to build an adult relationship with your child. They act like you're a moron and don’t know a thing, but the truth is their whole lives they've been watching you and counting on you to be their guide.
This is a time when teens start to figure out that you are not, in fact, the world’s greatest lasagna maker, or that their friend’s parents do things really differently. At one time you were their entire world and now they're exposed to everything and anything and they need to see you in a different light.
That starts with an “I don’t know,” or “I was wrong.” This shows them that you're fallible and doing the best you can, too. And isn’t that a great message to send to a teen who's doing the best they can but still struggling every once in a while?
Telling your teen that they're wrong or could do better is a critical message to send to your developing teenager. They are not always right. But it’s not about proving wrong or needing them to have a better attitude about being wrong. It’s about having conversations that are honest. Include lots and lots of #1 – I'm proud of you – but also be honest.
There is no point in sending your soon-to-be-adult into the world believing she or he can literally do anything. Can they achieve their goals? Yes of course! But can they be a pop singer and make millions, not if they can’t sing to save their life! They probably aren’t going to find happiness as an accountant if they really hate math and love being around people all day. Praise them and steer them. Praise what is good (not everything) and steer them somewhere that fits for them (not where you want them to go). They need guidance. Give it.
Teens range between talking nonstop and not talking at all. There's rarely a middle ground – the whole gas pedal but no brakes concept. All or nothing. So when you do get a rare moment of non-stop talking, put down your phone, turn off your computer, hang up, stop whatever you're doing and listen.
Wait… let me clarify. Whatever you do, don’t act like you are intensely listening. Keep stirring something or doodle on paper, or drive around the block a few more times. The trick to keep them talking is to act like you are only halfway listening. But don’t really be halfway listening or you'll offend them. They need to know that when they do have a question or thought or idea, you are there and excited to hear what they have to say.
This is your responsibility. This is something you can handle. You got this! Don’t do for your teens. Just like they need to master freshman English speech class and Drivers Ed and ACT/SAT, they need to master life skills and emotional skills. Let them do the life skills; laundry, menu planning, shopping, cleaning, etc. Those are good skills to have.
But what’s so important and seems to have so much less focus than all the other things we just mentioned, is emotional skills. They need to handle drama with friends. They need to follow-up with a teacher or neighbor who's disappointed in them. They need to call grandma and apologize for forgetting to drop that thing off. They need to cry when something is scary or sad. They need to laugh when something is funny. They need to feel guilt and shame and sorrow and any other tough stuff life throws at them. And it’s really hard as a parent to sit by and watch without fixing. Let them know you are there, and will always be there, but they can handle it.
Every day in the world of a teenager is full of emotion and change. They are pedal to the medal all day long. Teens are in constant contact with their world through social media and literally have the world at their fingertips. It's more important than ever for your teens to know that you are there, are proud of them and growing right along with them, are excited for your next steps in the relationship. And that can all be communicated with the words, “I love you.” So even if they roll their eyes, or pretend they don’t hear you speaking, or respond with a grunt, say it anyway!
Raising teenagers is not an easy job, but you’ve got this and I am proud of you!