What is Going on in my Teen’s Mind?

By Sarah Saffold, MSW, LMSW

Don’t you wish you could get inside the mind of your pre-teen or teenager to try to grasp what it is they’re thinking and feeling? 

Most of the time it’s as simple as taking the time to truly connect with them, with your undivided attention, positive and open body language, direct eye-contact, and a willingness to listen.

I asked a handful of St. Louis pre-teen and teenagers the following question to find out:

“What do you wish your parents understood about what it’s like to be a pre-teen/teenager that they just don’t understand?”

Here are their answers:

“Taking the phone away is not actually a punishment.”

“Social media is not actually terrible because it teaches you social development and life lessons.”

“Sometimes we want things and adults don’t understand why, and neither do we because it’s a part of trends and just growing up.”

“The work that the teachers give us with a short time to do, it is like we have nothing else and it is just work all the time.”

“School is hard, it’s not easy to get good grades and parents just don’t get that school is harder than it was in the olden days.”

“Parents don’t understand that we need our friends around more.” 

“We don’t want to talk about things with our parents all the time.”

“The importance of privacy!”


“8th grade is frickin hard.”

“Listen to what we have to say more.”

“There’s lots of drama and it’s hard to be the bigger person like you tell us to be.”

“Parents don’t understand us, friends do. You just think we have the best life. Hard to explain.”

Some other common responses nationwide include not making everything a lecture or a lesson. Sometimes teenagers just want to vent or to be heard. One easy way to find out what they’re looking for is to communicate directly and ask them “Is this a time you want my opinion/advice or would you rather me just listen?” 

Our teens experience some of the same emotions that we do. They often feel stressed, anxious, emotional, or tired and want to be alone in their rooms just like we do! That is normal and okay.

Remember that teenage brains are still forming, even long after adolescence. They are still figuring out who they are. After they’ve tried something for a while, let them decide if they like it. Don’t force them to continue because it’s the dream you had for them or the dream you didn’t fulfill yourself. Be aware of your own motives behind decisions they don’t agree with.

While it may be tempting to label a child “rebellious,” sometimes it’s just curiosity about who they want to be and are becoming. They are testing the waters and are just as scared as you are for them. It can feel like a personal attack, but deep down inside those teens love you back just as much as you love them, they just don’t show it.

So the next time you are baffled by what your pre-teen or teenager’s behavior might mean or what they could possibly be thinking, just sit them down with authenticity and ask away! They are happy to share and want to feel heard when given the chance.

If you have a daughter between the ages of 9 and 15 and would like to better understand her while improving your relationship with her, I will be teaching a course for girls to take with one parent to learn how to identify and express emotions in a healthy way. The next section of Cultivating A Mindful Life With Your Daughter begins this coming Monday, January 10th from 6-7 pm and runs for eight weeks.

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