What Your Teen Wishes You Understood

By Sarah Saffold, MSW, LCSW

As a therapist, I see many teens on my caseload, and I have two teenagers in my home; they baffle me, they astound me, they impress me, and I am in awe of them! With all of my experience with teenagers, I’d like to provide a reflection from their eyes, their stage of development, and their view. After all, they are the experts on themselves, even though we often think we are the experts on them!

As adults, we know and accept that in order for a baby to walk, they first must stumble, fall, go back to crawling over and over again. However, when our teens are learning to become adults, we seem to forget that very basic stage of development. They too must stumble, make mistakes, bad decisions, stumble, and fall over and over again. How else could they learn and restructure their brain to make the rite of passage into adulthood?

Sure, this is much harder to watch than watching a baby stumble. When they were little, they followed us everywhere, longed to be held and to be around us. Now, they push us away most days and do not follow the guidance we so lovingly give them. Just as they are seeking independence in a developmentally appropriate way, we try to hold onto any last fiber of dependence from the early years! It’s all a fallacy of control though if we really think about it. Teens will find a way to do what they’re going to do no matter how much control we enforce. We ask them to do several things that encourage independence, strength, resilience and drive. Those same qualities are needed to learn, grow and make choices that we may not be happy with. We can’t pick and choose when we want them to turn those independent skills on and off. They are essential to adulthood development.

What is of utmost importance through it all is to never sever that connection you have with your teen. That connection, even when being pushed away, will be their guiding light and what keeps the relationship strong even when tested. It will also be what helps them make that passage into adulthood.

I have asked several teens, some on my caseload, some teens in my personal life and even one of my daughters to answer the following question to help us learn, from their perspective, what they need and how to maintain that connection. Here is how they responded:

“What do you wish your parents understood about what you go through as a teenager, what you wished they did differently or how they could support you better?”

I wish my parents would listen to my side more. They rarely have empathy for my side and never listen to my opinions without interrupting or saying something. I wish they would ask more about how I’m doing or what’s new in my life.

I wish that my parents wouldn’t be so quick to judge and critique me; it would help if they were more open minded and patient.

I wish my parents could be more sensitive and understanding whenever I’m upset or mad about something because they sometimes assume that I’m just being picky and a brat but it would be a lot more helpful if they could instead try to understand why I’m upset.

Sometimes I wish that my parents would just come from an understanding point of view and see where I’m coming from before being so quick to yell or disregard my feelings. It would be helpful if they tried hearing me out and allowing me to make mistakes as a teenager

Sometimes I wish my parents would take the time to understand where I’m coming from when something upsetting happens instead of yelling at me and telling me that I need to do better. I’m only a teenager and don’t quite understand everything yet and they need to acknowledge that. I also think that instead of making me tell them what happened right away they let me have space, that also goes with taking my phone, sometimes people just need to be alone and if looking at their phones helps them, then so be it. It would be helpful if they backed down from certain stuff and allowed me to try and make the right decision.

I argue with my mom a lot and I think the number one reason is that she became a mom at such a young age she never really got to be a young adult and live her life. A lot of the time we fight I understand her side because we’re so close in age so we bicker a lot. I think one thing that she could do differently is understand that it is also my first time living, and I don’t figure things out right away, the same as her. But I try my best and sometimes I feel like she doesn’t recognize that we all make mistakes.

One thing that I wish my parents could understand is that life is hard, I mean they’ve gone through it but everything changes every few years and it’s hard for my generation. I just wish my parents could understand that I make mistakes, I’m not perfect, and I’m trying my best. They seem to think that they know the “correct” way to parent but I don’t think any parents really have it down at all. One thing I believe my parents can do to better support me as a person is give me time to figure something out, not giving me entire freedom I know that, but giving me moving room. I feel like I really need to figure out some things on my own and that they don’t give me the time or space to do that.

I think that I have a lot of pressure from friends to be like them.

May we all take some time to really ponder these words and not dismiss them. Our teens are quite insightful! What did you take from their words? How could you use this wisdom to shift the relationship you have with a teenager in your life?

Sarah is leading an 8-week, virtual mindfulness course for parents & daughters called Cultivate a Mindful Life with Your Daughter. To learn more, click here.

Sarah is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She works with adults and older teens struggling with depression, anxiety-related disorders, PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, grief, stress, adjustment issues, women’s issues, and relationship issues. She believes in coming alongside a client to help reveal an already existing capacity for personal healing & growth as clients identify what goals & visions they have for their life. To learn more about Sarah or to inquire about working with her, click here.