5 Things You Can Do To Understand Your Teen Better

When was the last time you stayed up until 3 am to finish an assignment from the boss?  Or felt the pressure of a looming test for all the employees in your department? You really need to ace it if you want that promotion. And what about your co-worker and BFF. Have they gotten mad at you lately? You don’t know what you did, but they’re not talking to you, and you’ve had no one to gossip with in the break room. You’re sure everyone’s talking about you behind your back. You’re afraid to check your social media because there might be a nasty message waiting.

On top of that, your parents keep calling and nagging you about everything. And there’s a party this weekend you want to go to, but you don’t know if you’re cool enough. What if everyone laughs at you? One minute you’re up; the next, you’re down, everything annoys you, and you just feel so much pressure not to mess up. 

Okay, so maybe some parts of the above scenario do resonate. Regardless, it’s easy to discount the adolescent experience of our teens because we, as adults, live in the real world and face real pressure and real-life consequences for our decisions. It’s tempting to look at our teens and think, “Kid, you have no idea how good you have it!” Nonetheless, if you really want to understand your teen better, it’s important not to minimize or dismiss the reality of the teenage experience in today’s world. Want to connect with your teen? The teen therapy specialists at Simi Psychological Group are here to help. Our team of licensed therapists in Moorpark has compiled five things you can do to understand your teen.

  1. Practice compassion and demonstrate empathy.  Sure, your teen might have a pretty sweet life compared to what you might have gone through as a teen, but comparing your adolescence to theirs (out loud) only ticks them off and pushes them away. It’s dismissive and invalidates their experience. Instead, ask them more about how the world today impacts them. Talk to them about the pressures they feel. Invite conversation about how social media makes them feel. And when they do share with you, listen with compassion and empathy. The world they live in is actually much harder in so many ways than the world we grew up in.
  1. Understand the ways technology impacts our teens. Screen time is a given these days, and social media is a huge part of that. Love it or hate it, social media seems to be here to stay. But having access to it 24/7 is not good for anyone, especially our teens. Overexposure to social media can put your teen at risk for mental health issues, as well as make them more vulnerable to online bullying. They may fight you on it, but setting limits on your teen’s social media screen time is important. Implementing a “no phone” zone and making sure family meals are device free is a practical way to go about it. For younger teens, there are parental controls available to help protect your teen. Have conversations with your teen about the danger of social media, as well as the pressures they may feel related to social media. On the flip side, understand that social media is a huge way your teen stays connected to their peers, so be sensitive to this and work with your teen on finding a balance.
  1. Consider brain development.  A teenager’s brain is still “under construction,” so to speak. The prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain responsible for rational thought, decision-making, and judgment, is not fully formed until age 25. This helps explain why you find empty milk cartons in the fridge, why your teen can’t seem to remember what a towel rack is for, and why he felt it was a good idea to let his friend pull him on his skateboard behind the car. It also explains why teens don’t always make the best decisions regarding the peer pressure around drugs and alcohol. Remember that your teen is trying to figure things out. Practice the “pause”– before reacting to something kind of dumb your teen might have done, take a deep breath and pause before you respond. Get your own emotions under control so you can respond to your teen in a way that allows them to hear you (as opposed to shutting down and shutting you out).
  1. Don’t take it personally. This one is hard. It hurts when our teen pulls away from us, doesn’t communicate, or would rather hang out with friends than go bowling with the family. The eye rolls, the mood swings, the fact that nothing you do seems right in the eyes of your teen…that’s all par for the course! Where is the kid that used to snuggle and ask for good night cuddles? The good news is, they’re still in there, and they actually need you more than ever in many ways, just at a slight distance. Give your teen space but let them know you are there and available. Let them know they can always come to you and that you are an emotionally safe person for them. Listen without judgment and keep an open mind. Let them try on the various identities without negative comments. Is your teen suddenly vegan? Ok. Roll with it. Has she dyed her hair pink? Ok. It’ll be fine. Is he suddenly wearing stylish jeans and button-downs instead of his usual sweatpants? Don’t give him a hard time. Let them explore, don’t take it personally, and stay positive.
  1. Show up and stay present. Take an interest in the things your teen is interested in, even if those things aren’t your cup of tea. Let them talk about things with enthusiasm and stay present in the conversation. Put your phone away. Make eye contact. Ask questions. If you are in the middle of something that can’t wait, let them know you are super interested and ask them if you can find them when you’re done with your thing, whatever it is. And then make a point of following up. Showing up and staying present is also important because it allows us to notice when maybe their behaviors are more than typical teen angst. If your teen is showing signs of depression or anxiety, take it seriously and get them professional support.

There is an old saying to the effect that little kids are like dogs (affectionate, always wanting to be near us, trying to please us), and teens are like cats. They’re temperamental. They’ll show you affection one minute and turn around and bite you the next. They may give you the stink eye for no apparent reason. And they’re aloof. Raising teens is not for the faint of heart. But we love them, and we want to connect. Keep in mind your teen will pick their moments. The trick is to be available when they do!Simi Psychological Group is a team of Moorpark therapists specializing in a wide range of therapy services, including teen and child therapy. If you are looking for a team of professionals to help you and your teenager achieve their mental wellness goals, contact our team by calling (805) 842-1994.