What do teens want from their parents?
By: Charlotte Villemoes, LMFT
ACS On-Campus Counseling Site Director at Woodside High School
Before I make a call home to a parent, I always ask the teen I have been seeing if they have any messages for mom and dad that they would like me to deliver. They always do. Most of the time the message is all about what they don’t want their parents to do, like “tell my dad to stop bugging me about homework” or “can you pleeeeease tell my mom to stop criticizing my clothes” or, the somewhat vague but really common, “just tell them to stop nagging me all the time”. When I get these responses, I often challenge them by asking what they DO want, explaining that even parents like to be thrown a bone, and that they too like to feel they know what they are doing. After a pause and some discussion, a wish list typically starts to emerge, a list that over the years has grown to include some of the following wants and needs.
They want your love and approval. They might not show it but they really like surprise, out-of-the-blue compliments, just like they want you to praise them when they are happy about an accomplishment. Be genuine though, their BS radars are quite developed. Physical display of affection is often quite ok as long as you refrain from any kind of touch in public, especially in front of their friends. Ask for some ground rules.
They want some privacy. If they have their own room, please knock and wait for a reply before entering. Also respect that their friends mean the world to them. Research has shown that social rejection registers as bodily injury or pain in the brain so if a friend disapproves of them or they feel socially rejected, it can feel worse than a punch in the gut. Have patience with their obsession with friends, encourage them to find good ones, and help them balance social time with family time, work time, and alone time.
They want you to stand by them even when you think they might be wrong. Don’t side with the impossible-to-please physics teacher or the two-faced friend. Have their backs when no one else will. If this is too challenging for you to do, at least take the time to truly listen to their perspective. They want that.
They want to become more independent, so cross your fingers and allow them to manage their own homework, projects, and school requirements. Nagging them about it typically backfires, while encouragement and genuine interest fuels them. Let them make mistakes. They are trying to be the best people they can be, but they can only figure out what not to do after they have experienced the consequences. Let them draw their own conclusions and step in only when you foresee a disastrous or harmful consequence.
They want to feel they are able to contribute so give them responsibilities and assign them chores. Expect them to empty the dishwasher, wash their own clothes, and cook some meals. Teach them and remind them, and don’t give up on them even when they whine about it.
Most importantly, they want you to know that they love you. Behind the attitude and slammed doors, they care a lot about their family and they want their family to get along. Even when they pretend not to listen or care about what you think, they actually do, – especially when you keep it short. Don’t let the eye rolling and the sighing fool you; your love, your relationship, your opinions and values are truly important to them.