What Teens Wish Their Parents Understood — From a Therapist Who Hears All About It

As a therapist, I hear the most common complaints that teens have about their parents. I have to say, they have some really good points. Take some time to reflect on your own parenting style and think about how you might respond to some of these most common critiques from teens.

You Don’t Get It.

Let’s be honest: you really don’t. You are from a different generation. You may have grown up in a different geographical region. You certainly didn’t grow up with the pace of today’s technology. Even still, you can relate to the teen experience if you pay close enough attention. Think back to your own teen years and recall moments when decisions were out of your control, you had to follow seemingly arbitrary rules, or were just left out of the conversation. How did that feel? Teens often feel a sense of powerlessness and frustration when their parents just cannot relate.

Remedy this by listening to your teen, really listening. Active listening means listening to what your teen has to say without formulating a response right away. First, listen, and repeat back what you heard your teen say to make sure that they know you are listening. “So, you felt really frustrated when your teacher gave you extra homework right before vacation. Is that right?” It can help to highlight the underlying feeling that your teen is trying to communicate. Ask for clarification to make sure you really did get it right. Listening, really listening, to your teen, can open up pathways of communication for them to tell you what things are really like for them. Pausing before jumping into problem-solving mode will help build trust and understanding.

We May Look Like We Were Born Yesterday, But We’re Actually Pretty Smart.

Yes, your teen will always be your baby. You may always feel that urge to protect them from the challenges of life. And yet, your teen’s job is to practice becoming more and more independent. Teens are actually a lot smarter than a lot of adults give them credit for.

Don’t try to hide major life events, such as illness, job loss, or other major stresses from your teen because eventually they will figure it out. Teens can suffer a break in trust if they find out that their parents are hiding important information from them and may wonder what else you are hiding. Instead, it can be helpful to bring teens into family conversations about major stresses and transitions, while paying attention to their developmental needs. They may not need to know every little detail of adult conversations, but they can handle a lot more than you think.

Respect is a Two-Way Street.

Because I said so…” or “When I was a kid…” just doesn’t cut it when it comes to engaging your teen. This may be your house and your rules, but a gentle tone of voice and a sincere look of compassion can actually go a long way. Some parents fear that they will lose respect from their children if they are too easy on them. “Give them an inch and they take a mile” as the old saying goes, right?

Setting healthy boundaries and clear limits is great, but it can help if you do so in a way that shows respect for your teen. Take the time to explain why certain rules are in place, exactly what you expect from your teen, and how you will also contribute to upholding the same values and principles. It will be much easier for your teen to respect rules and boundaries if they feel respected in the process.

Be Open to Compromise.

Remember that teens are practicing how to become adults. They are learning how to make their own decisions, how to be safe, and how to develop relationships. If your teen can make a good argument for participating in a new activity, stretching the rules of the house for a valid reason, or just asking for a little flexibility on the little things — listen to them. Understanding your teen’s viewpoint and being open to compromise shows support for your teen’s burgeoning independence. Reinforce small signs of increasing responsibility, maturity, and sound judgment with an increasing willingness to compromise on parenting decisions that will make your teen happier.

Focus on the Positive.

Teens tend to feel hopeless when their parents only focus on the negative. Of course, parents often focus on the negative because they are trying to keep their kids out of trouble so that they can be safe. It is as if parents can imagine how all the little things can snowball and turn into big problems if they don’t address it right away. This is when teens start to complain about nagging and disapproval from parents — as if they just can’t do anything right. Teens have a point here. Constant nagging and criticism can quickly add up to low self-esteem.

Instead, try defining your goals with your teen and start reinforcing any positive attempts toward that goal. Remember that feedback in relationships is best delivered when one negative critique is balanced out by five or more positive comments. This will keep your teen motivated, engaged, and open to hearing your feedback. Just think about how motivated you feel when someone focuses on your best efforts as opposed to your greatest weaknesses. Encourage your teen’s success by focusing on their best qualities and go from there.

If you think others could benefit from reading this, then please leave a little clap to give them access to it.


Anna Lindberg Cedar, MPA, LCSW is a Bay Area psychotherapist who specializes in helping individuals create lasting and rewarding relationships. She offers counseling to adults, couples, and teens and their parents. Find out more: annacedar.com . Sign up for A Self-Care Moment newsletter and never miss an update.