Understanding Teenagers: Fake It Until You … Yeah, Don’t Kid Yourself

Understanding Teenagers.

Is that even a thing?  I’m pretty sure it’s not. And even though we remember being teens ourselves, there’s nothing we can take from that and apply now to unlock any mysteries. Come on, did you even understand what was going on when you were going through it?


So much is swirling around in a teen’s brain. Hormones, that mess with emotions, rational thinking, and confidence. Impulses, which run blindly. And the need to strive for independence at all costs. All of this, in one big pot, ready to bubble over. 


One day last week, as I sat at the kitchen counter, my 17-year-old came in. He opened the refrigerator and stood there.


“We have hummus,” I mentioned casually.


SLAM went the refrigerator door. He whipped around with a snarl and said, “That’s what I WAS going to eat, but I CAN’T now.” and stormed off.




I caught my son in a good mood a short while later and decided to figure out what that whole hummus fit was about. With eyes rolling, he said, “It’s like the random time that I wake up and decide to clean my room. Then I see you in the kitchen, and you nag me to go clean my room, which makes me just want to go upstairs, flip the mattress off my bed, flop down on the box spring and stay there all day.” And then he left.


a teenager sitting cross legged on her bed with her hood on, the strings pulled tight to close it as her mom tries to talk to her


Another mistake we parents make is thinking there’s a recognizable mood when our kids want to talk to us. That’s not to say they never want to talk, but when they do, it’s usually when we wander into the kitchen for a drink of water at 11 p.m. and our teens catch us in the dark and start talking … and talking. I had a night where we took it to the couch, and he didn’t stop talking until 4:30 a.m. But if I had been the one to attempt the conversation? It would never have started.


Teens want to decide for themselves. They want to share ideas without feedback. They aren’t looking for us to solve any problems. If we are lucky enough that our teens occasionally talk to us, we are to listen and affirm. When we don’t agree, sometimes we don’t SAY so. At least not out loud. We have to frame our responses as we silently note in our heads to circle back another time and share dissent in a way that doesn’t sound … dissent-y. Somehow we are tasked with guiding these children without letting them know we are at the helm. But no one tells us how to do that.


And it gets even more convoluted. Umpteen years ago, these babies were born, and our job was teaching, molding, and shaping them, making sure they learned how to navigate the big world. And we did. From their first words to their first steps, all the way through, we led the way. Now, however, they want to navigate on their own. But wait! Did we teach them everything that they need to know? Did we say it enough times? Did it sink in? 


As moms, the urge is strong to spend those last few years of high school cramming for college, or whatever comes next. Every waking second, we nag, impose, and implore, but they stopped listening. At least outwardly, which explains why you can ask for a load of laundry to be put away a dozen times and never see that wish come to fruition.

Is it hopeless?
Are they already gone?


No. They’re still here. They hear you even when they aren’t listening. You know that teen who just wants to be left alone, never wants to join you for dinner, doesn’t want to go for a walk with you, and wants next to nothing to do with the family as a whole?  Don’t always ask them to join. Sometimes, tell them they’re coming, and expect them to show up. Sure, they’ll mope their way through the first half of the meal or will walk a dozen steps ahead, at a pace that only their gazelle-like legs can keep, making sure you know they want to be done with family time as fast as possible. But sometimes, you actually catch up. Sometimes, you share a few thoughts. Sometimes, there’s bonding so finite; savor it.


So give them space as you give them attention. Listen way more than you talk. Don’t try to solve their problems; give them a place to unload them and encourage them to find their own solutions. Validate their opinions and quietly steer them when their opinion is faulty. Let them try. Let them fail. Don’t always pick them up when they fall. Sometimes, pretend you didn’t even see them stumble. And when they mess up in bigger ways, expect it, and help them learn from it. Help them put the pieces back together when they are too heavy for them to lift on their own.


When all else fails, love them. Quietly and out loud. Love who they are, don’t expect them to be who they aren’t. We all have big dreams for our kids from the moment we find out we are carrying them. But those are our dreams. It is not their job to fulfill them. Fuel them with the confidence to chase their own dreams. 


teenagers walking together on a college campus


And if one day, you’re in a situation where ANY of this seems relevant, run with it. Because tomorrow, this advice likely won’t apply. As parents, accepting that we will try and fail, over and over again, in the eyes of our teens is just fine. It’s the trying part that matters. 


Be there. But expect them to be there, too. And somehow, it will work. No one really knows how, but it will. They won’t be teens forever.