Few things fuel teen angst better than a parent who tries, and fails, to act like they get it. After all, everyone involved knows it’s mostly a charade: The teenage brain is such a strange and wild and constantly changing place that, much of the time, even teens don’t really understand whatever it is they’re going through. If a parent wants to play the relatable card, a better tactic might be: Yeah, I have no idea what’s going on with you, either. Sorry.
And as writer Juli Fraga recently explained for NPR, throwing your hands up and declaring defeat may, paradoxically, be the thing that gets a teenager to listen. “When adolescents are distressed, most parents are inclined to try to solve their problems,” she wrote, “but often what teens really need is help developing problem-solving skills of their own.”
And that can mean taking a different, less results-oriented approach when you try to relate, psychologist Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler told Fraga. Parents “may say things like, ‘When I was fourteen, I had a job, and I still did my homework and made time for my friends. I know that you can do this, too,’” she said. But “teenagers are looking for proof that their parents don’t understand them and bringing up these examples only confirms that you’re not on the same wavelength.”
More effective phrasing, she added, might be something like: “‘When I was your age, I had difficulty with my friends. I felt confused, and my heart was broken, too.’” Few kids appreciate a Try-Hard Cool Parent, but it’s soothing to know that adults are fallible, too — that they had their own stuff to figure out, and they did, and they came out okay on the other side.