teens these days

The Secret Wish of Every Teenager

Several months ago I was experiencing something I love about fall: high school football. There’s a lot of excitement under the Friday night lights; however, equally intriguing to me is observing teenage culture. After working with adolescents for fifteen years, I naturally become a social scientist when I am back in their environment. My eyes go back and forth from the game to the student section. I look at the way they are dressed, their facial expressions, and I even listen to their conversations as they congregate around me in the line at the snack bar.

Over the years I have literally spent thousands of hours talking to teens and stepping into their culture. They are loud, insecure, obnoxious, funny, most of the time vulgar, and desperate for one thing. There is a deep longing that teens these days communicate if you are observant. This is the secret wish of every teenager.

To Be Noticed

They are in competition with each other to get noticed. When you see teens in groups being loud it’s not that they are just being obnoxious. They are desperate for attention. [Tweet This] The more positive attention they receive the more it makes them feel valuable as a person. So they work hard at standing out. Every event, activity, or gathering is an opportunity to say something, wear something, or do something that attracts eyes and affirmation.

Bad Attention

Kids will go after any attention they can get. Their brains haven’t developed fully in the area that gives them the ability to weigh consequences so they act on their impulses without a filter. Their main impulse is to receive attention to prove their worth. When they can’t receive the good attention they try to get bad attention because there is only one thing worse than receiving bad attention.

No Attention

The only thing worse than bad attention is no attention. No attention means they are invisible and living in isolation. It means they have no value. A long time ago I was talking to a group of teenagers. In the middle of nowhere a freshman guy said something awkward that he thought would be interesting. No one said anything. I’ve often thought of the look of pain on his face and lamented the fact that I didn’t respond to what he said in some way.

Your Attention and Affirmation Is Taken For Granted But Is Essential

During the teenage years, kids tend to separate from their parents. A parent may feel like the attention they give teens is rebuffed because the attention they seek the most is from their peers. Attracting the attention of peers is their true litmus test for feeling significant while parental attention is a given. While your attention may be taken for granted it is a vital baseline. It gives them a sense of security. No matter how difficult or dismissive they become be sure they receive your attention and affirmation.

Sound Off

What do you think teens want most from their parents?

BJ Foster

BJ Foster is the Director of Content Creation for All Pro Dad and a married father of two.

  • Leif Olandese

    I remember feeling this way as a teen. I am blessed enough to have been adopted as a TIO (uncle) by my cousin’s kid –through marriage. Unlike my cousin, I was raised in a Latin family (Italian). This good kid needs so much from a parental figure. Does my de facto uncle status call me to action if the parents are not focused on him??

    • BJ_Foster

      If you see the need I would say go for it. Assuming you have the parents blessing.

  • Allan Folsom

    I have a 16 year old son who is in the stage of “pushing away.” He has two reaction sentences, “yes, and “no.” I have tried to reach out to him in numerous ways. Recently I asked if he wanted to go to dinner and a movie. He said “yes” and when i tried to get him to talk, he deferred, acting as if he would rather be elsewhere. The film, “American Assassin” was pretty good. I looked over at him during the film and he mostly just chewed on his nails the whole time. I asked him if he enjoyed it? “Yeah.” I must admit, I am frustrated. I know empirically what is going on, but it is frustrating sometimes. When it is close to bed time, often I will go into his room to tell him i love him and he rebuffs me. “Ok.” I understand that a great deal of this is natural and a part of the maturation process, but I do miss him. He is such a good boy.

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