A friend of mine loved to play poker. I enjoy playing but always lose. My friend, on the other hand, used to read books and have consistent games with friends. Later, I learned that when he traveled to Vegas for business, he would go into some of the world’s best poker rooms and, more often than not, win. Sometimes he would even win big. Being a skilled poker player is about understanding the odds and reading people. The strong player will pick up on all of the subtle and unconscious gestures of their opponent to identify the cards they are holding. The very best are not only able to read people, but they are able to manage their own behavior in a way that maintains the mystery.
In life, teenagers can be difficult to read. Every day, they perform in a world of adult agendas and judgment. They work really hard at perfecting the outside so everything on the inside can stay hidden where it is safe. There are a precious few they can trust so they develop their poker face. Teenagers have a lot going on under the surface that they either haven’t identified, are afraid to say, or don’t know how to tell you. So it remains inside, alone and unattended. What if we did know? I think it might change the way we parent teens. Here are 5 things your teenagers secretly want you to know but won’t tell you.
1. They want you to say no.
Giving them clearly defined lines of what is appropriate and what is not creates security for kids.They need your boundaries, but more interestingly, they want them. Giving them clearly defined lines of what is appropriate and what is not creates security for kids. However, just because they want those boundaries doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to push against them and they will. That’s how they figure out if what you say is true and real. It’s your job to say no, stick to it, and explain to them why that boundary exists. Then you need to respond with consistency, nurturing, and compassion when they step out of bounds. That is also not to say that boundaries never change or widen, particularly as they mature.
2. They are desperate for your approval.
Unless they perceive you as untrustworthy, this is the reason they get so annoyed and roll their eyes at your correcting. For right or wrong, they are feeling your disapproval as a person. It’s a feeling of rejection. I’m not saying to not correct, but having an awareness of how they are receiving your feedback may change how you do it and how often.
3. They want your guidance rather than your expectations.
They want you to walk with them in their pain and discomfort. Teenagers have adults and peers giving them marks to hit all the time. They don’t need you to set a level for them to live up to but rather coach them. It’s the difference of how a football coach responds to a wide receiver who drops an easy pass. He can say, “I expect you to make that catch,” which puts pressure on the wide receiver to perform. In coaching the wide receiver, he might say, “What do think happened on that last play? I think you may have taken your eyes off of the ball. Remember to lock the ball in. I know you can do it.” The first is like a parent who says, “I expect you to get good grades, make wise decisions, and do what I say.” It doesn’t give room for failure. A dad who gives guidance will look deeper at his daughter caught drinking and say, “What happened tonight? It seems like you’re lonely and trying anything to fit in.”
Their core self has not developed. They really are several different people. The person they are when they’re with their friends on a Friday night is way different than the person they are at home or in the classroom. That doesn’t mean they are fake, it’s just a person whose different selves haven’t merged into a solid identity yet. The tension they live with is trying to be both a part of themselves (which they don’t know what that is) and what the other person thinks they should be. It’s a confusing and lonely place. They live in fear of disappointing people, namely, you, mom, teachers, coaches, and friends. They’re afraid of spending the rest of their life feeling as alone and misunderstood as they do right now. Be a safe and encouraging place.
5. They are consistently treated with contempt.
If they come across as moody or oversensitive, it is more than just hormonal or a bad attitude. If I made the statement, “There was a group of teenagers at the mall…,” you would expect the rest of that story to be negative. Teens are blamed, belittled, marginalized, and treated with contempt. I’ve seen it personally. They need to be shown respect and compassion. Don’t just react (easily said I know and I am the worst offender), but study what is driving the attitude.
Sound off: What do you think are some other things teenagers would like their parents to know?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Is there anything you wish I knew about you that you think I don’t understand?”