5 Things Your Teen Needs You to Know

My teen was anxiously awaiting a text from her friend about their plans for the evening. They had agreed to meet at 6 p.m. but hadn’t landed on a restaurant. It was almost time for her to leave, and her friend wasn’t responding to her texts. “Just call her,” I said matter-of-factly. “No way, Dad! That would be weird.” It turns out teens just don’t call each other anymore. Who knew?

To be honest, there are a lot of things that are true for teens today that don’t make sense to us. Some of them are more interesting than important. However, what your teens need you to know is that some of these differences are a really big deal. In fact, understanding them is critical to understanding our teens. Here are 5 things your teen needs you to know.

1. You don’t know what it’s like to be a teen.

I’m not necessarily saying that being a teen today is harder than it was for you and me. However, I am saying it’s incredibly different. You know what it’s like to go through puberty and junior high and all of that nonsense. But you didn’t have to deal with the existential dread of climate change, school shootings, social media and constant change at every turn. What teens need you to know is that you don’t understand. So show some humility.

2. Even if you’re close, she won’t tell you some things.

I was recently reading an article about teenage depression. One of the girls who was interviewed talked about how much she was struggling and how even though her mom was her best friend, she didn’t want to share everything with her. It was sobering to think about, but our ability to be close to our teens doesn’t guarantee they’ll tell us everything. What your teens need you to know is that even if you’re close, they won’t tell you some things. So don’t assume everything is OK just because they aren’t sharing their troubles.

3. Unlimited choices create anxiety.

Increasingly, we are finding that more choices do not lead to more happiness. In fact, the opposite is true. As we have more options and greater freedom to choose, we actually become more anxious and fearful of making the wrong choice. (For a popular and accessible example of the research, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s TED talk “Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce.”) Sure, having some options is important. But unlimited options can be paralyzing. What your teens need you to know is that they don’t need access to everything. So don’t be afraid to set limits.

Teens need to know you see who they are and not only love them but also like them.

4. She feels judged by everyone.

Most of us struggle with some level of insecurity around what others think about us. But it’s a mistake to think we know what it’s like for our teens. Social media has created a world, both real and imagined, in which they feel they are constantly being viewed by friends and the world at large. There’s already a natural narcissism in young people, but social media feeds that like a drug. But it doesn’t result in inflated egos—it results in ravaged ones. What your teens need you to know is that it feels like everyone is judging them at all times. So don’t dismiss your teen’s insecurities. Instead, work hard to build her up and limit social media use.

5. He needs to hear you say you’re proud.

If you’ve ever tried to affirm your teen, you know the immediate response is some physical manifestation of disgust. This is, of course, annoying for parents and not particularly motivating to keep at it. But what your teens need you to know is that they need to hear you say you’re proud. Teens need to know you see who they are and not only love them but also like them. So don’t wait until your teens ask for it. Choose to tell them how proud you are.

Sound off: What other things does your teen need you to know?

Huddle up with your teens and ask, “What do you wish I knew about being a teen?”