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Closing the Gap between Parents and Teens

Understand Decode and Communicate

© 2010 By Deborah Beasley, ACPI CCPF

Aaah! The unending friction between parents and their teens!  Scarcely have a parent or adolescent escaped what is often viewed as the unavoidable rite of passage into independence and adulthood. 

What if this relational ruckus between you and your teen could be quelled?  Is it possible?  Absolutely! Understand, decode and communicate to close the frictional divide between you and your teen.

 Understand the Stretch for Independence

You can expect to experience your child’s stretch for independence at two essential developmental stages.  Experts say the first comes around the age of two to three years old and surfaces again between the ages of 11 – 16 years.  Studies show a natural rise in parent/teen conflict during the onset of adolescence, reaching its height in mid-adolescence, and decreasing during late adolescence. (Lewis’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry a comprehensive textbook, Martin Lewis, et al)  

Conflicts may arise around the most mundane issues.  These may include:

  • Limits /rules
  • Social networking
  • Hair style/ care
  • Personal hygiene
  • Make up use
  • Choice of friends
  • Dating/ social life
  • School/homework
  • Chores/responsibility
  • Social media – music/movies
  • Curfews

Decoding Real Messages

It isn’t always easy to understand what may be going on with your teen.  Your formerly soft spoken and obedient teen may begin to appear more secretive or argumentative.  Influenced by physiologic changes and strong emotions they may express themselves in ways viewed by parents as disrespectful and inappropriate.   

You will need to make a choice; whether to become part of the argument, or, take a deep breath and try to understand the real meaning behind your teens angst .  What are they really trying to say?  Below are some examples.

When your teen says:                                                         

  1. 1.      “Don’t baby me!”                                                      

 What they really mean is:                                                                                      

          “I know I have to figure it out. Please trust me.  Allow me to make some decisions for myself.”                                               

  When your teen says:                                                                                                                                            

  1. 2.      “Why don’t you ever listen to me?”     

   What they really mean is:                                                                                        

           “I really need you to hear what I’m trying to say without judging me first.”       

   When your teen says:                                                                    

  1. 3.       “Stop telling me what to do!”                              

  What they really mean is:                                                                                        

           “I need space to grow into the person I will become.  Give me credit for how you raised me.”   

 When your teen says:                                                                          

  1. 4.      “Stay out of my room!”                                           \

What they really mean is:                                                                                        

          “I need you to respect my right to privacy unless I violate that right.   Treat me like you would another adult even though I’m not quite there yet.”

When your teen says:                                                                          

  1. 5.      “You don’t know what I’m going through!”      

What they really mean is:                                                                                        

        –    “Sometimes I just need your empathy and understanding.  I need your love  and support.”

It’s all about Good Communication

Good communication is much like baking a cake; if you don’t have the right ingredients; it’s likely to fall flat.  Parents lay the foundation of good communication and relationship with their child throughout the early years.  Now is the time to make that foundation work for you.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Teens value privacy.  Parents teach trust by being trustful.  Keeping the confidences your teen shares with you will keep them returning to those late night chats.
  • Teens often find it difficult to share intimate details of their lives with parents.  Parents facilitate conversation with teens by being available.  Make time to spend with your teen.  The more time spent together the more opportunity your teen has to share concerns.
  • Teens value and need unconditional commitment and support.  Parents enhance relationships with their teen by being genuine and authentic in their commitment.  Never underestimate the positive effects of unconditional love.  Your teen will know by your reactions how his communications will be received.
  • Teens value a parent’s honesty.  Parents create open communication when they listen with an impartial ear. Resist the urge to judge and lecture. Statistics show most teens value their parent’s advice, and it’s best to ask if this is what your teen needs from you.  


In 2007, MTV and the Associated Press conducted a poll of teens and young adult’s ages 13 – 24 years.  The results show teens overwhelmingly chose relationship with parents and family as the two things which bring them the most happiness. Your teens struggle for independence and autonomy is mirrored by your struggle for continuing influence and relationship with your child.  Mutual understanding, decoding, and skillful communication will help to close the gap between parents and teens.  When conflicts and challenges of growing up are met by sensitive and attuned parenting skills, the troubled teen years will give way to strong positive relationships between parents and young adult children.