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  • Writer's pictureAmelia Gillis, LMHC

Parents Just Don't Understand

You know parents are the same no matter time nor place

They don't understand that us kids are gonna make some mistakes

So to you other kids all across the land

There's no need to argue, parents just don't understand

- Will Smith song "Parents just don't Understand"


Have you ever felt as though you didn't understand your teenager? Were there moments where you were taken back to their response or reaction? Were there moments where you felt closer to your child in their earlier years than their teenage years?

This is often a concern that parents have. It was as though the connections were stronger during earlier years. Then as your child became older, disconnection begin to creep in, understanding shifted, relating became frustrating, communication becomes blurred and many other areas possibly start to shift.

Teenage Years

The teen years can yield some of the most difficult challenges for families. Many factors can equate for these challenges. Did you know that the most vulnerable years are during teenage years?

Your teenager may seem to want to defy your rules, push limitations, sleep a lot. This is because teenagers are in their most vulnerable years. Teenagers are more vulnerable to life stressors because you are still growing and haven’t been able to develop all coping methods

The teenage years is when the brain is still developing. Not to mention that teens already have other risk factors that make them more susceptible to risk factors. Teenagers, are dealing with hormone changes and an ever-complex world. They may feel that no one can understand their feelings, especially parents. As a result, the teen may feel angry, alone and confused while facing complicated issues about identity, peers, sexual behavior, drinking and drugs.

This may frustrate you and anger you that the teen seems to no longer respond to parental authority. Methods of discipline that worked well in earlier years may no longer have an effect. And, as a parent it may leave you feeling frightened and helpless about the choices their teen is making. As a result, the teen years are ripe for producing conflict in the family.

A few things you need to know about your teen.

It is important to note that the teenage years is when the brain is still developing. Yes, the brain reaches its biggest size in early adolescence. For girls, the brain reaches its biggest size around 11 years old. For boys, the brain reaches its biggest size around age 14. The brain continues to mature even after it is done growing. It does not finish developing and maturing until the mid- to late 20s. The front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last brain regions to mature. This area of the brain is responsible for skills like planning, prioritizing, and controlling impulses. Because these skills are still developing, teens are more likely to engage in risky behaviors without considering the potential results of their decisions.

Many mental disorders may begin to appear during teen years.

This is due to the ongoing changes in the brain, along with physical, emotional, and social changes, can make teens vulnerable to mental health problems. Not to mention that teens already have other risk factors that make them more susceptible to risk factors.

Risk Factors

Some of these factors include:

  • Experiencing the death of someone close to them

  • Having parents who separate or divorce

  • Having been severely bullied or physically or sexually abused

  • Experiencing discrimination, perhaps because of their race, sexuality or religion

  • Acting as a caregiver for a relative, taking on adult responsibilities

  • Having long-standing educational difficulties.

Teen brains may be more vulnerable to stress.

This is because the teen brain is still developing. You may notice your teen may respond to stress differently than you as an adult would. Yet, their responses could lead to stress-related mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Teens need more sleep than children and adults.

You may notice that your teen is sleeping a lot more. This is because the sleep hormones according to research shows that melatonin levels in the teen blood stream are naturally higher later at night and drop later in the morning in teens than in most other populations. This difference may explain why your teen may be prone to want to stay up late and fight with getting up. On the average, teenagers should sleep between 9 to 10 hours. With out proper sleep students may struggle in school with paying attention.It is important that they sleep to decrease anxiety, increase academic performance, and less risk of impulsive decisions.

What's Next?

Understanding the challenges that make teenagers vulnerable is important in how you connect and manage the teen years. During the teenage years, it is important that how parenting takes a shift. Shift how you manage your relationship. You may use to making all the decisions from what they wear, to what they eat. Remember how you felt when an adult wanted to have a lot of say in how dress in your teenage years. How did that make you feel? Consider this feeling for your teen. During these years, teenagers can benefit from your coaching than your decision making. That is not to say we become permissive, disengaged, or indulgent. It is to say the support shifts during teenage years.

Asking questions, seeking to gain understanding of their development, and providing emotional support is key.

They need support and guidance.

There will be hard conversations that you will have to have. Just keep in mind that those conversations need to presented respectfully. Think about how an adult addressed you when they were disturbed by your response, behavior, or words. Remember this when speaking with your teen. As parents, it is important to create a safe space with your teen to discuss the hard things. Allow them the opportunity to speak even if it makes you uncomfortable. Practice staying calm despite the discomfort. You approach is teaching them communication skills, self advocacy, conflict resolution skills and so much more.

With that being said, parenting is never easy. Teenager years are challenging. Yet, as a parent you have the ability to learn who your teen is developing into. You have the ability to set the dynamics of your relationship with your teen based upon how you manage the time, efforts, communication, and more. A lot of how you manage them will shape them.


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