What Teens Want More of From Their Parents


by Danelle Spence




It bears stating the obvious: kid’s relationships with their parents’ matter. It is the child/parent relationship where kids first learn emotional competency, healthy conflict, communication, core values, and beliefs. BUT, if a child is not feeling connected with their parent or feels their parents don’t  ‘get them’, they will seek this connection with peers, or other relationships (which may not be healthy).  We want parents to be the first person kids turn to when needed.    

I have given many presentations to parents, and every so often an adolescent is sitting in the audience. When I make the statement to parents: ‘Talk less, listen more’ ALL the adolescents in the audience nod frantically. Kids want you to listen to them, really listen. Having you be a calm, safe influence in their lives, where they feel safe to express their feelings and explore their inner worlds with, is one of the most essential things you can do with your child. Pause, be more curious, really try to understand their experience AND bite your tongue sometimes!

I’ve included the chart below to show what a few experts in the psychology field are recommending to parents. Show this to your child! I can almost guarantee, they will want you to stick to Steps 1-3 and not default to Step 5.

1) Attend to the Emotion “I see that something is up”  

“Hey, are you ok?”

2) Label & Express the Emotion “You look sad”

“You seem angry about something”

3) Validate the Emotion “I can understand why you might feel sad. It really hurts to be excluded, especially when all your friends are going”
4) Meet the Need Sadness – soothing, give a hug

Anger – help to set and defend boundaries

Fear – reassure, protect from danger

5) Problem Solve, Fix, Redirect “I will help you sort this out”

“Let’s figure this out together”

(www.emotionfocusedfamilytherapy.org – see this website for further explanations and examples)

Of course, go to Step 5 sometimes and offer advice, once you’ve emotionally attended and listened to them.  THEN  figure out what they may need. Do apply some of your adult wisdom at that point, but also try to have them come up with their own problem-solving. This grows their developing prefrontal cortex and encourages a sense of competency.

More often than not, kids just want to be heard and felt like they are understood. Especially teenagers! If we go right to problem- solving,  logic or reasoning,  we miss out on the true emotional connection with our kids or knowing authentically how they are doing or what they may be struggling with.  Most kids just need a place to vent, to share frustrations, hurts,  and fears with. More often than not, your child’s ‘problem’ doesn’t need “fixing” at all!  

You will be surprised at how this small shift creates a stronger, deeper, healthier relationship with your child and it encourages them to turn to you if they need in the future, rather than just their peers. How can you beat that? Connect first emotionally, THEN redirect. A phrase I always try to remember in all my sessions.


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About the Author

Danelle Spence

Danelle Spence is a Registered Psychologist with a passion for helping teens effectively manage emotional distress and helping their parents’ understand the complex and developing teenage brain.

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