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John Gingras, LPC
Your Teenager Wants You To Know This
Potomac Psychological Center, LLC

Your Teenager Wants You To Know This

I have had the opportunity and the privilege to work with hundreds of teenagers in over two decades in the field of mental health. I routinely ask in my confidential meetings, “If I had a chance to get just one message from you across to your parents, what would you want your parents to really know about you?” The vast majority of their answers can be summarized in this simple, but powerful statement, “I am not you and you are not me.”

If you need that message to be any clearer, teenagers explain to me that you were not born in the year they were born, you did not grow up in the same family they did, you did not go to the same school they did or you did not have the same teachers they do, or read the same textbooks do, you did not have the same friends they do.

What’s can you do about this? How can you get the message to them that you do understand and you are on their side? First, be willing to give up the shortcuts of communication like, “I understand” or “I went through the same thing when I was your age.”

Instead, ask them questions. Not the questions that put most teenagers on the defensive where they think you are looking for some evidence that they committed some crime. Ask questions as in, “What was that like for you?” or “How difficult was that for you?”

Second, try to stop focusing on the conflict your teenager is having with you and instead, focus on the possible conflict that is going on inside your teenager. In my experience, there is a very good chance that your teenager is struggling with some inner conflict, perhaps some conflict in loyalties, or conflict in values, or conflict in emotions.

If you highlight the conflict your teenager is having with themselves, you might send them the message that it is alright to have internal conflicts and it might also be okay to discuss those conflict with someone who loves them and cares about them. That is when real, thoughtful, and caring communication begins.

Oh, and one last thing. This is very difficult. If you are looking for help in developing these communication strategies, you can consult

with someone who you believe is a good role model. You can also consult with a licensed mental health professional.

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