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Teenagers. The word alone carries weight in our culture. Someone might say, “I have teenagers” and often the assumption is that the other person gets that your days are impacted by hormones and attitudes and opinions about everything. Teenagers. What comes to mind? Rebellious, talking back, sarcasm, driving, driving with friends, drunk driving, not driving, grades, college, college prep, extracurricular activities, drugs, sex, romantic partners, emotional, and more.

The shift from childhood to teenager can happen gradually. Usually, it’s most notable in terms of a desire for increased independence. Independence from parents and dependence on social relationships is a significant part of the shift and a very normal part of child development.

This push and pull of needing and allowing for independence can be challenging for parents and teens to navigate. It might not take much for there to be a breakdown in communication. Teen asks parent for something. Parent says no. Teen responds emotionally. Parent reacts to emotion. Teen shuts down. Parent is left to deal with emotions.

Both parents and teens want to be seen, to be heard, to feel cared about. Parents typically respond to what is happening in the moment and often are not thinking about how this is a part of development that a teen needs to go through. It can be hard as a parent to, in the moment think, “oh yes I remember when I was a teenager and behaved this way”. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. How can an adult be expected to remember the feeling of every twist and turn of their own teenage moods?

Therapy can be a space to identify dysfunctional communication patterns and interrupt them. Therapists can help teens and parents strengthen their communication by observing what that communication looks like in session. Therapists can interrupt, pause, and reflect back observations to create opportunities for increased understanding and dialogue. Therapists are there to help listen and remind us that this is a developmental stage and not a forever personality transformation. It can be so easy to forget.

Written by:

Lauren Pena MFT, ATR, LMFT # 130687

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