Teenagers can be disrespectful to their parents. But it doesn’t always come from a personality defect or cruel intentions.
Just as your emotions and environment impact your behavior, the same goes for teens – especially emotionally tuned-in teens.
It doesn’t have to be your fault or theirs–sometimes our very real, human emotions simply escape the control of our better judgement. But there are ways to encourage a better relationship with your teenager, depending on what’s blocking good feelings between you two.
Below is a list of potential reasons why your teenager is so mean to you, and what you can do to get along better with your teen.
1. Your age gap gives you radically different perspectives.
Parents commit to their jobs for 18+ years with no breaks; of course a little youthful perspective is going to be lost over so much time without stepping back.
If you model an interest in your teen, they might model that same interest back to you — and that’s how quality friendships are born.
Sometimes, the loss of perspective over time can keep you from relating to your kid. Parents have a ton on their plates, often leaving little time to keep up with kids’ culture; and since the advent of the internet, cultural norms and trends shift more quickly than ever before.
One reason it can be hard for teens to relate to their parents, and vice versa, is that there isn’t a shared cultural perspective to bond over. But you can work to connect better.
To bridge this gap, try to learn about your teen’s culture — favorite music, popular websites, memes — just to learn more about her world and what makes her tick.
Reddit is a great place to start, where subreddits like r/teenagers openly encourage parents to involve themselves and ask questions in an open forum.
If you model an interest in your teen, they might model that same interest back to you–and that’s how quality friendships are born, anyway.
2. Your teenager may not feel ‘seen’ for who they are.
If you come from a place of ‘interacting with your teen,’ the exchange is going to be different than if you come at it as ‘interacting with Sarah, a teenager who’s into dancing and prides herself on her sense of humor — who also happens to be my daughter.’
You may not realize it, but you’re putting pressure on yourself, on your kid, and on the interaction between you, when you approach the situation with the goal of having an amazing parent-child relationship.
Just like you might feel uncomfortable bonding with a boss who just wants a happy work culture but doesn’t actually care about your conversations; your teenager might feel preyed upon by your interest in a relationship before understanding who they are.
Instead, see your teen first as a whole person, as a quasi-peer you want to know better; then, as your child and subordinate.
In summary, consider swapping the order of your priorities when socializing with your teen. Get to know them as a person first. It may help improve your teenager’s angry, mean, or disrespectful behavior toward you.
3. They’re experiencing the world differently than ever before.
We tend to forget, as adults, but the teenage years are filled with constant internal change, while still figuring out how to process external change.
Anger and bitterness almost always come from a place of fear and uncertainty.
All that change is confusing, if nothing else. When we’re confused and scared (even if it’s just internally) about a whole world unfolding in front of us, and all the new responsibilities that comes with, we may easily snap.
We may let our vulnerability out as anger–in our emotional brains, it feels safer that way, even if it’s not the most productive in the end. But it’s important to remember that anger and bitterness almost always come from a place of fear and uncertainty.
Feelings of Safety and The Emotional Brain
Both you and your teenager are human, but…animal and human emotions come from similar shared brain structures.
Think of how a frightened or overwhelmed dog or cat reacts to approach. Even before sniffing you out, they may growl, snarl, and feel generally threatened — they fear the risk of calmly assessing the situation, so they jump to defensive or even offensive behavior.
People operate in similar ways, but the cause and effect isn’t always as obvious.
Because our human brains are so complicated, “safety” isn’t always just on the surface. A person can be fed, housed, clothed, and still feel like they can’t completely relax.
We don’t always know what’s keeping us on edge; in fact, we usually don’t even realize that we’re on edge. Often, social factors keep us feeling closed off, self-conscious, or isolated. And when we feel socially “unsafe,” we react more upon instinct than reason.
So, think of how to make your kid feel deeply safe–both physically and emotionally–through all these changes. Show them (don’t just tell) that you are their safe home base.
Show them that you want to learn about them without judgement, that you love them unconditionally. And make clear that you’re there to help cushion the blows, while they learn “how to adult.”
While you’re their parent whom they love, you’re also an authority figure with the power to hurt or abandon them. So by helping your son or daughter feel emotionally safe in your relationship, you help your child not to snap immediately into defensive mode when approached by you.
Use Your Own Vulnerability
You can try to talk to them about her perspective on big changes they’re going through. But make sure to lead with how you felt during your teenage years. Not in a lecturing tone, but just in an attempt to level with your teen as a quasi-peer.
Let them know this is a conversation between two people who have experienced similar things at different times–not just a parent prying for information.
Peer Support: A Double Solution For Parents and Teens
Even if your teenager doesn’t feel comfortable opening up to you, encourage them to let out their most difficult emotions somewhere.
The simple act of getting heavy thoughts off their chest may help them relax and feel better about the world. And that can turn your interactions from mean to meaningful.
In the same vein, connecting with your peers may also help you gain insight into the relationship–or at least feel heard by someone other than your cranky teenager.
A lot of parents struggle to communicate with their teens, and it might feel good to share your story in a space where everyone understands the struggle.
Companies like Supportiv offer free peer support to teens, 24/7 (more info on that here). And for parents, it’s free for the first 24 hours.
After clicking ‘Chat Now,’ enter your thoughts, emotions, or what you and your daughter just fought about. You’ll be put into a live chat in under 2 minutes, and you’ll get to talk to people who get it, all anonymously.
We hope things improve soon, and we’ll be here 24/7 to talk it out on the bad days.