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Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A.
Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A.

How to Deal with Your Moody Teenager

When they don't want your advice or solutions

To a moody teen who is immersed in fear and pain and is looking for compassion and comfort, advice and solutions feel like a lecture that they don't want and don't need until they find some relief for what hurts inside.

Before we proceed, check out the following video:

After you watch it and if you have a moody teenager who doesn't want your advice, show it to him or her and ask them if they can relate to it. If so, ask them to explain. If not, ask them to tell you what's true for them when you try to help them by giving them advice.

(BTW if you noticed the grammatical errors in the video and they bothered you significantly, the greater the likelihood from your teenager's POV that you focus more on what he or she is doing wrong or failing to do, instead of what they are doing right - which is no excuse for my making those grammatical errors)

And if by chance it is you, the moody teenager, that is seeing this before your parent(s) and you do relate to it, show it to you them and tell them this is what you've been trying to tell them about how and why their advice doesn't help and may even make you feel worse.

Very often a teenager's moodiness is tied to something in their world having changed and their continuing to use an approach that no longer works. (Teenage) insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.

Next and if your teenager agrees with the video but is in an even darker place, read this article: What Your Teenager Wants You to Know, But Won't Tell You (I'm warning you, that it's very dark) and then tell them you'd like to apologize to them (even if you have nothing that you've done wrong) following the five steps in: Why apologize when you're not sorry. Do this because most people are defenseless against a genuine apology and this may help your teenager to lower their guard and let you in.

If they agree to let you fix what you've been doing wrong, show them the "What Your Teenager Wants You to Know, But Won't Tell You" article and go over it line by line, watch the videos together and ask them what they read and see that they can relate to.

Then tell your teenager that you need their help going forward and ask them to tell you what you need to start doing and stop doing to help them feel less alone in the hellish place they have been in.

Finally ask them to please look you in the eye and then say to them: "I really am truly sorry that I never knew how bad it was for you and didn't want to know and how that left you alone in hell for long periods of time and with your permission and help, we and I are going to fix that."

BTW there is a possibility that the reason you haven't connected to your teenager in their pain is because no one ever did that for you and so you can't give what you didn't receive.

Furthermore if you're a high achiever and not very happy yourself, there's a good chance that achievement and accomplishment has never fully taken away the pain you felt at being alone during some of the darker periods of your life and that you may be suffering from the Syndrome of Disavowed Yearning.

If all of this fails...

With some moody teenagers there is sometimes no way for a parent to help them because in the teenager's mind is a magical belief that their parent is supposed to take all the hurt and pain away and anything less won't do. The reason that parents can't take it all away is because it is life calling out to that teenager to deal with it and parents cannot take that pain away. And bailing their teenager out is only forestalling something that he or she needs to learn to do for themselves.

This is often where supportive but "reality bearing" friends or siblings may be able to help, because the moody teenager often knows instinctively that they won't be able to manipulate or b.s. them the way they may be able to with a parent. And when they can manipulate a parent into bailing them out, that just makes it all the more difficult for that teenager to face and deal with reality.

In conclusion, when dealing with a moody teen, it's less important what you tell them than what you enable them to tell you that relieves and releases them from the hell they are living with inside themselves.

P.S. My team and I have started a campaign to "Heal the World, One Conversation at a Time" in which the above has been a single sample of doing that. If you'd like to support our efforts so that we can continue to create videos and content such as what you have just read and experienced, we hope you'll consider supporting us at: Heal the World, One Conversation at a Time where as little as $1/month can help us continue on our mission that if achieved could be the "rising tide that lifts all hopes." Regardless, take time from your busy lives to have healing conversations. You might just save a life.

About the Author
Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A.

Mark Goulston, M.D., the author of the book Just Listen, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute.

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