The Big Question Parents of Teens are Asking

Do I still matter?

Posted Dec 05, 2019

 Aisa Binhashim / Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Myths about teens leave many parents questioning their value.
Source: Aisa Binhashim / Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

As we watch our children journey towards adulthood we marvel at the miracle of growth. Sometimes we hold our breath when they skin their knees or grapple with big questions. Perhaps the largest question of adolescence is, “Who Am I?”  The information they collect as they strive to answer it creates the opportunity for profound growth. It also offers the possibility for self-doubt if they receive undermining messages about their capabilities or worth. They must launch into adulthood knowing they are good at their very core and are worthy of love – just as they are. 

Whether or not teens enter adulthood feeling secure is related to their parents’ ability to answer their own major developmental question: “Do I still matter?” Parents must resoundingly answer, “Yes! As much, maybe more than ever.”

Why Parents May Incorrectly Think They Don’t Matter 

Parents of infants, toddlers, and school-aged children don’t wonder whether they matter. They know they do! So, why during such a critical phase of development, do parents of teens question their worth? The answer is twofold. First, adolescents sometimes push parents away as they try to prove they can stand on their own. When they push away, it doesn’t always feel good. But it’s only temporary as they’re preparing to navigate the world, trying to convince themselves they don’t need us – even though they know they do. Second, our culture has created a set of myths around adolescence that marginalizes parents at a time when they are needed the most. Popular culture paints teens with a broad brush and a collective eye roll. Even books and blogs designed to support parents are often framed as “survival guides.” 

That fear-based approach may sell books and earn clicks. But it also poses the danger of undermining parent-teen relationships at a time when they are in need of strengthening. If adolescence is framed as a period to be survived, then closing your eyes and holding your breath becomes the fallback. If teenagers are depicted as risk-takers, then control becomes the solution over a balanced parenting style that offers both guidance and earned freedoms.   

Truth and Myths About Teens

We must change the undermining narrative about adolescence, and replace it with some truth-telling. Here’s the truth about adolescents (and the myths that need to be discarded).

  • Adolescents are super-learners. They seek thrilling experiences at the edge of existing knowledge. When adults create new opportunities while setting clear boundaries, young people will more likely stay within safe territories. This truth must replace the myth that adolescents are wired for risk.
  • Adolescents care deeply about their parents’ opinions and well-being. Although they may increasingly feel the need to fit in with peers, parents remain the most influential force in their lives. This truth must replace the myth that adolescents don’t care what parents think.
  • Adolescents have the ability to reason and think things through nearly at an adult level by the time they are in the mid-teen years. And, the emotional part of the brain is particularly well-developed. But when triggered through heated or condescending conversations, the emotional centers of the brain dominate, decreasing the ability to think rationally. So, how we talk to teens is critical to their ability to be thoughtful. This truth must replace the myth that adolescents can’t be reasoned with.
  • Adolescents are deeply idealistic and care about justice issues and thinking about a better future. Although it may be true that they also worry about how others view them, they remain driven by their compassion, empathy, and desire to make the world better. This truth must replace the myth that adolescents are self-centered.
  • Adolescents worry about their safety, and they want guidance from adults. They do not want to be controlled. They seek wisdom gained through life experience and rooted in caring about their well-being. This truth must replace the myth that adolescents believe they are invincible.

Celebrate Teen Growth 

Getting closer to your teens doesn’t mean hovering or helicoptering. It doesn’t involve getting in the way of their developing independence. It means celebrating growth and development while serving as a loving guide. It is our unwavering, reliable presence, and unconditional love that can help children embark on adulthood knowing they are worthy and loved just as they are. 

“Do I still matter?” is the developmental question of parents of adolescents. We must support each and every parent to answer, “Yes! And, I know what to do to guide my child to be their best self, good to their core, and committed to caring for and about others.”