Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart! You’ve invested so much time, love, and energy into your child that making it to the teenage years can feel both like an accomplishment, and like you’re entering the toughest phase of parenting yet. The pre-adolescent years may have felt like a brief respite from the storminess and intense needs of toddlers and young children, and all of the sudden you have a giant tantrum-throwing semi-adult in your house, wreaking havoc on the family’s peace and sanity.
Havoc is exactly what many teens are experiencing internally, and understanding their experience can help you build empathy and connection. With thoughtful parenting, and some varsity-level patience, you can build a positive relationship with your teen, even if it feels like they hate you now.
This article will review why it feels like your teenager hates you, and simple tips for how to get on solid ground. The most important piece is that you are not alone - the teen transition is tough on every family, and it can be the perfect time to connect to a mental health professional with expertise in adolescents.
“My son and I had such a special bond when he was little. Now he seems to hate me the most and prefers his dad. I don’t know how to get through to him!”
The teenage years are when a person transitions from being a child to an adult, which involves a tremendous amount of physical, emotional, and social transformation. Below we’ll review the basics, and give some examples of how these changes impact families so you can relate to common struggles parents face with teens.
It’s been a minute since high school health class for most parents, but thinking about puberty can still feel awkward, especially when it’s your child going through it! Teen bodies are going through rapid and energy-draining changes including height and weight growth spurts, new strengths and abilities, and sexual development. Familiarizing yourself with the health-related changes your teenager is experiencing can help you respond more thoughtfully, just like when they were babies.
The hormonal and neurological changes teens experience often result in intense emotional turbulence. It may feel like you have your familiar happy daughter in front of you one minute, and a cinematic supervillain facing you the next. What feel like small problems to you may result in tearful episodes or intense anger for your teen. At the same time, there can be days when it feels like “whatever” is the only word they know and they don’t care about anything at all! Teenagers are acclimating to a new emotional world and becoming familiar with navigating “grown up” feelings.
During childhood, you completely shaped your child’s social world. Somehow, in the space of a decade or less, your child transitions into a totally independent human with their own relationships. The adolescent years are when your child starts to learn how to relate to others independently from you, both platonically as well as potential romantic relationships. This requires them to develop a sense of personal identity. For teenagers, this often means trying LOTS of new things, for better or worse. Helping them understand their personal sense of safety can help put guardrails in place while still allowing them necessary freedom to explore.
“We feel like we’re living with a stranger! Our daughter wants nothing to do with us. Why is she pushing us away?”
There’s a reason why teens feeling rebellious and misunderstood is such a common theme across cultures and time - it’s universal. But there’s something about the word “hate” that brings up such strong feelings for parents. It can feel like your teenager’s reactions to you are suddenly both extreme and alienating, and this usually brings up a combination of fear, anger, and loss all at the same time. Let’s explore some common reasons why teens may feel they “hate” their parents:
“Hearing ‘I hate you’ from my kid is beyond awful. Especially when I’m working so hard to understand and help. How do I move forward from this?”
You’ve taken some time to learn about your teenager’s physical, emotional, and social development; you’ve considered their changing needs, and your own contributions to conflict; and you’ve come up with a plan to improve understanding between you. That’s great, but how on earth do you talk to this angry, emotional, unpredictable human you’re living with? And what if they don’t want anything to do with you at all?
If you’re trying to prepare for a conversation with your teen, you can borrow a communication skill from Dialectical Behavior Therapy that therapists at Joon teach for clients of all ages, using the acronym GIVE:
Research has shown us that parents spending quality time with their teen improves their teenager’s mood, motivation, and self-esteem, and makes it more likely their future relationships will be healthy. But it can be hard to spend positive time together for a variety of reasons.
You’re already in charge of much of the logistics of their world, and having to direct quality time, too, can feel challenging. It may be that you’ve had a lot of conflict recently. Or maybe your teen is fully immersed in their newly evolving social world and is uninterested in, or actively resistant to, spending time with you.
Beginning a new pattern of quality time may feel difficult or awkward in your family, but if you begin to make it a predictable part of their routine your emotional bond with your teenager will grow over time. Here are some quick do’s and don’ts for making the most of quality time with your teenager:
Being responsible for a scary teenager can be a harrowing experience! When our children are babies, we’re reminded frequently to “take care of ourselves” so that we can be more available for them long term. Parents of teens need these same reminders.
Much of what your teen needs to learn about identity, relationships, and emotional intelligence is gained through your own modeling. This means we have to ensure we’re showing (more than telling) how to care for ourselves emotionally, especially when going through transitions and challenges.
If the teen transition has led to increased conflict, isolation, or strong emotions for you as a parent, find ways to connect to positive support via family members, friends, rewarding hobbies, and mental health support. Remember, you are not alone in this experience and there are pathways back to connection and trust with your teenager.
“I didn’t realize I needed therapy until I heard myself telling my daughter she needed it. The truth was, we both did!”
Therapists at Joon are experts in teen mental health. If you believe your teen could benefit from personalized, evidence-based, engaging therapy, schedule a free consultation with a Joon care coordinator today.