What to do when it feels like your teenager "hates" you.

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. 

Changes parents can expect during teenage years

“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.

Physical changes

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. 

  • Family impact: You notice that your 13 year old son is suddenly fighting getting up for school every morning, and he’ll sleep until 1pm on Saturday if you let him. He used to wake up at 6am and run circles around you! Mornings feel like torture, what can you do? 
  • Context: You realize your son is experiencing a massive growth spurt and the start of puberty. It’s very normal for teens to need more sleep, and to compensate for waking up early for school by sleeping in very late on the weekends. It might be wise to adjust family expectations and routines for a few weeks to allow for more sleep.

Emotional changes

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. 

  • Family impact: Your 15 year old daughter seems to be in tears every other day. If she’s not mad at you for setting a limit, she’s mad at a friend for some indecipherable conflict. No matter what, it seems like she’s mad! It’s creating chaos.
  • Context: Your daughter is probably experiencing the same bewildering whiplash you are - these feelings are just as intense for her, and she didn’t invite them in. What’s more, for her they’re totally new. Try to remember you’ve had many more years of experience learning how to recognize, regulate, and cope with your adult-level emotions. A good first step can be to model for her how to calm yourself in the middle of a storm. Try to be patient as she learns how to do this for herself.

Social changes

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. 

  • Family impact: Your 17 year old used to have a really predictable schedule and group of nice friends through soccer, but suddenly all they want to do and talk about is skating. It seems like they might have a new love interest who skates, and now you’re worried they’re dumping their old friends and interests for this new hobby and crew that feels at best, fake, and at worst, kind of dangerous! 
  • Context: It’s normal for teenagers to change social groups as they get older, and even to gravitate to hobbies that are foreign to, or even forbidden by, the family. Think about what values are most important to anchor to, and how your teen can be given more freedom (not less) by being practical about safety. You don’t need to approve of, or even like, their friends. But you do need to help them keep themselves safe.

Why it can feel like your teen hates you

“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:

  1. They’re trying to figure out who they are.
    There can be periods of time when the only way a teenager feels like they can define themselves separately from their parents (a healthy and necessary task of development) is by rejecting their parents - either by having conflict with them, or simply trying to be different through hobbies, interests, or friends.
  1. They want to be taken seriously.
    Your teen’s outbursts, new habits, and suddenly strong opinions may feel ridiculous to you, or even anger you. But a teen can feel deeply invested in being taken seriously for whatever is important to them in that moment.
  1. They’re also freaked out!
    All of the intensity that you’re experiencing from them is actually happening to them. They’re new to this, too!
  1. They can’t explain themselves yet.
    I’m sure it’s maddening when something feels intense and important to you, but you can’t find the words for your needs. This is especially potent when an experience is new. For your teenager, they may not have the words necessary to explain all of their experiences, and it may feel easier to simply avoid you rather than trying to “figure it all out.”
  1. Your expectations are unrealistic or unfair.
    It’s a good idea to occasionally evaluate whether your expectations for your child have evolved to suit a teen. A good gut check is to ask yourself whether you would have the same expectations for a fellow adult. Do those expectations suddenly seem outlandish and controlling? Likely the right path is somewhere in between. 
  1. They need more space.
    Sometimes we want to help so much that we end up overcontrolling. Teenagers need opportunities to learn and discover, and this must evolve as they grow, just like their needs evolved between infancy and toddlerhood.
  1. They need more attention.
    Wait, didn’t we just say they need more space?! Sometimes we go too far in the other direction, especially when you’re eager to avoid conflict, too. Your teen is still your child, and they need to be reminded of your consistent care, even in the midst of conflict.
  1. Trust.
    Ultimately, feeling like your teen hates you is probably due to a disruption of trust in your relationship. Take some time to consider your role in both damaging, and building back to, trust. Outlining how this is possible (sometimes over and over again) is a crucial task in building a healthy relationship with your teenager.

Tips for parents of teens:

“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? 

Communication style

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:

  • G = Gentle. Don’t attack or threaten, moderate your tone, and avoid judgment.
  • I = Interested. Be deeply interested in understanding your teen’s perspective (even if you disagree or it’s upsetting). Don’t interrupt, and be patient.
  • V = Validate. Your teenager (and any human) will only compromise if they feel accurately understood first. Validation doesn’t mean approval. You can disagree with your teen and still demonstrate that their feelings and experiences are valid and worthy of attention.
  • E = Easy manner. Smile, use humor, try for a casual tone. You are trying to help your teen recognize you want to connect with them in a low pressure way, even if the topic is challenging. An easy manner prevents defensiveness.

Ways to bond with your teen

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:

  1. DO choose an activity where you can interact: such as cooking, playing non-competitive sports or games, taking walks, or getting ice cream
  2. DO let your teenager take the lead: make some suggestions and let them choose the activity. Let them steer conversation and make choices during your activity. Demonstrate you’re interested and trust their judgment
  3. DO give your teen your undivided attention. Even if they check their phone, you are not. Work and other family members can’t interrupt. Show them you are there to listen.
  4. DO genuinely praise your teen. Notice what you’re learning about them. Tell them what you enjoy about spending time together, and what you like about them.
  5. DON’T give up if your teen rejects your invitations. Keep making time for them until they’re used to quality time being part of the routine.
  6. DON’T teach or correct during your activity. No tough conversations, no competition or achievement.
  7. DON’T investigate. Try not to let your activity devolve into you “sleuthing” into your teen’s life. If you’re there consistently, you will be invited in.

Taking care of your own mental health 

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.

Schedule a free consultation. Speak with one of our care coordinators and learn more about working with a Joon therapist.

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March 13, 2023
Katey Nicolai, PhD | VP of Clinical Services

Katey Nicolai, PhD | VP of Clinical Services

Katey Nicolai, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Nicolai provides services to adolescents and adults using evidence-based treatment rooted in cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic therapies, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy, interpersonal therapy, and family systems. Dr. Nicolai has specialized training in treating trauma and PTSD, personality disorders, self-harm and suicidailty, family problems, emotion dysregulation, and mood and anxiety disorders.

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