Talking with Your Teen -- David Elkind, PhD
Member question: With that new sense of "privacy" also comes a new sense of "independence" and feeling like they don't have to listen to you anymore. How do you deal with that?
Elkind: That's part of adolescence, the sense of independence and freedom. To a certain extent, to the respect the young people are feeling that they can make their own decisions, it's important to set rules and limits. Even though they will fight against limits, it's important that we set them.
It's also important not to make rules that we can't enforce. That is, you can't stop a young person from taking a drink or smoking when you are not around. So it makes little sense to prohibit them from doing it. It is important to say, "I don't want you to do these things for whatever reason, but if I do catch you doing things, there will be consequences."
They need their independence to make decisions, but they still need limits. They have to be clear, and penalties need to be announced in advance.
Member question: I've found that teenagers generally don't think adults have any clue what they are going through. I remember thinking my parents grew up in such a different time they couldn't possibly understand my concerns. How do we adults convey empathy to teens without outright saying, "I remember, back in my day..."?
Elkind: They have what I call a personal fable, which is the belief that they are different, special, and other people will grow old and die but not them, they are the only one who have felt this way, so on. That sense of uniqueness makes them feel that their parents are living in a different time, and that their parents don't understand or appreciate them.
I think rather than argue with them we need to simply acknowledge that their experiences are unique and different, but nonetheless there are things we have in common. That's their reality, and we shouldn't argue with a young person's reality. Just accept they feel this way. We shouldn't try to say that we went through the same thing. In early adolescents, they almost take a pride in their uniqueness from their parents. It's not really possible to talk them out of that. We need to be sensitive to it, and appreciate their privacy and the uniqueness of their experience. It's partly this temporary sense of being special and unique from anybody else that makes him or her feel their parents can't understand them, and they are having experiences that no one else has ever had.