This post: 10 Myths About Teenagers Every Parent Should Stop Believing
If you’re a parent deep in the throes of your child’s teen years, then you know… parenting teenagers is HARD. They’re maturing, growing physically by leaps and bounds and trying to figure out who they are and where they fit into this world, all while dealing with a boatload of mood-swinging hormones that not only confuse the heck out of us, but also confuse them.
But before we draw conclusions or fall back on “old-school” beliefs or myths about teenagers – that they’re all lazy, hormonal, selfish creatures – we need to dive into the facts.
The truth is, there are a few myths floating around about parenting teenagers (and teenagers, in general) that need to be debunked. Myths that, once debunked, might just make parenting your teen (or, at the very least, understanding your teen) a whole lot easier. Here are 10 myths about parenting teenagers that every parent should stop believing.
10 Myths About Teenagers Every Parent Should Stop Believing
Myth #1: Adolescence Spans from 13 – 19 Years of Age
If you have a 10-year-old or even a 9-year-old who acts more like a teenager than the average 17-year-old, you’re not imagining things. The teenager in your child can emerge a heck of a lot sooner than their 13th birthday.
According to Aliza Pressman, assistant clinical professor at Mount Sanai Hospital and cofounder of the Mount Sanai Parenting Center, puberty can start as early as 8 or 9 years of age which triggers all those “teenagish” hormones, and kids’ prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain responsible for judgment, critical thinking, and inhibition – is still going through plenty of changes and development well into their 20s.
Myth #2: Teenagers’ Goal in Life is to Make Their Parent’s Life Miserable
Despite what you may think, your teen’s moodiness, sass, and overall “disagreeableness” has little to do with you and far more to do with shifting hormones and the fact that they’re trying to pull away and learn how to stand on their own two feet.
According to John Townsend, author of Boundaries with Teens, “Understand that your teen’s desire to get away from you is normal. Accept that they’re getting tired of your control, rules, and restrictions. Provide them with some positive and happy experiences at home. Work with them on establishing a reasonably happy and functional environment at home. Compromise when you can, love always, and be strict when you need to.”
Rather than get defensive when your teen pushes you away a bit, accept it as a compliment that you’ve done your job well enough that your teen feels comfortable and confident enough to venture away from you.
Myth #3: Teenagers Could Control Their Moods if They Tried
There’s a ton going on in your teen’s body that can trigger erratic behavior and unpredictable mood swings, much of which can be blamed on their undeveloped prefrontal lobe. Plus, their hormones can make them feel things in a much bigger way than adults do, which explains the eye-rolls, slamming doors, and heavy sighs.
According to Parenting for Brain, “Many parents have a difficult time understanding and dealing with their moody teenagers. The rising levels of hormones in teenagers contribute to strong emotions and changes in mood stability. But neuroscientists have also found that adolescent mood swings result from more than just hormonal fluctuations but also brain growth and changes in brain activities.”
Rather than jumping into full-blown discipline mode when your teen acts up, offer them a little grace and understanding. Chances are, they’re just as caught off guard by their moods as you are.
(On a side note, parenting experts agree that talking with your teen openly about what they’re feeling and helping them focus on self-discipline and finding healthy coping mechanisms can mitigate (at least) some of their moodiness.)
Myth #4: Most Teenagers Have Zero Interest in Spending Time with Their Parents
You ask your son to grab lunch with you and get a quip “Nah, thanks.” You ask your daughter (okay, beg) if she wants to hang out and watch a movie with you and she says, “Thanks. I just wanna chill out in my room.” No matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to get your teen jazzed about spending time with you.
You might be surprised to know that in a recent YMCA Parent and Teen Survey, “not having enough time together” with their parents is a top concern among teenagers today.
The trick to spending quality time with your teen is to do it on their terms. Seek out things your teen likes to do. Stay up late and hang out with them when they’re wide awake (even if you have to use toothpicks to keep your eyes open). Grab a few moments before or after school. Keep it light and relaxed and resist the urge to lecture, nag or remind.
Myth #5: Teenagers are Lazy
When you have to drag your teen out of bed for school in the morning, they sleep until 2 p.m. on Saturdays and you catch them curled up in their bed grabbing a random nap every chance they get, it’s easy to assume your teen is just plain lazy. But nope… they’re not lazy.
According to Parenting for Brain, “Oftentimes, what looks like laziness on the outside may actually be lack of energy inside.” Many lazy children are misunderstood kids who are silently dealing with other issues including ADHD, anxiety, depression, strained parent-child relationships, and stress, to name a few.
Add on the fact that most teens are completely sleep-deprived due to circadian rhythm shifts (meaning they don’t get tired until much later – sometimes, midnight or even later) and it’s easy to see why the vast majority of teenagers are sneaking in ZZZs every chance they get. (Hint: Let ‘em sleep.)
Myth #6: If I Do Things for My Teen That They’re Capable of Doing Themselves, They’ll Become Entitled
It’s okay to surprise your teen by making them their favorite dinner. It’s okay to run errands for them when they’re busy, help them brainstorm ideas for a school essay, wash their clothes on occasion, and cut them a little slack on their chores when they’re exhausted. There’s a big difference between nurturing and spoiling. Plus, your willingness to give – your empathy, patience and understanding is what’s teaching them to do the same. They’re watching.
(Keep in mind, there IS a difference between making your teen’s life a little easier and spoiling them. Every teenager needs to have responsibility on their shoulders, be held accountable, and learn that life has its share of challenges that they must endure. But if you don’t teach your teen what selfless love, sacrifice and giving look like, who will?)
Myth #7: If I Talk to My Teen About Sex, They’ll Think I’m Giving Them the Approval to Have Sex
Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, in national surveys conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, teenagers reported that their parents have the greatest influence over their decisions about sex – more than friends, siblings, or even television and social media.
The study showed that teens who talk about sex with their parents openly and honestly are more likely to delay having sex and more likely to use a condom if/when they do have sex.
(The findings did report that teens’ willingness to listen to their parents’ views and their decision to refrain or delay having sex weighed heavily on how much the teens felt cared for and understood by their parents.)
Myth #8: Cracking Down on Your Teenager Will Make Them Behave Better
Yet, another myth. According to Jane Nelson, author of Positive Discipline for Teenagers, “We’re often fooled by the immediate results of harsh discipline, but we have to be careful of the long-term impact it has on kids.” Nelson goes on to say that harsh discipline has a way of backfiring with teenagers. Quite often when parents are too strict, their kids will adopt one (or all) of the Five R’s of Punishment.
- Reduced Self-Esteem
In another study published in the Journal of Child Development, Te Wang, assistant professor in the department of psychology and education at the University of Pittsburgh, found that harsh verbal discipline increases the chance that teens will misbehave (anger, aggression, vandalism, and misconduct) and exhibit signs of depression.
For a few constructive discipline tools you can use to correct poor behavior and encourage positive behavior, check out: The Five R’s of Punishment: Why Harsh Discipline Might Backfire with Your Teen
Myth #9: All Teenagers are Selfish
When your teen seems to be hyperfocused on them, their needs, and their friends, it’s all too easy to assume that they’re selfish little creatures who only care about themselves and no one else. But, there’s more to it than that.
According to Empowering Parents, “Recent research on this topic has shown that due to hormonal changes, it’s completely developmentally normal for teenagers to go through a self-absorbed or self-centered stage. During this time, teens tend to produce more oxytocin receptors. Although oxytocin is often called the ‘bonding hormone,’ its effects on a teen’s limbic system (the emotional side of their brain) can cause him or her to be self-focused. It is also a time of healthy self-discovery when teens are naturally separating their identity from their parents.
What all that really means is that our kids are essentially the equivalent of caterpillars cocooning. Give them a little time and space and one day, they’ll emerge as beautiful butterflies.
Myth #10: Teenagers Rebel to Get Back at Their Parents
There are all kinds of expectations and myths about teenagers that make parents fear the teen years – teen angst, questionable choices and, of course, rebellion. As much as parents dread this aspect of raising their teens, it’s actually a necessary and important part of their development – not simply a ploy to annoy or get back at them.
In fact, according to MedicineNet, the function of the prefrontal cortex goes into practice and high gear during the teen years triggering the desire to push boundaries, argue, and test parents. What parents don’t realize is that, in reality, teenagers need to make their own decisions, make mistakes and go through this transition to fully develop their brain.
According to Katy Burk in an article entitled, “The Myth of Teenage Rebellion,” rather than viewing your teen as rebellious, take it as a healthy sign that they’re yearning to participate in the real world where adults are.
The teen years can’t be defined as a stagnant space or a waiting room, it’s a transition. And, with any natural process of change, there’s bound to be some turbulence.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting teenagers.
Experts say the best approach is to figure out what suits your individual child’s needs which can only be learned by developing a loving, strong bond with your teen and paying close attention to how they respond to various tactics, discipline, and parenting strategies.