The Invisible Barrier Between Parents and Teens (and How to Remove It)

Why your well-intended desire to fix everything is creating a division between you and your teen

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: The Invisible Barrier Between Parents and Teens (and How to Remove It)

Written By: Deborah Winters

Life with teens is already moving fast enough…

Between competing with screens, driving them to all their activities, and keeping up with their social calendars, parents don’t need another “thing” getting in the way of feeling close and connected to their teens.

In my 10+ years in private practice, the one thing I’ve seen over and over is the invisible barrier that stands between parents and their teenager(s). Something many parents have NO idea even exists.

The barrier is caused by parents trying to “fix” their teen’s problems too soon. 

Here’s an example…

The Invisible Barrier Between Parents and Teens (and How to Remove It)


Your teen son gets in the car upset and disappointed over the loss of a big game their team just had. Being the compassionate parent you are, you try to soften the blow of the loss by giving your teen compliments about how great he played, how he made that awesome goal, and that even though they lost it was still a great game and he shouldn’t be too disappointed. You even offer a few tidbits of advice on how he can improve his game moving forward. 

One of two things typically happens next…


Your teen listens, finds comfort in your words and advice, and takes you up on your offer to grab a burger and fries at their favorite sports restaurant on the way home. If that’s the case, wonderful! No need to read on!


He gets defensive and starts saying things like, “You just don’t get it.” “You really don’t understand.” Or worse, they put their earbuds in, ignore you, and head straight to their bedroom the minute they walk in the house not to be seen again for hours.

If you’re like a lot of parents I work with, you’re left feeling completely frustrated, confused, and rejected. After all, you were just trying to help, right? But here’s the thing, parents. 

The problem isn’t your feedback. We all know it was full of wisdom and shared with love and great intent. The problem is that your advice and suggestions came too soon.

Before your teen had time to process what happened. 

Before your teen had a chance to talk about how they felt. 

Before you asked your teen if they even wanted to talk about it.

Before your teen felt heard and had their feelings understood and validated.

This is what I refer to as, “Fix-It-Mode.” The invisible barrier standing between parents and teens that most parents don’t even realize is there. 

I get it. As parents, it’s only natural for us to want to help our kids and run to their side when they’re upset, disappointed, or struggling. It’s inherent in our parenting DNA to want to fix everything and make it all better just like we did when they were little and they skinned their knee – we rushed in with a kiss and a Band-Aid to make it all better.

Your teen is getting bigger and so are their problems.

And, with that comes bigger feelings of loss, disappointment, frustration, and hurt.

Whether they didn’t get invited to a big party on Saturday night, didn’t get the summer job they so desperately wanted, went through a harsh breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or lost a big game on the field, they’re going to be dealing with plenty of uncomfortable and heartbreaking situations on their journey to adulthood. And, all these situations aren’t just hard on your kids… they’re hard on you!

What’s important to note here is that it’s not your fault! As parents, it’s hard to see your child upset, stressed, worried, or uncomfortable. 

In fact, evolutionary science tells us that any feelings of discomfort will motivate humans to avoid or remove themselves from situations that could potentially threaten survival and well-being. While your child losing a game is certainly not a life-threatening situation, our bodies are designed to respond the same way, regardless. 

But when a parent solely focuses on fixing problems or mitigating “bad feelings,” it can interfere with their ability to connect with their teen. This lack of emotional connection breaks down trust and secure attachment making teens more likely to resist, dismiss, or rebel against their parents’ advice, input, and rules. 

Let’s go back to the example about the game. Here’s another way to handle the situation…

When your son gets in the car after losing the game, you wait quietly to give him a few minutes to process what happened. When he starts to open up about how he’s feeling, rather than comfort him with your (well-intended) fix-it solutions, you listen and validate his feelings, “I’m so sorry. “I can see how disappointed you are. You and the entire team worked hard at practice and you really thought you had a chance to beat that team. Am I right?”

If your son responds with “No,” step back and stop validating to give him more time to talk. When you sense he finally feels as though you understand him and how he’s feeling, only THEN is it safe for you to go into fix-it mode. 

Keep in mind that fix-it mode doesn’t always include your advice and suggestions. It’s important to give your teen a chance to create their own solutions to allow them to create something called, “intrinsic motivators.” It’s these intrinsic motivators that eventually help your teen regulate and make good decisions for the long term. They also provide a huge dose of autonomy and independence; the very thing teens need at this stage in their development. 

The next time your son or daughter seems resistant to your advice or solutions, pause and reflect – did you rush into “fix-it mode” before listening and validating their feelings? Did you resist the (natural) urge to problem-solve right away?

Instead, make sure your teen feels truly heard and understood first and validate their emotions through active listening and empathy. Once they feel that connection, they’ll be more open to your guidance and more motivated to find their own solutions. 

Deborah Winters is a family therapist and parent coach who specializes in helping families navigate the tricky tween and teen years. Through her “How to Build Your House of Harmony” online program and workbook, she guides parents to reduce conflict and regain cooperation and peace more effectively using her exclusive 3-step “connected communication” system called, “The PCN Method.” Deborah’s decade of expertise blends the latest research with real-world strategies for raising confident, well-adjusted young adults.

Visit Deborah’s website HERE: House of Harmony Club


If you enjoyed reading, “The Invisible Barrier Between Parents and Teens (and How to Remove It),” here are a few other posts you might enjoy!

Meet Them Where They’re At: The Secret to Building a Powerful Connection with Your Teen

The Force of Motherhood: The Desire to Protect Our Child’s Heart is Forever

10 Ways to Adjust Your Parenting in Your Kid’s Teen Years

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