COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Deciphering ‘TeenSpeak’

Just when you think you’ve conquered the terrible twos or the tortured tween stages, the teenage years show up and require an entirely new parental toolkit. What teens say is not always what they are trying to convey. The same is true for parents. Here is an example:
What teens say: My teacher doesn’t like me. I don’t understand.
What teens mean: I’m scared. I need some one-on-one attention.
What parents say: Try harder and don’t blame others.
What parents mean: You have more power and more potential than you know. I have every confidence you will be able to learn successfully.
“TeenSpeak” is a whole new language for many parents. Parents may get frustrated when simple conversations go awry, not realizing that they are often dismissing their teens without knowing it.
How do parents dismiss teens? Here are some examples: “don’t blame things on others,” “try harder” and “I know you and your attitude.” The messages parents want to convey with these words are different than the messages teens hear.
What can parents do to re-establish communication and make sure their teen feels heard?
Ask for clarification. If the teen doesn’t feel heard, ask them to explain the situation and their perspective again. Tell them you want to understand and ask for their patience. Teens love having to “help” mom and dad.
Perspective: Try to look at the situation from the teen’s perspective. If they feel like the teacher hates them, why? Even if it isn’t an accurate perspective on the situation, it still feels terrible to your teen.
Mirroring: Repeat back to the teens exactly what they have said to you. By mirroring back, the teen knows you listened and they have the opportunity to hear their thoughts out loud. Like all of us, teens often don’t realize how silly they sound until they hear someone else say their thoughts out loud.
Responsibility: Focus on what the teen can take responsibility for, not for what they are blaming others for. For example, if the teen feels that their teacher has labeled them as a slacker (thus the poor grades), what can the teen do to change that image? The teen could sit in the front of the class, ask questions and go to the teacher for help after school. All of these actions encourage the teen to take responsibility for their own reputation. Responsibility is power.
Create and own the game plan: As you work through a situation together, let the teen create their game plan. Let them be in charge of when and how they make changes. Let them own its progress. This will teach them that they have the power to improve their lives.
Like any language, TeenSpeak can give you a headache as you try to learn. Be patient and you will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of the teen in your life.

Fabiola Paredes is a site coordinator with Vista Community Clinic’s Project REACH. Project REACH and Jr. REACH offers free after-school program for youths ages 9 to 12 and 13 to 18. For more information, visit or call (760) 631-5000.


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