What’s A Teen’s Job

Parents are often frustrated with their teens.  That frustration is often because a teen is doing their job.  If we think of a teen as an Adult In Training, then we can start seeing that a lot of teen’s actions are actually a very positive way of them trying to accomplish their job in life.

Let’s take a specific scenario:

I used to work with a boy who loved to talk back.  He constantly was challenging his mom, many times with disrespectful language, about why he needed to go to school, why he should come home at a reasonable hour, why he should continue taking part in his basketball team.  His mom, understandably, was so frustrated.  The commonplace interaction with her son was arguments.  She felt backed into a corner sometimes: “I dread seeing him sometimes.” 

On the one hand, (let’s be honest) we can see her son as a rude, selfish, little punk.  What a brat!  He swears, throws angry tantrums, refuses to do anything that we know is good for him.

On the other hand, we can see him as an adult in training. He is asking: “Why are these things important?”  He is trying to say, “I’m not sure this all matters to me.”  He is screaming (unfortunately literally, sometimes), “I need my freedom!”

Certainly, he needs to learn ways in which to express these things to his mom, so that he can get the best outcome.  Certainly, his mom needs to hear what he’s really trying to say: “I’m unhappy going to school and I don’t understand why you’re trying to force me to go to a place that makes me unhappy.”

Teens (because they’ve only lived a short time on this earth) tend to not be able to communicate in ways that parents understand.  In this scenario, there needs to be a little time for each of the people involved to develop a common language.  Mom needs to find a way to communicate the importance of going to school (in terms of short-term consequences [we’ll talk about the importance of communicating short-term consequences in a later post!]), and the son needs to learn to communicate about his unhappiness and feel as though he has some say in how he spends his time. 

The young man’s job is to test and challenge the way in which the world tells him to live his life.  With his constant “Why’s” he is telling us that he loves his life and wants to spend his life doing meaningful things.  He is asking to take risks, by trying new activities (maybe basketball isn’t what he wants to be doing).  He is saying to his mom, “Hey, you’re making me do these things. But do you even know why?”  He wants his opinions to matter.  He wants a say.  His mom’s response is fear: she is scared he won’t make good choices.  She is scared that he won’t follow through on his commitments.  The more she fights with him, the more she says to him, “You’re not an adult in training. You’re not capable. Your opinions don’t matter. You’re still a child.”

That’s not what you want any teen to hear.  So we need to start consulting with teens when they’re fighting with us.  They’re trying to communicate something when they’re fighting: what are they really saying?  What do they really need?  Since they are adults in training, they actually often know better about what they need than we give them credit for.  Consider a baby crying: we trust that baby knows that he/she is hungry, needs to be changed, or is hurting. So when did we decide that a teen doesn’t have the same ability?

Find out more about a teen’s job (and a parent’s job) by checking out one of my presentations that I have online. 

Feel free to contact me if you’ve got questions.

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