5 Things Teenagers Secretly Want You to Know But Won’t Tell You

want you to know

My husband and I met Jackie when she was in middle school. Over the years we got to know her well, but she always seemed to be somewhat withholding or guarded. One night my husband and I had a group of teens at our house. After everyone left we noticed Jackie lingering so we invited her to sit down. We asked her how she was doing. She smiled and said she was good, but the pain in her eyes told a different story. So I asked her how things were at home. That’s when the tears started to roll down her cheeks. Her parents were getting a divorce after years of marital strife. All those years we had known her we missed it, until that night.

In life, teenagers can be difficult to read. Every day, they perform in a world of adult agendas and judgment. They work really hard at perfecting the outside so everything on the inside can stay hidden where it is safe. There are a precious few they can trust so they develop their poker face. Teenagers have a lot going on under the surface that they either haven’t identified, are afraid to say, or don’t know how to tell you. So it remains inside, alone and unattended. What if we did know? I think it might change the way we parent teens. Here are 5 things your teenagers secretly want you to know but won’t tell you.

1. They want you to say no.

They need your boundaries, but more interestingly, they want them. Giving them clearly defined lines of what is appropriate and what is not creates security for kids. However, just because they want those boundaries doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to push against them and they will. That’s how they figure out if what you say is true and real. It’s your job to say no, stick to it, and explain to them why that boundary exists. Then you need to respond with consistency, nurturing, and compassion when they step out of bounds. That is also not to say that boundaries never change or widen, particularly as they mature.

2. They are desperate for your approval.

Unless they perceive you as untrustworthy, this is the reason they get so annoyed and roll their eyes at your correcting. For right or wrong, they are feeling your disapproval as a person. It’s a feeling of rejection. I’m not saying to not correct, but having an awareness of how they are receiving your feedback may change how you do it and how often.

3. They want your guidance rather than your expectations.

They want you to walk with them in their pain and discomfort. Teenagers have adults and peers giving them marks to hit all the time. They don’t need you to set a level for them to live up to but rather coach them. It’s the difference of how a coach responds to a player who drops the ball. She can say, “I expect you to make that catch,” which puts pressure on the player to perform. Instead, she might say, “What do you think happened? I think you may have taken your eyes off of the ball. Remember to look at the ball. I know you can do it.” The first is like a parent who says, “I expect you to get good grades, make wise decisions, and do what I say.” It doesn’t give room for failure. A mom who gives guidance will look deeper at her daughter caught drinking and say, “What happened tonight? It seems like you’re lonely and trying anything to fit in. ”

4. They have no idea who they are yet and are scared to death.

Their core self has not developed. They really are several different people. The person they are when they’re with their friends on a Friday night is way different than the person they are at home or in the classroom. That doesn’t mean they are fake, it’s just a person whose different selves haven’t merged into a solid identity yet. The tension they live with is trying to be both a part of themselves (which they don’t know what that is) and what the other person thinks they should be. It’s a confusing and lonely place. They live in fear of disappointing people, namely, you, dad, teachers, coaches, and friends. They’re afraid of spending the rest of their life feeling as alone and misunderstood as they do right now. Be a safe and encouraging place.

5. They are consistently treated with contempt.

If they come across as moody or oversensitive, it is more than just hormonal or a bad attitude. If I made the statement, “There was a group of teenagers at the mall…,” you would expect the rest of that story to be negative. Teens are blamed, belittled, marginalized, and treated with contempt. I’ve seen it personally. They need to be shown respect and compassion. Don’t just react (easily said I know and I am the worst offender), but study what is driving the attitude.

What would you add to this list?


  • Ted

    a lot of that is a crock…We as parents do need to put expectations on our children. But realistic expectations. demand that they Be courteous, be kind, Respect all, and that they demand the same. People… not just teenagers, put up with backbiting, nit picking, and are treated with contempt in their daily lives. this article is typical of the current attitude of creating more “snowflakes”, more people afraid of their own shadow.

    • Hey Ted, I have five grown kids. All employed, two married, two in the military. No snowflakes in my house. I read this a bit differently. Can you explain how you think this is a lot of crock?

      • Ted

        I have two…one special needs 28, and one 37 who is a former vice principal (dean of students), now teacher, varsity football coach, and varsity softball coach.

        He and I talk all the time (several times per week) about the kids he faces daily, and the challenges he faces dealing with today’s students. He tells me how incredibly ignorant and below grade level in many things 90% of them are…how frustrating it is trying to reach them and instill the critical thinking skills, and problem solving skills they should already have.

        He tells me how so many of his students don’t have the skills coming out of middle school to actually figure normal grade level problems out, and that they rely on their smart phones and computers to give them what they “think” the answers are, instead of their working it out and coming up with their own answer…They are getting canned answers from someone with an agenda…instead of working toward the answers themselves and developing their own thoughts and opinions. There is too much touchy feely soccer mom nonsense of “everyone gets a ribbon for participating” mentality, instead of actually forcing those students to compete, to complete tasks, instead of rewarding them for just “trying” to come up with an answer.

        competition is good for the soul, it’s what we ALL face in the real world, and it develops character. Today’s students WILL face bosses, professors, supervisors, CEO’s etc that WILL DEMAND ANSWERS, RESULTS, AND MET EXPECTATIONS. To not put those same expectations on our children/students now is doing them a great disservice, and shows up in what we see in young people right now…lost, spineless, drones, with their faces buried in the I phones…with no communication skills, no problem solving skills, no critical thinking skills. All because there were none, or very little demands or expectations put on them, to develop those very necessary skills.

        We need young responsible intelligent adults with character and backbones in our society. Not more lost, spineless, snowflakes, with a touchy, feely, everyone gets a ribbon mentality.

        • BJ_Foster

          Teenagers don’t trust adults. Too many adults have self promoting agendas rather than focusing on developing and nurturing the growth of kids. Schools and/or teachers demand higher grades so they can get more money from the state or be proclaimed Teacher of the Year, a coach demands wins so he can keep his job, etc. These are the expectations I am talking about. So the kid creates a facade he believes the adult will approve of. They basically learn how to play the system or pass the test rather than learn the information and why that information is important for their growth. Meanwhile there’s no internal development and maturing taking place. That’s why kids don’t know how to solve a problem. They’ve been given expectations based on adult agendas rather than training and development. More expectations means more of the same. Your demands will lead to more mistrust, more facades, and more underdeveloped kids entering the adult world without the ability to rise to all of the challenges you are talking about. Personally, I’ve watched it happen over and over. In my opinion, they need guidance and training rather than demands. They need adults willing to walk alongside of them and showing them the way rather than calling them weak.

          • Ted

            That’s the biggest bunch of BS I’ve seen yet. And is EXACTLY why kids today grow up so touchy feely and afraid of their shadow when someone disagree’s with them or tells them they’re wrong they crawl into their shell. “Teachers demand Higher grades so they can get more money or win awards”???
            Kids don’t know how to solve problems because of idiots like yourself that tell them “it’s ok…just make a guess, there is no wrong answer, we’re just happy your participating”. LOLOL that “everyone gets a ribbon” touchy feely crap, has turned an entire generation of kids into sniveling whiners. You’re so full of yourself you could fill a room just with yourself, your ego, and your touchy feely snowflake bullshit.

          • Catherine

            As I read the last couple of comments it is evident that both acknowledge that there is a problem. Things are not the same as they were  years ago. What is different? So many variables… One thing in common though, is that we are responsible to teach the next generation to survive and even to thrive. It comes down to what is the best way to make the changes:  Option #1 simply demand higher expectations and increase competition where the top five only succeed OR, option #2, getting to work and teaching skills and modeling positive interaction and teach the majority who “fail” how to be resilient (specifically, identify the lagging skills in behaviors and actually addressing low grades, lack of problem solving skills, critical thinking skills and communication skills- considering behaviors as a developmental delay- not just laziness or manipulation).  It is probably easy to see I lean toward option #2. We need to teach young adults the SKILLS they need to navigate the ups and downs of life. Most of the world is made up of ordinary average folks who try to do their best each day. People who do deal with bosses and deadlines and stress. We need to TEACH these skills to our children. We need to be EFFECTIVE teachers and this means we need to connect and model respect, compromise, and communicate respectfully. Real life is not like school, we don’t all fit the same mold, we don’t all take the same tests….Our past system of teaching and disciplining is failing miserably, bankrupting our social systems in the process, sending out more and more uneducated and unprepared adults into the world. It is time to look at other options. In my opinion, solutions can be found in the simplicity of kindness, honesty, and respect with how we treat everyone around us, especially our youth. An unexpected outcome happens… the kids do well because they can, because they have the skills and the support to learn, make mistakes, try again and succeed. It doesn’t matter how others see people; as snowflakes who are fearful or football coaches with unmet expectations, it just matters that individually we remember the ingredients that make us human…our kindness, compassion and ability to solve problems and improve one step at a time while connecting with one another. These are our basic human needs. This is what is important to model and pass on to our children. What is the best way to teach that? I don’t know about you, but as I look back on those tough teenage years I know I learned best from those I knew I could count on and I learned in a powerful way by watching them model traits of good citizenship towards myself and others more than anything else

          • BJ_Foster

            I find it unfortunate that we can’t have a civil discussion and disagree without you resorting to insults. A couple of things just to clarify. One, you know almost nothing about me and your assumptions are way off. I think competition is a great thing and I encourage it all of the time, nor do I believe in participation trophies. In fact, I play chess with my nine year old son and I’ve never let him win. I’ve told him he needs to earn wins. Two, you misread or missed what I said about development and training both in my comment and the article. No, I don’t tell any kid to “guess” at an answer. I suggest coming alongside of them and training them how to do it.

          • Ted

            well you made some real assumptions, insults and over generalizations, so please stop with the holier than thou routine. You said: “Schools and/or teachers demand higher grades so they can get more money from the state or be proclaimed Teacher of the Year, a coach demands wins so he can keep his job, etc.”

            That is incredibly demeaning, a huge over generalization and actually just a crock of crap. My son coaches & teaches to help young kids grow, to see them develop discipline, and good sportsmanship and leadership skills. I’m typically skeptical of the education machine in the US today…But you are out of line making those generalizations and insults. And then whining about not being able to have a conversation without insults.

            So fella you are just another hypocrite… pandering to like minded people, and getting your tighty whities wadded up in a bunch when someone who is not like minded, disagree’s with you…typical of what we see in today’s society, and typical of what is wrong with society today… nothing more nothing less.

          • BJ_Foster

            I wasn’t implying that all teachers have agendas. There are so many amazing teachers, coaches, youth leaders, etc. who do amazing and selfless work. My sister is a teacher and I have a ton of friends who are teachers as well and coaches who are wonderful. I apologize if I gave the impression that all of them, especially your son, had self serving agendas. Sounds like your son is exactly the type of person today’s kids need. I didn’t intend to insult him or you. However, because there are many that do have self serving agendas it causes distrust among teens with most adults. It isn’t an assumption, it’s fifteen years of personal observation where I spent countless hours talking to and getting to know literally thousands of teenagers in several states. I also studied under PHD’s who have done social studies on adolescence, spending years in high schools doing focus groups and holding one on one interviews with teens, coaches, teachers, and parents. It’s not an assumption, it’s an observation by experts in this field of study (and I don’t mean me). Lastly, I am never upset when someone disagrees with me. It actually happens to me a lot, which I’m sure comes as no surprise. If I insulted you it was unintentional and the result of my miscommunication.

  • Catherine

    I agree there needs to be expectations and yes life is hard where others around you can easily pull you apart. To have loving and kind supporters and coaches, and parents who understand the above five steps can make ALL the difference for your child. Sometimes it feels like we are too soft, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have rules or expectations. It means we are there to support and help them rather than demand and impose or expectations. There is huge and unexpected value in listening and validating without hours of lecture. Given the chance to process, kids often know what the best course of action is. Give them the space to feel validated and often then come up with the solution without your lecture. And there is nothing wrong with later coming to them and sharing your thoughts on what you think could help following your conversation. There is lots of new research that shows our current method of discipline is not creating special snowflakes, but more and more behavioural and challenged teens and then adults who don’t trust or thrive in the world. Livesinthebalsnce dot org is a great example of this line of thinking and give a powerful research information. Giving of your time to your child by listening, showing respect and giving them support will never ever be a lost cause. It teaches and models for them the values needed in our world more than ever today. It gives them power to not be threatened by the shadows around them, including their own.

    • Hi Catherine, Two words you used that stand out to me “listen” and “balance”. Relationships require understanding and understanding requires listening. As parents when we understand our teens we know the right amount of guidance, grace and even discipline to apply to every situation. Most moms just love their kids and want them to grow up to be wise, healthy and have good relationships of their own!

    • BJ_Foster

      Well said.