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Psst! Top 10 Things Teens Wish Their Parents Knew

group of teensWhen I was 16, I thought it was my dad’s goal in life to make me miserable. I was convinced he had a running list of all the ways he could embarrass me in front of my friends, trick me into doing more chores, or make my curfew earlier. Our relationship would have continued to fracture until one day I saw my dad reading a parenting book. I flipped through it while he was in the bathroom and realized many of the things he did that drove me crazy were coming right out of this book! I looked at the other parenting books on our shelves and realized they were all written by adults. I wondered: has anyone ever asked teens to write to their parents?

Years later I decided to build a website where teens could answer questions and write to parents. It’s called I couldn’t believe how quickly it grew and how happy teens were to get their voices out, and how happy parents were to have a new outlet for connecting with their kids. We now have over 120 teen writers who give advice.

Here are the top 10 things teens say they wish their parents knew:

1. Don’t ask “Answer-Questions.”

An Answer-Question is a question that already has the answer in it. For 
example, moms love to ask, “Don’t you think that girl Sheila is mean?” or, “Do you think you should do something about that very important extra-credit assignment?” Sometimes Answer-Questions drive us crazy because they make us feel like our parents don’t think we know what to do, or belittle our opinions.

2. Comparing us hurts more than you think.

Whenever a parent starts a sentence with, “Why can’t you be more like…,” teens automatically cringe. Fill in the blank with perfect best friend, older sibling, or a younger, more obedient version of Mom. Many parents don’t realize that comparing us to others makes us feel bad about ourselves. It sends the message that we should be less like ourselves and more like someone else. That’s never a good feeling.

3. The issues are the same; the circumstances are different.

Although it’s sometimes hard for us to believe, we know every parent was a teenager once. And although all teenagers have some of the same issues, like dating, curfew, pressure at school, and bullying, we want parents to know the circumstances are different. Colleges are more competitive and technologies like Facebook and texting add a new layer of complication to teen relationships than in your day. So please don’t assume things are the same as when you were a teenager. Talk to us about what’s different.

4. Risk is tempting.

Risk is appealing to our age group; this statement is backed by science. 
Researchers at the University of Texas found that there are parts of the teen brain that encourage risk taking. Teens want their parents to know this so the parents can encourage positive risk taking. 
Extreme sports, running for student government, going to a theme park: these are all positive, adrenaline-producing activities that scratch that daredevil itch.

5. Just because we’re rolling our eyes, it doesn’t mean we aren’t listening.

We often pretend to not listen to our parents or care what they think, but we do. Don’t let our eye-rolling, lackadaisical attitude fool you. We’re often listening. What you say matters to us more than you think.

6. We want to connect with friends, not strangers.

Many parents worry about their kids going online because of stranger danger—or predators finding their kids. Teens usually go online to be entertained and talk to friends. A small minority of teens likes speaking with strangers. Stranger danger isn’t nearly as serious as cyberbullying. Teens want their parents to ask more questions and be more concerned about online drama with friends and less about contacting strangers.

7. Social rejection is physically painful.

Many parents don’t understand why we care so much about what our friends think. Two researchers at UCLA discovered that social rejection actually registers as bodily injury or pain in the brain. Therefore, there might not be that big a difference between a punch and a catcall. For us, when our friends disapprove or we feel socially rejected, it can feel worse than a punch in the gut. So have patience with our obsession with friends. Help us find great ones and balance social time with family time, work time, and alone time.

8. What we worry about might surprise you.

We ask all our teen interns, “What’s the hardest thing about your life; what do you worry about most?” Their answers are usually surprising and poignant. I always encourage parents to ask their teens directly about what they worry about and not assume they already know the answer. You’ll learn more about your teen; in turn, she will feel you care about her.

9. We have a real fear of missing out.

Oftentimes after teens and parents fight, parents wonder why their child was so upset. My teen interns and I talk about a concept called “FOMO.” This stands for Fear Of Missing Out. It’s an ailment that seems to affect all teens. A teenager’s identity is often very closely tied to his friends. Therefore, staying tuned into what they’re doing, wearing, and thinking is critical. A parent, however, wants his teen to have a strong sense of individuality. So the parent often worries about friends who might engage in more mature—or irresponsible—activities. When fighting about going out with friends, having a later curfew, or spending more time online, parents should ask teens directly if their being 
upset is based on a fear of missing out. This way, kids can be open about the real issue and you can get on the same page to make a compromise.

10. Our Facebook page feels like an extension of ourselves.

Teens think just as carefully (if not more) about their Facebook Timeline than what they wear to school every day. Teens today are balancing two reputations—their online one and their offline one. It’s important for parents to talk to their kids not only about how they portray themselves in real life but also virtually.

In conclusion, ask your own teens what they wish you knew about them; their 
answers might surprise you.

All these tips come from a book for parents I wrote with my teen interns. It’s called Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?. It offers a radical perspective for parents to connect with and build healthy relationships with their teens and tweens.

Vanessa Van Petten is the creator of, a parenting website written from the teen perspective in the hopes of fostering 
intergenerational understanding.

What do YOU think your teen wished you knew? Leave a comment!

Old to new | New to old
Nov 4, 2013 12:33 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I am a 20 year old and all I really wish for was that my parents would thank my more when I do them a favour make supper clean the house and abide there rules . I am 20 years old I earn my own well hard worked for salary I pay rent and everything I may need even if I wanted a chocolate my parents would not even give me a penny whilest they have all the money they spend on others why can't they ever have time for me and expect me home by 9 in the week which by the way I'm only alouwed out once a week over weekends I have to be home by 11 I can't do anything its driving me insaid but what's huring me the very most is that they will not once say they proud of me and when I'm @ work or any where everyone goes on about what a great child I am I work so hard I have always I got head girl of sport in high school was top in almost everything I did and I have got great promotions which woman working in the company wanted and I got it out of everyone I was chosen I was noticed they never ask any

Nov 9, 2013 11:44 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Read in between the lines

When you speak to us firmly, we immediately shut off. And when you're telling us, "We told you to teach your little brother! If you don't want to, just say so!" Speaking from expirience, we almost never want to teach them. However, if we tell you that, chances are you'll yell at us. So if we are not doing something you repeat ild tell us to do, it's because we don't want to. Sometimes parents have to get the message, or read in between the lines.

Nov 9, 2013 11:52 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I am 14 and I really wish my parents knew that I HATE HATE HATE it when hey give me the infamous "when I was your age" lecture. It immediately shuts me off. I either sit there and zone out, or think to myself "kill me now..." I wish they would get that I know they weren't perfect when they were teens. They're not fooling anyone! Problem is, we get that, but it's wag more important that they get it too. I have all GT (gifted and talented) classes, and they never say anything about that. When I get a good grade in an exam, they say, "that's very nice." And when I don't, they say "You never get good grades" and the , they talk about how perfect they were when they were 14 year olds. Come on! I can tell that I am smarter than when they were in ninth grade, but they don't seem to get it! I wish I have the guts to say that to them, but my parents (hopefully not like yours) do the worst job of understanding! :'(

Dec 29, 2013 05:22 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I have the same problem like this. I just don't feel independent, if you know what I mean. Me and my parents have fights almost EVERY day because of this! The computer and social media helps me to express my feelings more than to keep them closed. I sometimes have the feeling of committing suicide which leads to my life full of lies. I do what I like best, and my parents think that I would get stalked or possibly kidnapped by the time I socialize online with people I don't know. Even if I don't know them, look into that fact more. I talk with people around my age group in virtual world games. They help me! My parents? THEY GROUND ME. I feel like I just want to live in the world I know online, not reality. My parents even put "Splashtop Streamer" to see what the heck I am doing. I don't care. I just want them to understand me more. Roleplay, they have no clue what it means. I roleplay and talk with those who have the same interests as me. My mobile devices got taken away cuz of this....

Dec 29, 2013 05:33 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

(continued) Alright, THIS MIGHT SEEM STUPID to you guys but I'm Asian. You know those stereotypes where Asians get better grades in academics? FALSE. I'm literally in the average grades...its not like ALL Asians have good grades. Parents want me to become a doctor. I like photography, no, not of organs and such. I want to become a photographer and make my own small company. Papercraft would do too! I want to love a normal life, not like the luxury. Whats more horrible? Convincing me to stop with my obsessions. I like the Japanese culture, Japanese animation, Japanese style, etc. My parents tell me to stop with the "cartoons" and music that will "make you crazy." PSHHH why? Oh, here's another thing. I can't spend my freaking own money. I have to give it to my parents to "keep." More like, to SPEND. I ask or just say, "It'll be cool to have that!" and my parents reply with a simple yet harsh NO. I can relate to ALL of the problems listed above. Parents, kids have free will, TOO.

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