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If you’re a parent of a teenager, you’ve probably experienced the eye roll or utter disgust for whatever parental wisdom you’re trying to share. You’ve seen the defensiveness when you ask that one, small, innocent question.

One day your little porcupine is open to your help and words of wisdom (often when they need rescuing from one fix or another!) but the next day that same advice is completely off limits.  And now that you think about it, you can’t remember the last time you hugged your porcupine!

In researching my book For Parents Only, we interviewed and surveyed more than 1,000 teens to understand exactly what’s going on in their heads and hearts as they make their way toward adulthood. We heard them say the same things over and over, and saw the trends clearly on the surveys.  

In the interests of sticking together as parents of porcupines, here are four facts every befuddled parent needs to know:

1. They know they’re behaving badly – sort of.

Teens know when they are keeping you at arm’s length.  They recognize when they have internal feelings of annoyance (to put it mildly!). But believe it or not, they don’t always recognize that that in their voices and faces, that annoyance shows. (And shows. And shows!)

Dozens of times in interviews, we asked a pre-teen or teen something like, “As you described your father just now, you used a disdainful tone. What are you thinking about him right now?” About 1 in 4 launched into their disgruntlements. The vast majority, though, said something like, “I sounded disdainful?”

Developmentally, teenagers are not always fully aware of how they are coming across in their tone and body language. That said, ignorance is never an excuse. (And if they aren’t always aware of their disrespectful tone, we have to help them figure it out now before they hit the real world!)  But it will help when you say, “You may not have intended it, but here is how you sounded…. Can you try saying that again?”

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