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Why Don’t Teens Listen?


By Alyson O’Mahoney


Before this developmental milestone, children believe mom and dad are the smartest people in the world. When the brain "clicks," perception rotates 180 degrees.

The young teen begins to realize that his or her parents aren't infallible and don't know as much as he thought they did. With the perception shift from know-it-all to know-nothing parents, teens tune out. Suddenly, the parent doesn't have all the answers - or any of the answers - and the teen finds out on his or her own what things really mean. This newfound independence is a step towards separation and a sign of maturity.

When you can recognize the signs of normal adolescent development, you still may not be thrilled with your teen's behavior, but you'll rest easier knowing that this is an expected course of events. How can you cope with their attitude?

  • Don't battle to make teens listen

  • Instead, adjust to the new way your child's brain works

  • Treat your child as a person with valid opinions

  • Instead of discussing curfews and chores, engage him or her in conversations on music, politics, and social issues

By treating your teen as an individual whose ideas you value, you can minimize resistance to parental control. You can also put yourself in the position of giving insights on issues that mean something to your teen. Go ahead and disagree with your teens' opinions, but appreciate their logic and respect their views. Dr. Gray also recommends coming to terms with the fact that it's natural for teens not to agree with parents. When they know they don't have to be right in line with you all the time, they may not make such a big deal of rebelling.


Fostering independence will help your child's brain develop, but you should make it clear that you are still the boss. Don't waver on the really crucial stuff. "These important issues involve family morals and safety," says Kate Kelly, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Teenager. "Don't micromanage homework or nag about dirty clothes on the bedroom floor, but don't budge on issues like drunk driving, smoking, drugs, or sexually transmitted diseases." For serious discussions, arm yourself.

"Don't approach a serious conversation half-prepared," Kelly advises. "Do your research and know what you're talking about. They'll pay attention. If you give them misinformation, they're sure to find out, from the Internet, teachers, friends' parents. If they can prove the information you gave them is wrong, it's likely they won't take you seriously in the future, no matter how critical or trivial the next discussion."

Kelly notes the key difference between discussing and nagging. "Discussion allows a cause-and-effect approach; nagging does not. Instead of constantly saying, ‘You need to get up on your own. I can't be responsible for waking you every morning,' place the onus on them. ‘If you don't get up on your own, you'll just have to pay the consequences of being late for school or work - I'm not going to be in charge of that anymore.'"

If you're unwilling to let your teens be late for school or work, tell them they lose a privilege each time you have to wake them. The car keys or their cell phone may be idle for awhile, but eventually your teens will take responsibility for getting up with their own alarm clocks. "Ultimately, they are listening to you," assures Kelly. "They're just not letting you know it."

Readers' Comments

Kim Moya, Beaufort, SC 01/12/09

My situation is that my teen daughter does hear me, but she does certain things anyway to rebel against me. It seems the more I try to gain control over a situation, the more she rebels. If I try to educate, she gets upset and acts "all knowing" and feels as if I think she is stupid. She is really good with everything I discuss with her except for one subject: her ex boyfriend who is unhealthily obsessed with her.

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