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Dealing with Teenagers

by Michael Hessdorf, LCSW


Are you kidding me? You didn’t do anything for your project and its due tomorrow? What were you thinking?

Nate, please shut off the computer. You have been on it now for the past three hours.

Sally, please turn off your cell phone, lap top, IPod and the TV. How can one person carry on 8 conversations while watching Pretty Little Liars for the fiftieth time?

Dad, can I go to Florida for spring break with 10 of my closest buddies? Everybody is going. I promise to be responsible.

Mom, I need to go the mall with my friends to buy new clothes. Also, I need at least $200.

I am not going to High Holiday services. They are so boring.

Do these scenarios sound familiar? Teens today have an explosion of stimuli to deal with. And we have to deal with them. We want our kids to have positive experiences to help them become well rounded, emotionally and physically healthy people. And we also want them to develop into happy, independent, young adults.

How can we talk to our teenage kids? It’s quite difficult, especially when they are wearing headphones. Besides learning how to sign, we need to be engaged with them. They may seem to not want to be within 50 miles of us, but deep down they want and need us. Adolescence is an extremely important time in a person’s development. The body is going through enormous changes and a kid’s emotional self is on a roller coaster ride. An adolescent needs a parent’s love, support, guidance. And optimally, the love is given unconditionally, which can be a Herculean task.

A teen is beginning to prepare herself to leave the nest. She needs to oppose her parents. It is actually an important developmental task. In this way, she will be able to separate, individuate and eventually become a healthy, independent adult. And we, as parents, need to fully participate in this process. If we can understand what is happening, it can help us to keep our sanity and even enjoy it at times.

Love and limits. This is a good, simple concept to remember when dealing with one’s children. And though they may look like young adults, our teenagers are still children. They may be big, smart, and verbal, but they still need a great amount of attention.

How do we give them the attention they are craving from us, while, at the same time, they are turning their backs on us? When we feel rejected by them, this is very important information. It is giving us a clue to how they are feeling inside. They are probably feeling anxious, insecure and afraid. Many kids, deep down, are really afraid of growing up. And their rejection of us is also a crude attempt at separating from us. So we can allow them to reject us within certain limits, knowing why they need to do this.

However, there will be those moments, when they come to us and need us. It may be dramatic, or it might be quite subtle. The desire to have a baseball catch, watch a movie together, or just hang out with us in the kitchen, den or wherever. It is in these moments that we need to be there with our kids. This is when they really need us. These moments give them the emotional sustenance to grow and develop. I believe that it really does not matter what you talk about, or what advice you give. It’s just the idea that you are there with them in a non-judgmental, supportive way. It is really about love; your ability to give and receive love from your kids.

Being a teen has a wealth of opportunities to help our kids develop into young adults. Chief among these is the opportunity for the adolescent to formulate and solidify his identity. A teen’s family background can be an enormous help and comfort in this regard. It gives the teen a culture, history and heritage that are his to grapple with and explore. Identity, in all of its aspects, is an integral part of development during adolescence. Feeling a sense of identity helps one move through adolescence and enter the next phase – young adulthood.

Let’s help our kids to live their lives full of experiences that will help them develop into happy, healthy young adults. Let’s allow them to oppose us, at times. Within moderation, the opposition can be looked at as a necessary and healthy part of their development.

Mike Hessdorf, LCSW is a practicing psychotherapist for over 20 years. His practice consists of working with teen and adults. He sees patients individually and in groups. He also has two teenage children that are wonderful and at times, maddening.

His office is located at:

2115 Millburn Avenue, Suite 100-6

Maplewood, NJ 07040

(973) 378-5804


Mike Hessdorf, LCSW is a practicing psychotherapist for over 20 years. His practice consists of working with teen and adults. He sees patients individually and in groups. He also has two teenage children that are wonderful and at times, maddening. Feel free to call him for a consultation @ 973-378-5804 or visit his Therapist Directory Listing

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