An Expert in Teen Mental Health (Until I Walk In the Door At Home)

Parenting a teenager is a confusing mess. 

As a mental health professional, I love treating teens. But when I go home and talk to my own teens about their problems in middle school and high school, things get muddled in my brain. At work, I’m known for being a good listener. I’m in-tune with the teenagers who talk to me about their lives. I really “get” them. I understand. So why is so hard to comprehend my beloveds? 

Other parents come talk to me about their teens, and I am able to see what they don’t see. 

They say, “She has a personality exactly like me.” She doesn’t. 
They say, “He’s lazy.” I suspect he’s dyslexic. 
They say, “She needs to stay connected with her friends from elementary school.” I hear her saying those friends have gotten into drinking and smoking pot, so she has moved on.

I love my own kiddos at home. I’m an expert in the minds of teens. And it’s hard for me to figure out my own teens at home. They make my head hurt. Are they overreacting, or telling me something I need to understand in a new light? Is something important going on, or are we just experiencing a bit of emotional drama? Does somebody need a snack or a nap? 

Studies on mentalizing (the process of analyzing emotions/thoughts and communicating by “holding the mind in mind”) show that living with a teenager makes it harder for parents to think straight. This is probably because teenagers react to their emotions, and emotional reactions can be contagious within a household. Living with a person who is emotionally reactive makes you emotionally reactive.

Add that to the fact that we know every minor defect of character this teen has possessed since he was a toddler, and parenting becomes a lot harder when puberty hits.

I wonder exactly what I am having trouble seeing in my own teens. I wonder where my biases get in the way. 

So to all the parents of teens who are struggling, from the “expert,” I want to say I’m right there with you. This parenting thing is hard. 

Posted on January 9, 2017 .