Have you ever wondered why your teen rejects your advice? When you come from a loving place and a genuine desire to help, why does your teenager fly off the handle or shut you down?
Teens may reject their parents’ advice for a number of reasons but the main one is: They want to feel and be seen as capable.
However, the most common way parents offer advice does not always foster their teen’s developing sense of capability. Instead, it can leave them feeling disempowered, misunderstood, and unwilling to open up.
Years ago I coached a couple whose teen daughter, Gail* was going through a very hard time socially. She felt targeted by a group of so-called “mean girls.” Gail would regularly come home from school and burst into tears. She felt comfortable opening up to her mom but as soon as her mom offered suggestions for how to handle these mean girls, Gail would storm off. I remember Gail’s mom saying, “I’m only trying to help but she says I turn everything into a lesson.”
Marlene* is a parent of a high school freshman who experienced similar rejection from her daughter. Marlene reached out to me for support. She explained, “When I try to explain to her why it’s important she gets to bed earlier, she vehemently disagrees with me and assures me, I don’t know anything.”
Whether your teen is opening up to you about her feelings or doing something you think she should change, the way you deliver your message matters.
When your teen wants to talk to you about a problem, resist the urge to advise and instead, listen to understand her point of view. Save the “life lesson” for another time. This will demonstrate a meaningful level of support and send a message that you honor her need to be heard and understood. This response also encourages openness when the time is right to teach a“ life lesson,” and it sends a subtle, yet important message that you believe your teen is capable of learning from her experiences. With this approach, Gail’s mom could respond to her daughter’s distress by saying, “I see how hard this is. It makes sense that you are upset. Would you like for me to listen or would it help if I shared some advice?”
If your teen is making choices that you believe she should rethink, instead of over-explaining why, start to point out the outcomes of her choices. While offering valid reasons would seem to prompt a positive change, it actually sends the message, I know better than you, and is likely to push your teen away. Consider Marlene: instead of offering her daughter all the reasons why an early bedtime is important, she could point out, “I notice when you go to bed after 10 you’re really groggy in the morning. How’s that working for you?” This powerful reframe empowers teens to make connections between their choices and outcomes and invites them to consider the impact of those outcomes.
Remember, your teen needs your guidance and benefits from your advice, but timing and delivery are critical. When you listen to understand, rather than problem-solve or teach a lesson, you lay a strong foundation for meaningful conversations when your advice will be received. Similarly, when you ask your teen if she would like your advice, rather than just giving it, you encourage the development of decision-making skills that support her sense of capability and independence. When you highlight the choices she makes and outcomes she experiences, you further empower her to make thoughtful decisions, on her own. You demonstrate trust in her ability to think for herself and learn from her experiences or mistakes.