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How to Respond When Your Teenager Thinks You Are Dumb

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This post has been burning in my heart for some time now. It’s about my boys who are currently in their teens. 

For years parents have warned me about the teenage years…the rebellion, the wild living, and the arguments. I have to admit, we don’t have much of that, although we have arguments sometimes.

While I’m delighted that things haven’t been too crazy, I have noticed that I’m dealing with something I’ve never experienced before as a parent.

I’ve been feeling dumb. Yes, you read that correctly. Dumb. Let me explain.

Feeling Dumb

It used to be that I could introduce ideas to my boys without any pushback. My words were inerrant and no one dared to question them.

I was their superhero, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. They believed I was strong enough to fight anyone and smart enough to give them whatever they needed. I was, by far, the wisest person in their lives.dumb

Something happened a few years back and a shift has taken place. They now think they know it all. And they won’t see it any differently.

When I point to the dearth of life experience they have, they look at me as if something like that makes no difference.

How did they get to be so much smarter than me? 

Do You Remember?

Writing this article has forced me to think back to my difficult teenage years and try to remember what it was like to be in their shoes.

I remember being 13 and thinking that I knew enough to have a family, a job, run a business and more. In my mind, I couldn’t do all these things because I had to finish my homework each night to keep up my grades.

I can still picture myself listening to my parents talking to me and thinking, “They are so out of touch with reality!”

But something happened around the age of 21. I was in college at the time and it had been a couple of years since I was away from home. Cheryl and I were planning to get married and we began thinking through our direction in life and where we would get started.

The Shift

It was then that I began to see my parents differently. What was it? It certainly wasn’t a traumatic experience like some people have. I didn’t see any writing on the wall!

In simple terms, I think it was maturity. Maturity has a way of helping you see things differently. Actually, biology confirms this.

In a book called The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, Dr. Francis Jensen, a neuroscientist and a single mom of 2 boys, talks about why her sons could get an A on a test in school while making lapses of judgment in other areas that no adult would.

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Maturity

She goes on to say that our brains do not fully mature until we are in our mid to late 20’s. It is at this time that the frontal lobe, which controls decision-making and risk-taking, develops.

Perhaps this is why I regularly hear them tell me, “Please don’t embarrass me, Dad, while my friends are over.” What is that supposed to mean? What are they referring to?

Your guess is as good as mine!

So, what are we supposed to do as parents? How do we manage this madness?

While I don’t have too many answers of what to do, I certainly know some things NOT to do.

1. Don’t overcompensate.

This definitely is a temptation, especially for those of us who have gone from being hip to worrying about needing a hip replacement!

No matter how “cool” you try to be, your new sports car and skinny jeans will never be accepted by the teenage crowd. As for everyone else, they will just write you off as another 40-something going through a mid-life crisis.

2. Don’t under-compensate.

As parents, we must be careful not to put our heads in the sand. I have watched people do this when it comes to social media. Instead of leaving their comfort zone and learning about ways their kids communicate, they put up a wall and declare that they are too old for all of the changes around them.

dumbAll this does is alienate you from your kids. It lessens the things you have in common with them which weakens your relational connection.

3. Be yourself.

There is one thing that speaks to teens time after time: authenticity. Teenagers can tell when you are faking it. I tend to think this is one of the big reasons so many teens leave their faith after they head out to college.

Sometimes in an effort to show them what it means to be Christlike, we forget to show them our struggles and how God enters into our pain. Be yourself and be real!

As for trying to change our teenage sons and daughters, it’s best to leave that part up to God. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to let them rule your home and I’m certainly not condoning ungodly behavior. You are the parents and you are in charge.

Perspective

We must take into consideration why our teens act the way they do and not take it personally. Do what I did and take some time to think about when you were that age. How did you think and behave? What was it you needed most?

The answer is love and acceptance. Our teens need to know that we genuinely love them. No matter how many hormonal changes and emotional swings they have, you will be that anchor that will always be there for them no matter what mistakes and misjudgments they make.

(Check out my posts on fathering girls and boys.)

So, the next time you start feeling dumb like I have, take it in stride. You aren’t dumb. You know that…and your teenagers will one day see you for who you are.

Until then, remember that it’s just a season and they will be all grown up before you know it.