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Teenagers with just the legs showing. 5 Important Things Kids Wish Their Parents Knew

5 Things Parents Need to Understand About Their Teens: It’s Not What You Think

There are five important things parents need to understand about their teens. Well, there may be more than five, but these are the five big ones you should pay attention to as a parent.

You may wonder how I am so privy to this information. Perhaps you think it is something I read or heard about on the news. No. I came by it first hand. I am a substitute teacher so I speak with kids on a regular basis. Oh, and I live with one…that definitely counts!

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things parents need to understand

Today, I asked kids ages 13-years-old to 18-years-old (8th-12th grade) what they would tell their parents if they could say anything to them that they wanted. Most of the kids couldn’t believe I would ask such a question. They were suspicious at first. But, eventually, they warmed up to me.

In fact, once we started talking, they couldn’t shut up. They had lots to say!

In this post, I am going to tell you what things parents need to understand about their teens. You will be shocked and surprised by their answers. 

RELATED: The Ultimate Secret on How to Deal With a Difficult Teenager

Five Important Things Parents Need to Understand About Their Teens

Check out these five important things parents need to understand about their teens. It will help you understand their world a little better and give you some talking points when you have a conflict.

1. Technology

One of the things parents need to understand is how difficult it is for kids to navigate technology (social media) on a daily basis. The technology now is totally different compared to the last generation

The students didn’t think we, the parents, understood the stress it was causing them socially since we didn’t experience it ourselves as a teen. Most of the kids I talked to were in agreement that they spend way too much time online worrying about what other people are doing and saying about them.

Sadly, they ALL felt anxiety about not being included in the latest social gathering posted online. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) was a term they used quite a bit.

At times, they said they felt they did not measure up to the people they followed because, in their minds, they were not as smart, not as rich, or not as pretty/handsome as everyone else.

I found it interesting that even though the kids knew the pictures on social media were strategically taken, doctored, or just fake, their brain still processed all the images as reality. Tragically, all of this is affecting them in a negative way.

Almost everyone said they had dealt with some sort of depression due to social media either by comparing themselves to others or being bullied.

One person said parents didn’t understand what it was like to be bullied online. The shame and humiliation were beyond anything we could possibly comprehend.

We Do Understand

I think parents do understand to some extent what is going on with social media. In fact, many of us have tried to restrict it and set firm boundaries. Unfortunately, it is a constant fight in most households to put the cell phone away. I know it has been that way in my home.

Many parents see how it is slowly poisoning their kids, sabotaging their self-esteem, and taking precious study time away from their child.

Needless to say, this is a huge problem.

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2. Competition

Another one of the things parents need to understand is how hard it is to carry the burden of performance and competition day after day. The competition academically as well as athletically is harder than the last generation

Unfortunately, the students felt their parents were putting an excessive amount of pressure on them to perform in high school and not letting them be a kid. There was a consensus among them that they have larger workloads and have more pressure than we had 25-30 years ago.

One student said she felt like her parents put grades before her mental health. She described the feeling of being trapped in a world she didn’t like nor one she created. All of the students said they wanted to be good students, but the pressure was intense. Sadly, there is a weight on them that is heavy and some days seem unbearable.

Most of the students just wanted their parents to acknowledge the amount of work they do and to encourage them instead of being angry with them when they received a low grade. Every student did agree a zero was unacceptable, and hard work is important.

RELATED: How to Pray for Your Kids in Your War Room

3. Double standards

There are many things parents need to understand about their teens, but having a double-standard was one of the most frustrating things they conveyed.

What they meant by “double standard” was their parents didn’t always practice what they preached. One student said, “ I will not trust an adult who can’t apologize to a kid.”

That really got my attention. This is where the discussion became heated. Suddenly, everyone had an opinion.


The students were angry they had to apologize to their parents when in the wrong, but parents didn’t apologize back to them.

Kids know when we as parents behave badly (yell, call names, retaliate, threaten, manipulate), but see it as a double standard when we won’t admit our own faults to them and take ownership of our bad behavior.

Sadly, many parents see apologizing to their child as weak or they simply have too much pride to admit when wrong.

I agree with the students.

Parents DO need to apologize when wrong. It’s a great opportunity to show humility, character, and strength as a person. Not apologizing for bad behavior is just more bad behavior.

Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (HCSB).

RELATED: Should You Apologize to Your Child? 5 Things Happen When You Don’t

Cell Phone 

The students were also pretty vocal about their parents answering their cell phones. This complaint surprised me. I didn’t realize how irritated they were about this.

They felt they had to answer the phone when their parents called, but parents ignored their calls. I’m not sure who’s ignoring their calls. I think they don’t realize we have a life and aren’t always able to answer. Kinda like them!

Most believed we should not ask them to do something we aren’t willing to do ourselves. I think that is one of the things parents need to understand about parenting. They can’t act one way and live another.

4. Listen

There are certain things parents need to understand, but how to listen to their teens is a place we can probably improve. They want us to listen to who they are, what they believe, and how they think. Even though they are young, they are still thinking about their world. Dr. Dobson gives some great tools for listening to your teen if you struggle in this area.

Mostly, they said they wanted us not to overreact if they had a different belief system. I think they were trying to express the fact they are growing and changing. Their opinions are evolving as they get more information and experience life.

As a parent, I can see how we tend to not take our teen seriously or overreact. Even though they are older, we see them as young because they still do some childish things (tantrums, pouting, whining, giggling). It is easy to discount the fact they are capable of stringing some intelligent sentences together.

I think maybe what my students were trying to verbalize is we need to realize they are transitioning between two worlds. The world of Sponge Bob and the world of CNN. (SB and CNN may be more alike than we think.) Often, these worlds collide in a day, and it can get a little messy.

They might be doing Calculus at 10 am and by 2 pm they are having a crying fit. Sometimes they just need an ear to listen to them about whatever is swirling in their brain. And for us to love them no matter how silly or crazy their feelings are at the time.

5.  Grateful

One of the most important things parents need to understand is how grateful their teenagers are for all the opportunities they have been given. They know their parents have sacrificed financially for them in many ways so they would have the chance to improve themselves and make an important contribution to the world someday.

The seniors were especially thankful their parents had made them study, volunteer, take part in a sport, and invest time in their spiritual life. I found it rewarding the seniors are starting to see the big picture and understand why they had to do certain things.

It was heartwarming they thought their mom and dads were actually pretty awesome for loving them enough to make them do the hard things in life.

Why Parents Fail to Understand Their Child

Sometimes parents fail to understand their child because they are looking through rose-colored glasses. Perhaps they have been imagining their child doing something since birth and can ‘t accept a different path or passion that is, in fact, opposite of what they envisioned.

Naturally, we think our child will be like us and follow in our footsteps. It is hard to let go of certain expectations and allow God to take the reigns. This takes a lot of love, patience, and self-control to not manipulate what we want instead of what God wants.

If we push too hard and control our kids, they may feel we don’t understand them at all. This is why prayer has to be an integral part of parenting. It is a fine balance of listening, coaching, and possibly tough love.

How Should Parents Treat Their Teenager?

In conclusion, parents need to empower their teens to accomplish all they can but realize they are still kids who struggle from time to time and need firm boundaries. However, there should be lots of grace for the hard days.

I would say being a teen today is more difficult than any other generation. There are so many social, academic, and athletic pressures to juggle on any given day. On the other hand, they have access to knowledge and education more than at any other time period in history.

My hope is that teens will navigate through the land mines of youth and focus on the opportunities given to them to be successful.

I found it endearing that the teens do understand what they have been given and the sacrifices their parents have made for them even if they don’t always express it. This should give us hope that we are doing some things right.

There are many things parents need to understand about teens. What do you think we need to know? Comment below. 


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48 thoughts on “5 Things Parents Need to Understand About Their Teens: It’s Not What You Think”

  1. This is so good! I’ve actually been thinking for awhile that I need to ask my teen students (I teach dance and music) about what they want adults to know about being a teen today. I have a strong desire to write for teen girls and this post has given me some areas to speak into!

    1. Emily, I am so glad you are going to start a conversation with your teen students. And how awesome that you want to start writing. Best wishes on both endeavors. Teens definitely have a lot to say if we will listen!

  2. I remember one time as a teen, when my dad apologized to me. It changed the way I saw him, and I had even more respect for him. Parents need to emulate what they want to see in their kids.

    1. Susan, that is so great. I am glad he had the character to do this. I don’t think parents realize that kids respect them more when they apologize and own up to their mistakes. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Excellent article Julie!! I wish parents would read this so their eyes can be open to the real life struggles of teens these days. And I totally agree with you about Sponge Bob and CNN. Sponge Bob has more redeeming qualities. Haha!

  4. Wow, this is really eye opening. It’s so interesting to know that teens actually know how toxic and addictive their phones and social media are. I was in high school when kids were just starting to get their own cell phones, and I didn’t have one myself until I started college. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to go through high school with the social media craziness that exists today.

    1. Hayley, yes, they all admitted it was addictive. Unfortunately, they go back to it time and time again even though they know it is slowly poisoning them. I think they will have to learn some self-control and maturity to realize that there is more to life than social media. The next best party, purse, or latest outfit is not the most important thing.
      Thank you for your comments.

  5. A very interesting read. Our kids are still very little, but it’s never too early to start implementing some of these. Especially apologizing – this has been huge with our daughter. It’s a lot easier for her to say sorry when she unintentionally hurts someone if she has seen mommy and daddy say sorry when we accidentally bump her head putting her in the car, etc. Even though it was an accident, we explain we are sorry that what we did hurt her. Thank you for sharing the insight!

  6. I don’t have teens…yet…so this is a very helpful peek into the future and a good reminder to stay engaged with our kids even though they may seem to have become capable of taking care of themselves. Thanks for the head’s up.

    1. Every teen is a little different. Just when you think you have them figured out, they change the rules. It keeps you guessing all the time, and praying constantly. Thanks for your comment.

  7. This is really great. I can’t imagine having to keep up with it all as a teenager these days but I do have 2 boys coming up so I need to remember this when they are teenagers!

  8. I think “Listen” is the most important one. I think adults discount a lot of things teens go through like they aren’t real problems, but those problems are incredibly important to those teens. Sure, they’ll outlive those problems and move on, but in the moment those problems are as important as any problem any adult may have.

    1. I’d say millions. Kids typically get depressed when they compare themselves to others. It’s just too much for them to know about everything they missed. Ignorance is bliss.

  9. Being a teenager today is certainly worlds different than it was for me back in the early 90s… so much has changed and evolved…

  10. Honestly, this is one of my best reads today. Many parents behave as if they dropped from heaven at thieir present age forgetting that they were once teenagers. I am definitely sharing this with friends. Thank you for the enlightenment.

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed this post. Your comment means a lot to me. I am so sorry I didn’t see this until today.
      Parents do need to remember they were once teens. I think it’s even harder now than when I was young.

  11. This is a brilliant post. Learning to listen to my teen rather than instantly trying to jump in and give advice has been a challenge for me but something I constantly work on. I feel very blessed that I am involved in social media on a daily basis and can understand what teens go through online. I think parents who don’t understand the online world do really struggle.

  12. You give great insight into the teen mind. I would agree that it is very important to admit when mistakes are made and apologize for them for both parents and teens.

  13. mapsandmonograms

    Every generation goes through it’s own challenges. I’m pretty sure you nailed this generations. I guess I never really sat down to think about it (we’re not at that stage yet!). Excellent insight.

  14. I think kids have it both better and worse that we did – just like we had it better (and worse) than our parents. With each new generation comes advances in technology, but also the advances of issues that come with the technology.

  15. Great article! I know, teens today definitely have it rough in a lot of ways my generation didn’t. Great perspective. Thanks for sharing.

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