“For Sale: Teenager, comes equipped with rolling eyes, deep sighs, and sarcastic comments. Plays video games and texts 200 wpm. No reasonable offer will be refused.” I laughed out loud when I saw this meme, because as a mother of two teenage daughters, I get it! When my girls became teenagers, it was as though a switch was thrown and they instantly believed they were all-knowing. Correction: if they don’t think they know everything, they definitely think they know way more than Mom and Dad. No matter what the issue– overscheduling activities, the importance of middle/high school, or settling conflicts between friends– Mom and Dad don’t have a clue. My husband and I have tried giving them advice and guiding them through these struggles, but often to no avail. After all, how could we possibly understand their situations when we’re so old?!? We don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager in this day and age. We didn’t have these pressures when we were young. We didn’t have the same kinds of problems when we were growing up. When I hear these things from them and I’m ready to go ballistic, my husband reminds me, “They’re teenagers. We behaved this way too.” I know he’s right; I listen to his advice and don’t fire back. So when the tears start flowing from Daughter #1 because three of the four clubs she joined are meeting on the same day at the same time and she can’t possibly go to all of them simultaneously, I hold my tongue. When Daughter #2 complains of insomnia but won’t put her electronics away in the evening to let her brain relax, I bite my lip. When high drama ensues for Daughter #1 because two close friends are fighting over some perceived slight and she feels the need to either take sides or fix the situation, I keep my mouth shut. However, when both girls give me attitude about helping with the household chores, that’s when I lose my mind and start screaming like a banshee. “I ask so little of you and do so much for you, and this is how you treat me when I ask for help!?!” Everyone with teenagers has uttered words like these, or maybe something worse, at one point or another. We all have our breaking points.
Years ago, after one of many curfew arguments with my parents, I remember my mom telling my teenage self, “You’ll get payback when you have kids.” Sure enough, she was right. Yes, I know I also behaved this way as a teenager, but why? Is this an inherited trait? Does this mean my kids got their “always right” attitude from me? Maybe they picked it up from their friends? Or, the scariest possibility, is this attitude caused by bad parenting on my part? I needed to uncover the reason for this teenage viewpoint, not just so I could learn how to deal with my daughters better, but so I could figure out if the situation was my fault to begin with.
I did the first thing that every parent does when they’re faced with a problem in this day and age– I did an internet search. The first link that popped up was a website called EmpoweringParents.com. It had an article titled “Why Your Teen Thinks They Know Everything” written by Colleen O’Grady. Within the first few lines O’Grady states that there is a clear reason teens all over the world behave this way. “A significant part of your teenager’s brain, the prefrontal cortex, is undeveloped,” she proclaims. She goes on to compare the prefrontal cortex to the brakes on a car. “The thing with teens is that they get the gas (the impulses), but they have a faulty brake system (an undeveloped prefrontal cortex).” This simple analogy explained so much about my kids! The brakes in their brain haven’t been installed yet! This is the reason my girls struggle with things such as planning ahead, managing emotions and delaying responses, showing empathy, and understanding the big picture. Here’s the really scary part: the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until age 25! This means that for the next decade or so, I will need to keep guiding my kids in the right direction and giving them advice in the hopes of preventing them from making decisions that could have serious consequences. With any luck they will listen to me most of the time. Some of the time they won’t. But that is what life is about. Every decision you make, whether you are the parent or the child, is a learning experience.
I now understand why so many people with teens have gray hair. But hopefully my kids will weather all this teen angst and become successful adults. Then, if I’m lucky enough to have grandkids, one thing is certain. My children will have teenagers just like them! When my kids become the parents on the receiving end, they will ask the same question to my husband and me: “Why do teenagers think they know everything?” We can watch everything come full circle!