PARENTS of adolescents are often confronted by puzzling sequence of events. 

First, teenagers bring is their problems; second, we earnestly offer suggestions and solutions; and third teenagers dismiss our ideas as irritating, irrelevant or both.

These moments feel right for connection. Why do they so often turn sour? Almost always it's because we're not giving teenagers what they're looking for. Consciously or not here's what they most likely want.


Adolescents, just like adults, may find the best relief from simply articulating their worries and concerns. Indeed, it's an aphorism among psychologists that most problems feel better when they're on the outside rather than on the inside, and this holds true whether the difficulties are big or small.

When teenagers bring problems our way, it's best to start assuming that they aren't inviting suggestions, or at least are not inviting them as yet. So let them vent.

''Ill talk to my parents as a sounding board,'' said 18-year-old Kathleen Deedy of Mission Hills, Kan, ''especially if it's not enough of an issue for me to want to do something about it. I just want to get it off my chest.''

Adolescents may also share what's on their minds as a way to spill their jumbled thoughts on the table, where they can survey and perhaps organize them.

According to a 15-year-old Issla Steven Schneider of Emerald Hills, Calif., ''to list the problems, to put it into words, that helps a lot.''

Adults can also create the space that teenagers need to do this, so long as we remember to listen without interrupting and hold back from adding our own thoughts to the pile.


Much of what bothers teenagers cannot be solved. We can't fix their broken hearts, prevent their social dramas, or do anything about the fact that they have three huge tests scheduled for the same day.

 But having a problem is not so nearly so bad as feeling alone with it.

Teenagers often have difficulties they feel like sharing, but not with their friends. At these times, they may come to us, but looking only for empathy, not solutions.

Offering a sincere, ''Oh man, that stinks,'' or ''You have every right to be upset,'' lets them know that we are willing to keep them company in their distress.

To further express our solidarity we might ask, ''Do you want me to stay nearby, or would it help to have some time alone?'' or ''Is there anything I can do that won't make things feel worse?''

These questions send the powerful message that we are not put off by teenagers' distress and will stick with them, even when nothing can be done.


'As hard as it is for parents to stop themselves, rushing in with suggestions carries the risk that you'll be communicating the idea. ''You can't fix this, but I can.'' This might strike teenagers as a vote of no confidence.

Instead of proposing solutions, we might bolster adolescents as they sort things out. Saying, ''I've seen you get through things like this before'' or ''This is tough, but you are, too'' can effectively lean teenagers a bit of perspective and confidence when their own feels shaken.

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on Teenagers continues. The World Students Society thanks author Lisa Damour.


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