Ages 13+
Teenage Negativity

4. Teenage Negativity

Summary:

The need to become an individual can often manifest itself in negative and unyielding attitudes. Though teenagers’ criticisms and complaints can be unsophisticated, parents should still engage with them. Critical reasoning can help make the process of becoming an individual less painful and more productive.

It can be difficult to know how to react to teenagers’ negativity. On the one hand, their attitudes may seem too extreme and unsophisticated to take seriously. On the other, they can be exasperating and even hurtful when directed against the parents themselves. But parents should do their best to avoid being either dismissive or defensive. 

The teenager’s emotional negativity is an extreme version of something we are all prone to indulge in from time to time, no matter how highly we may prize our calmness and understanding. Parents should remind themselves that this negativity is part of a bid to become a fully-fledged autonomous individual with an opinion deserving of recognition and respect. 

Parents can help them reach this goal by taking their teens’ complaints seriously. This doesn’t mean telling them they’re right when they aren’t, but treating them as conversation partners worthy of engagement. Parents can ask their children to substantiate and defend their claims using argument and evidence; challenge their children when they fail to argue well; and compliment them when make good points.

This can be a good opportunity for parents themselves to refresh their ability to put aside emotions and handle a topic fairly and dispassionately. By modeling these kinds of intellectual virtues parents make it more likely that their children will adopt them.

Arguing with teenagers can be fun, especially if they begin to experience the kind of satisfaction that comes out of reasoned debate over complicated issues.

Of course these arguments will not always go smoothly, but over time parents can help bring their children into the critical community. Arguing with teenagers can be fun, especially if they begin to experience the kind of satisfaction that comes out of reasoned debate over complicated issues.

The quest for individuality also manifests itself in a need to create or to win over a new group, a group that can become one’s ideal family. The phenomenon of teenage cliques or gangs—and even radical organizations—arises from this fact. Not being understood or accepted is stifling. We need an escape valve, and so, as social animals, we create or join a group that meets our needs.