Teens need a certain kind of attention. They need to know they are loved, respected, and accepted for who they are. They need to know they are safe. For parents and caregivers, it can be a difficult relationship to have because they have these needs, and yet, adolescents don’t necessarily return the favor. Although parents might love their teen and show love for their teen, he or she will likely attempt to move relationally closer to their friends.
A parent might kiss their teen son on the forehead as he is on his way out, for example, and in response to the kiss, he pushes his parent away and says, “See ya”. There’s little reciprocity in the relationship. Despite this, teens need what they need! Adolescents, regardless of their one-word answers and few signs of affection, still need to feel heard, safe, loved, and trusted. And in addition to this, they need to find a sense of meaning or purpose in their lives.
A teen needs to feel heard. Most people want to be heard and understood. They want to know that what they say, the experiences they’re having, and the thoughts they are thinking matter. As caregivers we can provide this to our teens. We can do this by really listening. Listening in a way, perhaps, that doesn’t happen very often – at least not in most conversations. Most people listen long enough in order to say what they want to say. Yet, as a parent or caregiver, when you listen to your teen, use all of your senses, including your intuition. Watch your child’s body language. Listen for what he or she is communicating underneath the words. Then, when you respond, repeat back to your child what you heard in your own words. This process strengthens trust and respect. Your child will likely feel heard and understood. If you succeed in this task, your child will be more willing to discuss in more detail his or her life, thoughts, desires, needs, and challenges. And, more importantly, he or she will also be more open to what you have to say.
A teen needs to feel safe. The experience of fear and the search for safety and comfort in relationship are core human experiences. They are not simply for those who have been traumatized. The search for safety is what drives us and serves as our primary motivation for the formation of our earliest relationships. When a teen feels safe in the relationships with his family, especially his parents, he or she feels secure enough to explore the world around him or her. When there’s safety, there is little to no fear. And at this stage of life, a teen needs the freedom to discover who he or she is. An adolescent needs the security in order to feel comfortable in uncovering a sense of self, which is the primary psychological task during adolescence.
This is the first article of two on the essential needs of teens. It’s easy to carry on with life as normal with our children. But isn’t it interesting that teens let parents know, hey, something is different during this life stage. Teens will begin to behave differently, talk and dress differently, and they will certainly have dramatically different needs than they did as children. As they make their way to adulthood, the needs listed in this article series are meant to highlight the psychological requirements of adolescents so that they can successfully transition to adulthood. And not only successfully transition, but also become adults who succeed in their chosen careers and who know how to love others. The next article will explore a teen’s need to be loved, trusted, and have meaning in life.