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Why Teenagers Reject Parents’ Solutions to Their Problems

As hard as it is for parents to stop ourselves, 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 our teenagers as a vote of no confidence when they are mainly seeking our reassurance that they can handle whatever life throws at them.

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 loan teenagers a bit of perspective and confidence when their own feels shaken.

Even teenagers who have already addressed a problem may still seek our reassurance. Kathleen said she sometimes tells her parents “about a situation and what I did to solve it” in order to get validation that she made the right choice. When this happens, she says she’s “not really looking for their solution, just checking that they think I did the right thing with my limited problem-solving experience.”

Adolescents often feel vulnerable, perhaps especially so when they open up to adults about their jams and scrapes. In these moments, well-intentioned guidance can land like criticism, and lectures or I-told-you-sos — however warranted — might feel like outright attacks. Even if you are itching to point out that studying for the chemistry test last weekend instead of going to a basketball game would have prevented the problem altogether, it’s probably best to save that conversation for another time.

More often than not, offering our teenagers an ear, empathy and encouragement gives them what they came for. But if after that your adolescent is still seeking a resolution, some advice might (at last!) be welcome. Start by asking if your teenager wants help solving the problem. If you get a yes, divide the issue into categories: what can be changed and what cannot.

[Read more: The difference between helping and helicoptering.]

For the first type, focus on the needs your teenager identifies and work together to brainstorm solutions. For the second type, help them come to terms with the things they cannot control.

Joshua Siegel, a 16-year-old from Houston, lost all of his free time when the cross-country season landed on top of his already busy schedule. “I was completely overwhelmed with cross-country and band and class, but my parents understood that quitting the team wasn’t something I wanted to do.”

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