Parents of Teens: Do You Ever Ask "WHY is she so MEAN to me?"


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Do you ever wonder what is behind the occasional nasty attitudes expressed by your teenager? Teenagers can make their parents feel pretty badly at times; if they only knew how much their words and actions sometimes hurt us they’d probably stop. Perhaps.

It isn’t a developmental necessity that teenagers be mean to their parents, but enough of them demonstrate this behavior that it not only warrants examination here, it is the topic of frequent discussion among parents. And when young adults look back, they say things like “I’m still apologizing to my mom for how I treated her when I was in high school. ”

Why do they act this way? What’s behind this behavior? Here are a couple of reasons.

During adolescence parents fall off the pedestal we once stood on when our kids were young. And that is a developmental necessity. Part of the process that teenagers are experiencing includes separating from parents, a process psychologists call “individuation. ” They are coming into their own true – separate – selves. And this includes seeing parents realistically – and that means they see our flaws and short comings as well as our positive attributes.

Smaller children often make that pedestal parents stand on pretty high; think back and you’re sure to remember incidences that surprised you when you realized how you were perceived as infallible, nearly “perfect, ” truly “adored. ” When teenagers begin to gain a more realistic view of their parents it can actually be scary for them. They can feel vulnerable, angry even, to discover their parents are only human, imperfect like the rest of humanity. Obviously they will learn to cope with this realization, but at an unconscious level it can still be disturbing to them. This can be one cause of their “mean” behavior toward parents.

It will help parents to understand that along with the disappointment in learning adults are flawed, may also come relief as teenagers learn that “perfection” is not a prerequisite for adulthood. Parents can help their teens through this shift in thinking and this important developmental step by being realistic about their flaws.

Another reason why kids sometimes present challenging attitudes to parents is that they’re testing out ideas. Hopefully, at a deep level, your teen knows that he/she can count on you and you’ll never abandon him/her, no matter what. That makes you, then, the safest person with whom she can express her feeling and thoughts – even ones that are not typically allowed in our culture.

Parents who provide walls and boundaries are not only keeping kids safe, they are providing walls to push against, and push they will! This may not be what the parent intends, but it is often the case, again, because of the inherent “safety” in the relationship. Parents can become, merely because of circumstances, the testing ground teens use to verbalize ideas, attitudes and behavior, sometimes with little regard for our feelings. Mother-daughter relationships, in particular, can exemplify this. One author referred to “mother” as the “standard to which she aspires and struggles against. ” So, you see the challenge can be built right into the relationship.

There are many causes for the changing behavior of teenagers, and some of the attitudes they express can hurt parents’ feelings. The more parents understand the underlying causes for what is going on, the more we can properly manage our responses. We certainly don’t need to accept unacceptable behavior, but on the other hand we can help the situation if we are knowledgeable about what might be really behind it.

Sue Blaney
© 2004

Sue Blaney is the author of Please Stop the Rollercoaster! How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride and Practical Tips for Parents of Young Teens; What You Can Do to Enhance Your Child’s Middle School Years. As a communications professional and the parent of two teenagers, she speaks frequently to parents and schools about parenting issues, improving communications and creating parent discussion groups. Visit our website at


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