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Annoyed by teensplaining? What an expert says that could mean

<i>digitalskillet/iStockphoto/Getty Images</i><br/>Dr. Katie Hurley helps parents better listen and respond to their teens.
digitalskillet/iStockphoto/Getty Images
Dr. Katie Hurley helps parents better listen and respond to their teens.

By Katia Hetter, CNN

(CNN) — My teen was explaining to the adults in our house how used bookstores work recently, including how much credit versus cash we could get back when bringing in used books.

It was late, and I may have rolled my eyes. My mother trained me on libraries and bookstores when I was in utero.

Teensplaining, I called it, and a lot of my local mom friends agreed with me, sharing details of those lectures that pop up in kids as young as 5 years old.

I turned to Dr. Katie Hurley, a licensed clinical social worker and author of “No More Mean Girls,” who I thought would comfort me in my annoyance. Instead, she showed up ready to help me understand what my child was trying to do and why I was annoyed.

Hurley, who has helped CNN readers sort out body image for girls and parenting in difficult times, understood where I was coming from. And just as important, she understood my teen’s motives in trying to grow up. Here’s what she had to say.

This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

CNN: Why are teens lecturing parents about stuff like no one ever lived before they were born? 

Dr. Katie Hurley: The bittersweet part of parenting, from start to finish, is that it’s our job to instill our kids with enough information and confidence to one day leave us in the dust. We want them to take their newfound skills and head out into the world! This begins with teaching toddlers and preschoolers to button their shirts and put on their coats, kindergarten students to tie their shoes and learn their sight words, and the learning and growing continues at a steady pace as they grow. It is the developmental task of the teen to individuate little by little from their parents, and one way this is achieved is by examining the world through their own lens.

CNN: It’s so irritating to be lectured, isn’t it? 

Hurley: One thing I encourage parents to do when they feel bothered by teens sharing their knowledge about something is to take a slow, deep breath and ask themselves, “Why does this bother me so much?” In some cases, parents might feel like their teens are dismissive of their life experiences and knowledge. In other cases, parents might experience the difficulty of letting go as teens form their own opinions. Or perhaps a parent is simply exhausted and not in the headspace for a lecture from a teen.

CNN: What do we say to the previous generations when they lecture us on how they ran things in a stricter way?

Hurley: It’s common for people of different generations to have different ideas about how to handle difficult parenting moments. It’s always OK to set your boundaries and stick to them. You are the one raising your teen after all. You can say something like, “Thanks for your input, but I have a different way of interacting with my teen. These kids have been through a lot the past few years, so I’m taking a slightly different approach than you might have taken when I was that age.”

CNN: What are we telling our kids when we don’t listen to them? 

Hurley: When we are dismissive of teen voices, teens get the message that we don’t value their experiences and opinions. That fractures our relationships with our teens. Relational safety is fundamental to relationship building with teens, and that begins with listening more than we speak and meeting them with empathy and compassion.

CNN: So, how can I listen better to my teen, and how can I ask them to talk in a way that’s easier to hear them? 

Hurley: I always caution parents to follow the 80/20 rule: Listen 80% of the time; talk 20%. Ask follow-up questions to get a sense of where your teen is coming from. One reason teens might feel somewhat disconnected from parents is that a lot has changed since their parents were teens. Technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, and teens are keeping pace, while adults are more deliberate about when and how they engage with technology.

One thing that helps is sharing pictures and stories — of your own youth, not social media memes — to demonstrate the lengths you went to in an effort to communicate with peers, get to a party on a Friday night or finish an assignment on a tight deadline — CliffsNotes, anyone? What we find when we trade stories with our teens is that many themes are similar: changing friendships, peer pressure, procrastination, pressure to succeed, and the list goes on, but new pressures and challenges emerge over time. Remembering our past and leaning in to the current circumstances of our teens helps us empathize with them and understand their point of view.

Here are few questions that might help you connect instead of slipping into fight mode:

• Do you want support or solutions right now?
• I remember my teen years, but I also know a lot has changed. Do you want to see some old photos and trade stories?
• How cool that (used bookstores) are becoming popular again. Why do you think this is important to your age group?
• What cool energy-saving hacks have you seen on TikTok lately? I need some new ideas.
• Where do you go for ideas when you’re feeling stuck on a homework assignment?
• Can you believe three-way calling was the best solution for a study group when I was your age? How do you and your friends connect when you don’t feel like leaving the house?

CNN: What can this generation of teens teach us?

Hurley: We can learn a lot from them. They seek to understand how they can improve our environment and use their voices to foster social justice. While they haven’t learned everything there is to learn about the world around them, they do like to assert what they have learned so far. Instead of feeling upset by the teen expert living in your home, try coming from a place of curiosity. Engage in critical discourse by listening and sharing, not just lecturing. You might learn something new!

It’s really not a competition between teens and their parents. To truly keep our attachments strong and healthy as teens individuate, the best thing we can do is get comfortable with discomfort and learn how to meet teens where they are. Read the books they suggest, watch the TikToks they send, and soak in the moments of shared learning that occurs when we stop feeling defensive and start enjoying the process of parenting a teen.

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