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Talking to Teens: What is Your Teen Ready to Hear (And How Do You Know)?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

While researching topics and articles for our blog, we found an article in the online pop culture/positive storytelling website Upworthy called “Adults Share Things Teens ‘Aren’t Ready To Hear,’ And It’s Some Solid Advice For All Ages.”

Funny, we thought.

What kind of things are they talking about?

What are teens not ready to hear in 2021?

After all, our teens see and hear absolutely everything online, don’t they?

Then we read the article and realized what they’re talking about are life lessons – some small, and some big – that you only learn through experience. For instance, the authors led with this one:

“There will come a day when even Bille Eilish is no longer cool.”

Cute, right?

Similar to the lesson you learn, sometime in your 30s, about the music you loved as a teen: just about everyone thinks the music that was hot when they were between ages 13 and 17 is the best music ever. In fact, we’ll quote a meme on this one:

“It’s proven scientific fact that pop music peaked – historically speaking – when I was in 10th grade.”

Also cute.

And we agree: most teens aren’t ready to hear that the pop/punk/rock/alt/folk music they have on repeat might not be the pinnacle of recorded music, superior to their parents’ music, never to be matched again.

Fair enough: we’ll let them live with what they love.

No harm, no foul.

But that got us thinking:

What are teens ready to hear?

As in life lessons that are actually important?

And how do you know when they’re ready?

Good questions – and we have answers.

Teen Talk: Ready for Reality

We’ll answer that last question first.

Teens are ready to learn new information when they learn to form a logical question about that information.

We’ll digress for a moment.

Experience – and research – tells us that kids who learn real facts about sex and drugs have sex and try drugs later in life than kids whose parents ignore the questions, refuse to answer them, or give them answers that aren’t based in fact.

Sure, when a seven-year-old asks where babies come from, you tailor the information and delivery to their level of comprehension – but the experts say that telling them “The stork brings babies!” is a mistakes, and does the child a disservice.

Now, back to the topic: what kind of real talk are teens ready to hear?

What life lessons can they learn now, instead of waiting ten or fifteen years to learn them the hard way?

We know – this list is endless.

But we narrowed it down to three.

Three Things Teens Are Ready to Hear

1. About School

The thing about school is that most teens don’t realize how good this part of life really is. We all have our roles to play every day. As parents, we work, we take care of the home, we provide for our families: that’s what we do. That’s our job. And, unless we’re fortunate enough to be born into a situation where we don’t have to work – we all have to work. Here’s what teens are ready to hear:

Right now, school is your job. It’s your responsibility to learn what you like, what you’re good at, what you dislike, what you’re not so good at, and start to chart your path through life. That’s literally your job right now – and as far as jobs go, that’s a pretty good one. Cherish it while it lasts.

That segues perfectly to the next thing teens are ready to hear.

2. About Work

This one is also related to social media, becoming internet famous, and dreaming of being a superstar influencer. The first thing a teen needs to hear is this: although becoming a celebrity based on your personality and taste alone is possible, it’s exceedingly rare – and not something to plan your future around.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s what teens are ready to hear about work:

There’s honor, value, and dignity in every job, every vocation, and every calling. No one job is superior to any other job. Carpenters and builders make the houses we live in: without them, where would we be? Bus drivers take kids to school and people to work every day. Where would we be without them? Teachers teach kids foundational knowledge they need to succeed in life. Where would we be without them? Doctors help us heal when we’re sick. Mechanics fix our cars when they break down. The IT person solves our computer issues when our systems crash. Every single one of these jobs occupies an important place in our society, and every person doing them has an important has an important role to fill.

You may not find your true purpose right away. But even if you feel like you’re marking time until you find your calling or your career job, remember this: every job you do is important and contributes something of value to the world.

3. About Being Cool

One of the first thing you really learn when you become a legitimate adult is that you never really were cool in the first place, anyway. Maybe some of us were cool. Maybe some of us are still cool. But what we mean is this: fads come and go, and what’s considered cool is often influenced by passing fads. For instance, many parents who have teens now were teens themselves in the 1980s. At the end of the 80s, did we think leg warmers, hair metal bands, and neon colors would make a comeback?

Not a chance.

But then there we were in 2015 and teens were belting out “Don’t Stop Believin” every time we turned around.

Here’s what we think teens are ready to hear about being cool:

Being cool does not matter. What matters is how you treat the people you meet. Be good to them. Be kind to them. That matters and that lasts. What matters is being true to yourself. Be honest. Be kind. Those things matter, and those things last. When time passes, and you go to your high school reunions at 10, 15, and 20 years out, the people you’ll want to see and reconnect with are those people. The ones who were honest, kind, and good to everyone. The cool snarky one? Sure, you may be curious about what happened to them. But believe us when we tell you, the nice ones are the ones you’re going to want to see. Be one of them.

That’s our list.

We think those teens are ready to hear those things, need to hear those things, and can benefit from hearing those things. But since every teen is different, you can decide what your teen is ready to hear. And remember the rule of thumb: if they can ask an intelligent question about a topic, they’re ready to hear real information on that topic.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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