The Sensitivity of Teens

Sometimes it is easy to forget just how sensitive and egocentric teens can be. With a community of thoughtful, confident and engaged students, it can be a bit unnerving when you are reminded that they are teens after all. The most calm and well-spoken teen can, when feeling provoked, become defensive, angry or sullen. Last week, I had a number of reminders about the vulnerability of adolescents. Students popped into my office throughout the week, upset about a comment or gesture made by a classmate or teacher. Typically, the student felt that someone in the community made a remark that was careless or in their interpretation “mean”.

A simple comment, such as “I need this assignment tomorrow” from a teacher to a student struggling to stay afloat, can elicit the immediate thought: “This teacher hates me”. Pointing out that perhaps the teacher simply wanted the assignment and it had nothing to do with personality, was met with a shrug. I should know better. In the heat of the moment, a hurt teen needs to feel hurt and needs to feel heard. The last thing he wants is to be corrected or educated. Education can come later.

It is easy to forget the devastation a teen can feel when she is “betrayed” by a friend. A hasty, blunt text received on a cold, dark February day, can send the most upbeat teen into deep depression. A, “Not Now” text written in haste by one student to another in an otherwise great friendship caused hurt feelings and fear that the friendship was over. Never mind that the student who sent the text was with her family and busy. The receiver of the text was a teen focused on her own reality and didn’t consider the reality of the sender of the text. Her feelings were hurt and in the heat of the moment she could not see beyond the hurt.

As parents we have all been stopped cold as our teen yelled out, “you just don’t understand”, “you just don’t care”, or “you never listen to me”. At times I have heard all three at once. I try to respond back with a variety of tactics; kindness, explanation or in exasperation, “Stop it, you are being ridiculous.” But, I need to remember that he is a teen and it is not about me or even, necessarily, about reality. He is hurt, and upset and my words won’t mean much. I need to remember that a teen’s reality can switch instantly depending on mood or state of mind. I need to remember that even though our kids may appear grownup and confident, at any given moment, they might become that crying three-year- old they once were, looking for a hug.