Help, My Teen is SOOO Negative

If you have a teen, you’ve probably noticed how negative they can become. Sure, they take risks, which is good. They also exhibit an idealistic view of what can be accomplished to change the world.  (Which, by the way is also a good thing.) Unfortunately, they can also exhibit a negativity that can drive any parent to the brink of sanity.

A study published in 2019 suggests this negativity is a normal part of teen life, a part of the maturation process. They reached this conclusion after having 9,546 people take a test of emotional sensitivity. This test measured how sensitive the participants of various ages were to facial cues of happiness, anger, and fear. Guess what? Of all the ages, adolescents were the most sensitive to facial expressions of anger and social threat. Their sensitivity to negative facial cues seemed to improve dramatically during mid-adolescence. They become “experts” at seeing negative emotions in another person’s facial expression…and they respond to that emotion in kind.

Interestingly, as we age, we become less sensitive to facial cues of anger and fear while retaining our sensitivity to happiness. So don’t get to bogged down in your teen’s negative responses or negative attitude. They will mature and become more sensitive to happiness. In the meantime, these tips may help you survive the teen wave of negativity.

  1. Have fun with your teen. Engage in activities they enjoy. Watch a comedy. Go for a bike ride. Play catch. Joke around a little. Enjoy dinner out.
  2. Listen to your teen and empathize with the struggles of teen life. Teen life is challenging. Accept the normalcy of teen challenges and teen negative. Then focus on being a positive support for your teen as they navigate the challenges of the teen years. 
  3. Gently challenge their use of absolutes like “always” and “never” that can contribute to escalating their negative thinking. Avoid using those same absolutes in your own thoughts and speech.
  4. Enjoy stories, movies, and films that depict people overcoming the challenges of life in realistic ways.
  5. Gather supports for yourself. A group of friends can make sure you hear the voice of validation and support from those engaged in raising teens as well. A supportive group of friends can also include those parents who have already navigated the teen years and provide a voice of wisdom and perspective.

These tips will not alleviate all the negativity from your teen’s life or your home. However, they can add a balance of joy, intimacy, and happiness that you and your teen will appreciate.

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