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Parents and Teens: Translation Series

In this series we are looking at common phrases used by teens and parents in an attempt to translate what these people might really be trying to saying to one another.  These translations might not be accurate in every case but they give us a starting point from which to ask questions of one another.  Good questions to ask each other are, "Can you tell me what that means to you?" or "Could you explain that to me in another way?  I want to be sure that I really understand you."

With that in mind and our sense of humor in hand here follow some translations:

Teen:  "I hate you!"

Translation:  " I hate how much I need you.  I really love you, but I have to have my sense of independence.  I feel like you're smothering my purpose and I hate having to make a decision between what I really want and my relationship with you.  I have to go towards the future, so until I feel that you will support me as I am right now I have to push you away.  And I don't want to have to do that because when it comes right down to it I know I can do a much better job of achieving what I really want in life if I have your help."

Parent:  "Why can't you be more like so and so?"

Translation:  "Right now I'm feeling like a failure as a parent.  I wish I could give you better things and a better future as I see it.  I really care about you and I've tried so hard here all by myself.  I don't understand why I'm not getting the response that I expected.  I wish you could help me out here; just show me that you care that I'm trying - maybe show me somehow that you want to work together with me."

Without ever meaning to, parents and teens often fail to respect one another.  Learning new ways to communicate with one another and finding a way to agree and be inspired about how to achieve their common purpose (building a path towards a truly fulfilling adult life for the teen) renders the above translations unnecessary.  A parent/teen relationship is a collaborative partnership that is meant to be exciting and fulfilling for all concerned.

Teen: "Mom (Dad) you are so cool!"

Functional Translation:  "You've always encouraged me to be myself and you really listen to what I'm actually saying instead of what you think I'm saying or what you wish I were saying.  You set a great example of how to be a complete human being because you have a unique and fulfilling life of your own that also includes enough time for me.  You've encouraged me to be independent and responsible for myself without ever bugging me about it.  You just naturally trust me and know that we are equals and as a result we are both good friends.  I admire you.  You give me confidence in my own future because I know I have a good chance of turning out a lot like you."

Dysfunctional Translation:  "I'm really glad that you give me whatever I want.  You make life easy for me by fulfilling all of my responsibilities for me and dealing with things that frighten me so that I can go off and play with my friends.  I know that if I remind you of how cool you are you will keep denying yourself and ignore the bad feelings you might be having about how I treat you or about what I want to go and do right now.  I'm glad that with you as a parent I can almost always get my own way and I like it that you forgive me when I hurt you because you know I can't really help it."

Parent: "I'm so proud of you."

Functional Translation: "I'm just amazed by how you've turned out.  You are a unique individual who has learned to follow the laws of your own inner being.  You have so much natural wisdom and insight and I love learning about the things that you are creating or exploring in life.  If you were not my child I would never have learned about these things.  You've developed a maturity that many adults lack.  I am so glad that I have encouraged you to be yourself and am honored to be the supportive container in which you have grown."

Dysfunctional Translation: "I'm so happy that you knuckled down and did the things I wanted you to do in life.  You make me look so good to my friends and to the world I want to live in and impress.  Despite your own personal inclinations you did what I believe to be the practical solid thing that will ensure that you have a safe and secure existence so that I never have to feel worried about you in the future.  You'd better make sure that you never deviate from the course I have set for you.  Remember, you don't want to lose my love and approval now do you?"


The same words can often have different meanings depending upon who says them.

Teen: "But you must buy it for me.  I need to have it now!  You don't realize how important this is to me."

Translation A:  "I feel that I need to impress my friends and those I am sexually attracted to.  I want this thing in order to have that extra bit of magic that will make this possible and make me feel cool and part of something special that is happening in the world I want to be a part of.  I need you to acknowledge that this drive is important to me and not to belittle something that has life and power.  I might also need you to gently check with me to explore the possibility that there might be some deeper insecurity that it would be good for me to start looking at with you.  If I feel accepted precisely where I am as a person I will feel free to find out what my deeper feelings might really mean.  Then I will be able to gain the power to truly be myself outside of the peer pressure that we all often experience in life.  I would probably also feel much better if I or we worked out a way that I could earn some money for myself so that I feel more secure that my needs can be more fairly and easily met.  But I don't need you to tell me this in a condescending manner."

Translation B: [a teen with an early sense of his or her life's calling]  "I'm feeling an intense commitment to achieve, accomplish or have this one thing in life.  The phase of life I am going through is one that causes all of us to experience our desires in a very pure and often overwhelming manner.  This is natural but it's causing both of us some stress.  I know that what I'm trying to do is unique and might not be easy to accomplish and I'm not sure if I have your support or understanding about what I really want to do.  This makes me feel frantic and causes me to be more impulsive.  I wish you were willing to sit down and help me to work out a long term plan to achieve my dream and support my true calling in life.  I might need some help in being more patient, optimistic and practical.  Once I know that I can really do it, the magic can start happening!"  

Parent: "You are going to do it Mr. ‘I'm-all-grown-up' and you'll do it right now!  You weren't too tired to stay up all night long with your friends!"

Translation:  "I know I'm acting a bit irrationally, but I'm scared and I'm frustrated.  I feel that I'm losing control of my life and I don't want you to be the wild card that makes things even harder to cope with.  I have an idea of how I want my home life to be and I haven't yet discovered a truly workable way to make this happen.  I'm getting the lifestyle that I want for myself mixed up with my idea of what I want for the family and I can't seem to find a good way to negotiate an agreement that will work for all of us.  I'm feeling a need to knock you down so that I don't feel so powerless.  I wish we could find a way to communicate like we did when you were younger.  I feel disrespected by you and I'm afraid that I'm losing you.  I feel that I need a little more support, acknowledgment and appreciation.  I also need to feel listened to."



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