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What to say to a teen when they know “everything”

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Shutterstock I Antonio Guillem

Cerith Gardiner - published on 03/31/23

Sometimes it's hard to find the perfect words when our adolescents claim to be so knowledgeable.

One of the delights of having a teenager in the house is that they can teach you about everything. After all, as my own collection of teens so often tell me, I know nothing!

When my daughter used to tell me — often with great infuriation — how I should do something, or what I should or shouldn’t say, I used to feel my blood boil a little. After all, how could this 17-year-old be so arrogant as to dismiss my years of experience? Then, as she continued to be a know-it-all, I considered what was behind her behavior.

First, as most parents of teens can attest, the transition into adulthood can be confusing for them. While they’re expected to adopt more adult-like behavior, sometimes they’re just not ready. And sometimes they may even regress. The world can be daunting at the best of times, and these last years of childhood are often tricky when big life decisions need to be made.

Add to that the pressures of their peers, our teens are almost invited to grow up too quickly, and to behave in a certain manner that might seem a little alien to them.

So when my teens assert that I know “nothing” and that the world is so different now to how it was when I was their age, I try to listen. I try to interpret what is going on behind their attack — as it’s so often the fact that these claims of my ignorance come when they’re frustrated, tired, or maybe a little anxious.

I bite my tongue and stop myself from saying they have no idea what they’re talking about. And I do this for a few reasons.

First, because sometimes I don’t really know what they’re talking about and I need to educate myself a little. (We have to remember that our kids have access to so much information thanks to Google and endless online tutorials that they’re learning things we might never have come across.)

Other times I feel that they’re trying out their ideas and thoughts on me. It seems that they’re sharing their knowledge in a way to impress, or to reaffirm what they believe to be true. It’s a bit like a comedian trying out their jokes on a family member before they take them out to a wider audience.

How to react to our emphatic teens

Once we can ascertain why our beloved teens are so emphatic about everything they know, it’s easier to digest and deal with. And in fact, I’ve learnt through my own four kids that there’s no real point in fighting it, or lobbing a sarcastic comeback when you know they’re making fools out of themselves.

The reason being is that I don’t want to humiliate my kids. I want them to think that their ideas and thoughts are worthwhile. But — and this is a big but — I don’t want them to go through life arrogantly believing they know everything.

So what I do is acknowledge the fact they’ve taught me something (if they have) — normally with an “every day is a school day” kind of comment, trying to encourage them to realize that we never stop learning.

If I know what they’re saying is incorrect, I’ll ask them how they found the information. I’ll try to find the accurate information (hello internet!) and gently explain that perhaps it’s worthwhile looking into the subject in more detail.

But I also have times when I need them to know that they don’t know everything. After all, who does? I point out that it’s never pleasant being a know-it-all, and we’re called to be a little humble by admitting that we still have lots to learn, it makes us a grow as an individual, and allows others to demonstrate and teach their own knowledge.

And, on the odd occasion, I do play the experience card. While I might not know everything, I’ve certainly experienced a lot more than my young teens and there’s a lot to be said for that!

(I’d just like to add that I apologize to my own parents for insisting I knew everything a few decades ago, and I appreciate that they never made me feel ridiculous for my totally unfounded claims.)

Tags:
Mental HealthParentingTeens
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