How to Understand an Adolescent

How to Understand an Adolescent

Last update: 28 July, 2022

“You don’t have to suffer to be a poet. Adolescence is already enough suffering for everyone.” That’s how the poet John Ciardi characterized this time of our lives. Although it’s true that an adolescent can feel profoundly misunderstood, this stage of their development doesn’t have to be tragic. In fact, studies across cultures seem to confirm that conflicts of adolescence are the product of a set of cultural factors.

The psychologist and teacher G. Stanley Hall estimated the following. “Adolescence is a a rebirth, since with it more complete and evolved human traits are born.” Again, this is a pretty radical statement, as it equates a stage in a child’s life with an unknown world that opens up before him, as if everything in it was new, to be discovered.

We tend to understand adolescence as a period of time in which a young person undergoes many changes. Some of these changes are pretty radical, and happen in a short amount of time. It’s a time when they are also subjected to tremendous pressure from their peers and family members.

If that’s so, at least in our culture, the question is simple, what can we do to help them through this stage? What resources are within our reach? How can they integrate the changes in a way that keeps them from being traumatic?

Understanding an adolescent

Understanding an adolescent is not an easy task, and it requires a great deal of effort by their parents. Usually it seems to parents that their child, who was always comprehensible and close to them, now turns gruff and distant. However, there is a set of key factors that can help parents understand the true needs of adolescents. These can help them empathize with the sudden changes that are happening in the teenager’s psyche.


Empathy is necessary in every facet of life, especially in the face of comprehending an adolescent. The ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and understand their feelings and mental processes is fundamental. We have all been teenagers once. Since each one of us has gone through this stage, it is important to connect with our inner self. We should analyze what our thoughts, feelings, longings and burdens were. The past can help us, but we have to view everything in light of present circumstances, not from our past ones. 


We shouldn’t think, for example, that since in our adolescence we didn’t have the need to have a cellphone, teenagers now shouldn’t have one either. We can’t do this. What society and peers deemed as a normal during your time, no longer applies. Thus, if we want to understand modern-day adolescents, we need to make an effort beyond pulling out old memories.

The need to fit in

An adolescent requires greater independence and autonomy. How they are viewed by others or how they fit into their social world is of vital importance to them. Ignoring this fact or underestimating its importance is an enormous mistake that an adult shouldn’t commit.


You must understand that a problem which may seem like a speck of dust to you, to them could be a a great heaping pile of rocks. Act accordingly, use empathy and recognize their suffering, their need for independence. Encourage the resolution of problems in accordance to their own abilities. Give the problem the importance they are also giving it, or they will drift away from you.


Many people compare the stage of adolescence with rebellion. And this is not necessarily the case. They simply come to a phase in which they need independence and new horizons. Teens require a certain degree of distance from their parents in order to find their own way. If this is not provided, they will fight against it.

We must remember that the youngster is starting to think in a more rational and abstract way. Their bodies are changing, and with it so are their brains and their way of seeing the world. They need to affirm themselves, get out of their comfort zone, out of the limits of parental control. They must build their own code of ethics. 

We, as adults, must understand that this is a bad stage to try to impose oneself on the adolescent. It is normal for them to argue, to talk about their own points of view, whether they are wrong or not, and for you to disagree respectfully. If we don’t accept this as something natural and logical. If we aren’t willing to maintain dialogues with them, we will never be able to understand children at this age.


I want to understand a teenager

If you want to understand a teenager, you have a hard road ahead of you. We recommend that you converse a lot and let them have their own personal space. Understand that they are no longer your “baby” or “the apple of your eye.” Be realistic in your objectives. Provide them with a lot of useful information and be on the look out for possible problems. These include lack of sleep and excessively drastic changes. These may include a drop in their academic performance or a radical change in their normal group of friends.

Understanding an adolescent is only complex if you start handling the situation late. With the appropriate information and an empathetic attitude, it doesn’t have to be a hard task. This period of time doesn’t have to be one filled with frustration. Keep in mind, you have raised and educated that little one yourself. Therefore, putting yourself in their shoes should be a simpler task than it seems.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.