When Teens Don’t “Got it”

By Nadine Briggs and Donna Shea

Teenagers who have social struggles sometimes have no awareness of their challenges. As adults, we watch them implode, socially cringing all the while. Observing these interactions can be much like witnessing a car accident on the highway. You see the person veering into the next lane oblivious to the pending crash and the innocent driver who stayed in his lane, about to become the victim of the accident. Sometimes the person who caused the collision denies any accountability and might double down on how it was the other guy’s fault. Teens do the same thing when social interactions go awry. They will claim that everyone in their class is a jerk or all the guys on the team are mean. If your teen is saying this across many different groups such as scouts, sports, gym class, science lab, and on and on, then it might not be all the other kids who are jerks all the time. There might be something that the teen is doing to elicit adverse reactions from others. When approached on this topic, many teens will deny it and “I’ve got this, Mom” or “You don’t understand, I’m just joking” or “I don’t mean it THAT way.”

But we know that, in reality, they don’t “got it.” Telling them this can feel as though we are diminishing them and hurting their feelings, so we soften how we explain it. But if we are too soft, they might stay in that lane of denial. We see the problem, and we know that they don’t understand the way they are coming across. This issue will not resolve unless the teen is on board with listening to a social coach, counselor, or parent. In this case, we need to be both loving and caring, but also firm and let them know; they don’t “got it” and getting some help could help change at least some of those “jerks” into friends.