Why It Is Important To Understand Your Teen’s Point of View

Do you struggle with how to understand your teen or to see things from their point of view? If you do, you are not alone, this is something that many parents find challenging.

We will not always see things through our children’s eyes or agree with our teen’s point of view. Neither will they with ours. This is just human nature.

How to understand your teen
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However, as a parent, it is important to try to figure out how to understand your teen and to see things from their point of view (even if you disagree with them). The reason for this is ‘connection capital’. As discussed in my previous blog, it is important to recognise, interpret and act on your teen’s bids for connection. This will support you to build a trusting relationship with your teen through the depositing of ‘connection capital’ into their ‘connection account’. The more regularly you deposit into your children’s ‘connection account‘ the stronger and more resilient your relationship with them will be.

Perspective-taking is an important thing to remember when building connection capital with our teens as they will not see our efforts as a deposit unless they feel that we ‘get them’.

Read more about how to respond to your teenager’s bids for connection in an LGBTQ+ and neuro-affirming way HERE

Put simply. It is very difficult for our teens to connect with a parent and to feel seen, loved and supported when they feel that we are judging them, disapproving of them or just ‘don’t get them’. Unfortunately, this is what we communicate to our teenagers when we diminish, dismiss or invalidate their thoughts, feelings and opinions by not attempting to see things from their perspective. We can do this even if we don’t intend to. However, their interpretation could mean that they are more likely to act defiantly, lie, sneak around, have a meltdown or withdraw.

Perspective-taking is particularly challenging when you have diversity in your family. If your family is anything like mine, you may have a mixture of neurotypical and neurodivergent, straight and queer or cisgender and transgender or non-binary family members. These are all complex issues to navigate in a family environment. Things are bound to get emotionally charged from time to time, causing conflict in your family.

Understanding Your Neurodivergent Teen: Challenges and Strategies

How to understand your Neurodivergent teen

Neurodiversity by definition means “differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population” The Oxford Dictionary.

Neurodiversity encompasses all brain variations such as neurotypical, autistic, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia. This also takes into account other forms of acquired neurodiversity like head trauma or PTSD.

Even within a type of neurodiversity such as autism, there can be huge variations from person to person as to how their autism affects them. This literally means that your teenager (who is also at a different stage of their development to you) has a very different brain to yours. Your teen may have a host of needs, strengths, difficulties and ways of communicating that are different to yours. This can make understanding them more challenging.

Having an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) or PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) profile of Autism, sensory processing difficulties, or co-occurring conditions such as Interoception, RSD (Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria) or being affected by Alexithymia can hugely shape how our teenagers see and experience the world.

Late-recognised neurodiversity, masking and the associated trauma of living as an unidentified neurodivergent in an ableist world can also shape our teenager’s internal world. All of these contributing factors can cause difficulties such as dysregulated behaviour, anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles. This can really put a strain on the parent/teen relationship during an already challenging stage of parenting.

Here Are Some Helpful Strategies If You Are A Parent Of A Neurodivergent Teenager To Support You With How To Understand Your Teen:

  • If possible getting an accurate diagnosis of your teenager’s neurodiversity is key so that you can know what their needs, strengths and difficulties are.
  • Accepting and affirming your teen’s neurodivergent identity is essential for their well-being and your relationship with them.
  • Adapt your parenting by making accommodations for your teen’s needs, strengths and difficulties.
  • If a diagnosis is out of your reach or has been denied by medical professionals (as sadly it can be the case for a lot of families) do your own research, observe and speak to your child to find out what their internal world is like and the things that they find difficult. Explore neuro-affirming connection-focused parenting and experiment with some of the strategies to see what works for you and your teen. (I mean let’s face it, if traditional parenting is not working for you then it might be time to try something new – you really have nothing to lose!)

One of the most powerful things we can do as parents/carers or teachers is to be a detective and figure out what is behind a child or young person’s distress behaviour, and to ask ourselves ‘what are their unmet needs?’.

Yellow Ladybugs

Need Support For Your Family? Join The Neurodivergent Family Toolbox

How To Understand Your LGBTQ+ Teen: Common Experiences and Unique Perspectives

Teenager Perspectives

Speak to any teenager and you will find that they will probably have a very different outlook on concepts such as sex, sexuality and gender to their gen-Xer and millennial parents. This isn’t an uncommon generational phenomenon. After all, we probably have a very different perspective on these things than our own parents. These differences in our points of view can make it difficult to understand your teen.

Understanding your LGBTQ+ teen

Many teenagers are more open about talking about sex or see things like sexuality and gender as fluid. They are way more embracing of using different pronouns to describe people and open to non-conventional relationships.

Research has also shown that there is a large intersection between neurodiversity and diversity in sexuality and gender orientations.

Our teenagers are more likely to struggle with things like body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria. These conditions can lead to eating disorders, anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles.

Parent Perspectives

Many of us parents largely grew up in a heteronormitive and ci-gender culture and received minimal information about sex from our parents. By default, we learned that speaking about what went on between the sheets was private and even shameful.

Many genXers feared ‘coming out’ as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender as there was so much stigma attached to it. I don’t know about your childhood experience, but growing up in my conservative, middle-class South African family same-sex and bi-sexual relationships and being transgender were taboo subjects. I mean I can remember how controversial the first lesbian kiss on television was when C.J. and Abby kissed in L.A. Law in 1991. Even living with your partner outside of marriage was frowned upon.

Bridging The Gap In Perspectives

As parents, it can be very hard to reconcile our childhood experiences and internalised beliefs, fears and biases about these issues with our teenager’s worldviews. How our sexuality was treated can make us fearful for our children which can influence how we parent them. However, it is important to try to understand your teen and their perspective.

The lack of transparency we received from our parents can leave us feeling very uncomfortable and flailing as we may not have the resources to bridge our worldview with that of our teens. We may not know what to say or do or even feel when our teenagers come to us for answers, express their sexual orientation to us or question their gender.

It is important during these moments to not internalise your discomfort or overwhelming feelings as you are somehow ‘not being enough’ as a parent.

Most parents struggle with this stuff. A helpful mind-shift here is instead of seeing yourself as lacking as a person to think of yourself as missing tools from your parenting toolkit. We can always learn new tools and do better.

This is where working with a parenting coach can help. A parenting coach can support you to see things from a different perspective, upskill your tool-kit, and create a success plan for you and your family

Need Support For Your Family? Join The Neurodivergent Family Toolbox

Listening to Your Teenager: Active Listening Techniques To Help You Understand Your Teen

I love the work of Stephen Covey. His words of wisdom have so much to teach us about how to be in a relationship with others. One of my favourite Stephen Covey stories (and I am paraphrasing here) is:

Stephen’s neighbour comes to him asking for parenting advice about his teenage son. The neighbour says, “I just don’t understand my son, he just won’t listen to me!”. To which Stephen Covey replies, “That’s because you are doing the speaking. We have to listen to others to understand them.”

This story has forever changed how I think about active listening. So many parents say that they don’t understand their teenagers. However, if we really want to understand our teens we need to be better listeners.

The next time you are struggling to understand your teen, ask yourself, are you actually listening to your teen with the intention of understanding them?

How to understand your teen
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Here Are Helpful Strategies To Make You A Better Listener So You Can Understand Your Teen Better:

  • One of the best pieces of advice I received about being a good listener is the acronym WAIT – Why Am I Talking? If I catch myself wanting to butt in, I remind myself to WAIT.
  • Sit next to your teen when you are listening to them. Teenagers (especially neurodivergent teens)find it easier to talk to a parent when the focus is away from them and they don’t need to make eye contact.
  • Another helpful tip is to imagine that a tiny drop of glue is holding your lips together and you can’t talk until you have allowed the other person has finished speaking.
  • Nod your head and make encouraging sounds to show that you are interested.
  • It can be useful to repeat what your teen has said to you in your head and to them express your understanding of what they just said back to them using your own words. (This can be particularly useful if you are neuro-spicy yourself)
  • Ask questions to clarify your understanding. However, be mindful not to ask too many questions and to be aware of your tone or it could feel to your teen like you are judging them.
  • Be aware of your teen’s non-verbal communication for signs of dysregulation or sensory overload and adapt your approach to suit the situation. Remember: a teenager with a dysregulated nervous system is not going to be about to communicate effectively.

Adapting Active Listening To Accommodate Neurodivergent Perspectives

Differing communication styles, auditory processing difficulties, brain differences and attention spans can make active listening in neuro-spicy families a bit more tricky. In other words, the way our brains work can make it more challenging for us to listen to or understand each other.

For example, I have ADHD and my children have a combination of Autism and ADHD. The way that my brain works takes me on ‘thought trains’ while people are talking to me. This means that one word will spark a thought about another topic which then leads to another and so on. It takes me an extraordinary amount of effort to stay focused and ‘on topic’ with the person I am listening to. Sometimes I will have random thoughts (often about jobs that need to be done around the house) and then change the subject before the person I am in a conversation with is finished, or ask them to do something. My children have often reflected back to me how annoying this is for them. They can sometimes feel like I am not interested in what they have to say.

Adapting Your Parenting Approach To Make Room For Neurodiversity

Here is one way that we have adapted how we do things in our house to take into account neurodiversity. My children have learned not to take my ‘thought trains’ personally and recognise that it is just the way mum’s brain works. I in turn allow them to tell me (respectfully) that they weren’t finished talking or that I interrupted them. This allows me to refocus on listening to them and what they need from me. I have also taken the time to find out how my teenager’s brains work. I take this into account and adapt my approach when communicating with them.

The key to navigating communication differences in families is awareness. It is essential to stay curious, flexible and open in our communication with each other.

Need Support For Your Family? Join The Neurodivergent Family Toolbox

How to understand your teen
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Empathy and Validation: How to Communicate with Your Teenager

When we feel truly seen, heard and understood we feel so much more relaxed and connected to the people around us. In family relationships multiplicity (making space for more than one reality) allows us to make space for other views and lived experiences.

Multiplicity gives us cognitive and emotional ‘roominess’ in our relationships. It allows us to embrace the fact that even though another person may not think as we do, we are still able to accept them and their reality even when we don’t agree or have the same experiences as they do.

In adapting our parenting approach to include multiplicity we can create space for others in our family and their perspectives. This creates a supportive environment for mutual understanding where everyone feels seen, heard, believed and validated. Multiplicity is a vital element of genuine empathy.

This is especially important when we take into account that for us to empathise with someone else we do not need to have had the same experience as them. For genuine empathy to occur we just need to have had the same emotional experience as them. This is particularly valuable to keep in mind when trying to understand your teenager’s perspective.

Strategies For Validating And Empathising With Your Teenager:

The most powerful way for us to practice genuine empathy is by actually stopping and reflecting on our teenager’s experience.

Here are some ways to do this:

  • The next time your teenager is upset about something, I invite you to pause and ask yourself, “What is a similar experience that has happened in my life and how did this make me feel?”
  • Now ask yourself, “How did I want to be treated in that moment?” or “What would have been the most helpful/supportive thing someone could have said or done for me in that moment?”

Chances are what came to mind for you as most helpful would not have been for someone to tell you to “calm down”. Nor would it be to remind you about “how grateful you should be because other people have it worse than you”.

Validate Your Teen’s Emotions With These Four Easy Steps

Let’s pretend that your teen is worried or anxious about an upcoming test. Where a lot of parents get it wrong is by giving advice or reassuring their teen that there is nothing to worry about. However, have you ever stopped worrying because someone told you to? Giving advice or reassuring have their place however, what your teen needs the most from you in this moment is for you to communicate that you understand their distress and that they are not alone. We need to connect before we correct, give advice or problem-solving. Here are four steps you can use to connect with your teenager:

  • Name – Name what your teen is feeling. “Big test, huh? I can see that you are worried.”
  • Connect – “I get it. Tests make me feel worried too.”
  • Validate – “This is a big deal for you. It makes sense that you would feel this way.”
  • WAIT (Why Am I Talking) – Sit with your teen and their emotions. As a parent, you stay quiet and allow your teen to talk to you while you practice Active Listening.

Connection Or Empathy ‘Misses’

Distraction, dismissal, advice-giving, trying to get you to see things from the other person’s perspective, and problem-solving or ‘fixing’ are all equally unhelpful. In fact, when we consider that the whole point of empathising with someone is to connect with them through a shared experience all these common ‘go to’ strategies that we use as parents are actually connection or empathy ‘misses’.

Another thing we often tell our children is that “it’s not so bad”. We do this to try to reassure them or ‘rescue’ them (and us) from the discomfort of their feelings. However, quite frankly, this is a bit like using ‘gas-lighting’ as a parenting strategy. The long-term consequence of this strategy is that our teens learn that they can’t trust their emotions, intuition or even themselves.

One of the most powerful things we can say to our children is, “I believe you”.

How to understand your teen
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We need to dispel the myth that empathy is ‘walking in someone else’s shoes.’ Rather than walking in your shoes, I need to listen to the story you tell about what it’s like in your shoes and believe you even when it doesn’t match my experiences.

Brene Brown

Subscribe to my blog to learn helpful tips on how to navigate conflict with your teenager

Creating a Supportive Environment: How to Foster Openness and Acceptance at Home

Connection-Focused Parenting is a parenting approach that focuses on establishing a mutually trusting, respectful and reciprocal relationship with your teen. The upside of this approach is your teenager is more likely to let down their guard around you and see you as an ally. This means that they are more likely to come to you for and take your advice. Your teen will be more open to contributing to a calm family environment and helping around the house from a place of genuine caring.

Connection-focused parenting is a trauma-informed approach based on modern neuroscience that is proven to de-escalate dysregulated behaviours and has long-term mental health benefits.

When our teenagers feel seen, heard and accepted they are more likely to feel good about themselves. This will allow them to develop self-confidence, resilience and self-worth.

This is important for all teenagers. However, even more so for our neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ teens as they may feel ‘othered’ by peers and society. Our neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ teens need to feel safe with us. This is a vital protection factor for their well-being and mental health.

Connection-Focused Parenting For Neurodiverse And LGBTQ+ Teenagers Prioritises Four Things:

  • Secure attachment with a significant adult.
  • Accepting and affirming your teen’s Neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ identities.
  • Connection before correction.
  • Adapting your parenting approach to your teen’s needs, strengths and difficulties.

Interested in finding out how you can learn to use the Connection-Focused Parenting approach with your Neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ Teenagers? CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE

Seeking Professional Help: Where to Find Resources

Many parents find it difficult to ask for help.

Family is most people who are parents’ core values. This means that we place a lot of value and pressure on ourselves to ‘get it right’. The majority of us have experiences from our childhood that have caused us trauma. We don’t want to repeat this with our children. We know from our own experiences the long-lasting effects of how we were parented and also how we parent our children later on in life.

In our ‘perfectionist’ culture, where mistakes are allowed it is impossible to be a parent without feeling judged. However, please remember that just because you are finding things hard it doesn’t mean that you are doing it wrong. Most of the time it is hard because it is hard.

Working with me as your parenting coach allows you as the parent to:

  • Have a safe, judgment-free space to talk about what is going on for you and to process parental grief or any other emotions you may be experiencing.
  • You can gain an unbiased perspective from someone who is removed from your family situation as well as new tools to add to your toolkit.
  • Working alongside a parenting coach can help you to create a plan for yourself and your family going forward.

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Meet The Person Who Wrote This Blog

Tanya Valentin Neuro-Affirming Family Coach

Tanya Valentin is a Trauma-Informed and Neuro-Affirming Family Coach, NZ Registered Teacher, Lecturer (Te Pukenga – Early Childhood Education and Care), Author and Podcaster.

Tanya is a Neurodivergent person and a proud Mama of 3 Neurodivergent humans. She works to support, educate and foster inclusion, acceptance and positive life outcomes for all neurodivergent children, teenagers and adults in all her areas of life.

Tanya lives with her family in beautiful Northland, New Zealand. She has authored several books and blogs and co-hosts the Seen Heard Accepted Podcast with her family. Tanya is the founder of the Neurodivergent Family Toolbox and the Parenting Neurodivergent Kids Together Community and podcast.

Tanya is committed to making a difference in the world by supporting parents with practical tools and strategies to help them understand their child and their unique wiring, feel confident in their parenting and nurture strong connections between themselves and their children.

Need personalised support for yourself and your family? Book your FREE 30-minute call with Tanya


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