How to deal with teens, 'tweens, and become a better adult

Mar 17, 2011

Adults often get frustrated with the way teenagers behave. One minute they’re caring and communicative, the next they’re self-absorbed and impossible to connect with. I asked Michael Riera, who’s a parent, head of a school in California, and author of several books about deciphering teenagers, for suggestions on how to deal with them. He says teens aren’t likely to change, so adults have to make the following adjustments…and more:

  • Stop judging teenagers based on stereotypes
  • Don’t think you understand teens just because you were one
  • Modify your sleep schedule
  • Apologize if you lose your temper
  • Let teens teach you a few things

Shutting Down Stereotypes

Riera says memory isn’t always an adult’s friend when it comes to teenagers. 

“We think we know teens so well because we were teens once ourselves.”

He says when adults go around thinking they know all about what a teen’s going through, it can nullify the teenager’s experience.

For example, the first time a teenager falls head over heals for someone, an adult might dismiss it as puppy love. Riera says that’s demeaning to a teen who thinks it’s the real thing.

Sleeping In Shifts

Sometimes, teens and adults might not see eye to eye just because they’re on different sleep schedules, Riera says. He points out that adult brains release a chemical called melatonin at 7:00 p.m., which starts to make them drowsy. Around the same time, teen brains release a chemical that “amps them up.”

To work around the conflicting chemicals, Riera suggests adults go to bed at their regular time, but set an alarm for 11:00 p.m., just about the time teenagers get tired. In the interview audio above, he explains why that works.

Say You're Sorry

Riera says no matter how many tips adults try or how good their relationship is with a teenager, they’re going to “blow it from time to time.”

“Nobody can keep their calm all the time with a teenager.”

If you lose your cool, he says the best way to fix the situation is to say you’re sorry and try not to let your frustration get the best of you in the future.

“We have to clean up our messes. We have to go back and have a quick apology, it doesn’t have to be anything major, it’s just go to be an acknowledgement of it.”

He says to keep in mind that it takes time to change your behavior, at least 28 days of consistent effort that comes in three steps. For example, if you wanted to stop yelling at your teen, the steps might look like this:

  1. You realize you’ve yelled after the fact and beat yourself up over it.
  2. You realize you’re yelling while you’re doing it but can’t stop yourself.
  3. You notice signs that you’re about to yell and make a different choice.

Survival Brings New Skills

In the end, Riera says dealing with teenagers may be the best way to learn certain lessons.

“Raising a teenager may be the quintessential self-help tool there is in the world. Because raising a teenager forces you to look in the mirror at yourself about what’s important, what do I care about, how much do I live in the present.”

He says spending time with teenagers and learning to appreciate how they live in the moment will help adults live more in the moment.

He also says learning not to succumb to fights with emotional teenagers is an important skill.

“When as adults can learn, that when they go to that emotional space, if we can resist, then they’re going to come back to us and we can continue the conversation.  And if you think about it, having that skill is a wonderful ability to have.”

Learn More Tips From Michael Riera In Person

Date: March 23, 2011
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Location: Town Hall Seattle
Address: 1119 Eighth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101
Tickets: or 1-800-838-3006
Cost: $20