Explaining Life (to a teen)


How many times have your parents told you “You wouldn’t understand.” or “Someday you will get it” or “You are too young for that”. “You will have to learn from your own mistakes.””How could you be so stupid?” “What were you thinking!?!”

How many times have you been so sure that you would not get caught, or that they would not find out, or that you would not get in trouble, or that your girlfriend/boyfriend wouldn’t be mad for what you did…You thought it through, you planned and schemed. You convinced yourself that it would be okay- only it wasn’t.

Teens tell me all kinds of things. They are so very certain they have the answers. I did the same thing to my parents.

I catch teens lying to me every week. They give me lies so silly only a child would believe them. And each time they really convince themselves it will work.

I finally did it! I came up with a way to explain to all of you how goofy you teens  are. I write the word “goofy” here just to avoid using other terms as goofy sounds fun, non-threatening, and is a forgiving kind of word.

Teens think they know it all.


They do know a lot. They are creative, thoughtful, intelligent (sometimes) and powerful. All this is completely true. But these true statements do not make the next statement true: Teens are not wise. Sorry, but wisdom only comes with two things: time and experience.

Check out this TED talk on your brain…

There are three types of knowledge. Yes, only Three.

  1. Things-you-know (you know your name, you know how to spell, you might know Spanish)
  2. Things you do-not-know (you do not speak Chinese, you cannot pilot a plane, you cannot disarm a bomb)
  3. Ready for it?- things you don’t-know-you-don’t-know. Woah! Think about that one! It will give you a headache…

What does this mean? It means that your brain has not even fully developed! Your forebrain is the part of your brain that, well, let me use someone else’s explanation:

“The Adolescent Years Continue into your 20s: Did you know that the teenage brain does not complete development until close to age 25? Yes, something called the pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control and operates much like the CEO of a company, does not complete development until your mid-twenties, leaving teens vulnerable to impulsive behavior.

It’s as if, while the other parts of the teen brain are shouting, the Prefrontal Cortex is not quite ready to play referee. This can have noticeable effects on adolescent behavior. You may have noticed some of these effects in your teen: difficulty holding back or controlling emotions,  a preference for physical activity, a preference for high excitement and low effort activities (video games, sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll),  poor planning and judgment (rarely thinking of negative consequences),  more risky, impulsive behaviors”

-from UNDERSTANDING THE TEENAGE BRAIN Compiled by Stephanie B. Small, MA, MFT

How does this affect you? You really do think that you have all the tools to run your life. I get it. But you don’t yet. There are still many things that life that you don’t even know that you don’t know. Its like a Zen Koan- you contemplate what the sound of one hand clapping is and BANG! – you get enlightenment. Your mind is a tool like any other but yours is immature. Be humble my friend. You have not even been on the planet for more than a quarter century. Call me when you have.

kid on stairs

Can you guess what happens next….

Here is how adults feel when they try to explain to teens why they are about to or have just made an incredibly poor choice, they feel just like you teens do when you watch little kids fall on their faces trying to carry too much crap down the stairs. You can clearly see an easier way to get it done, and you can clearly see the drama that is about to unfold.

Try this: Explain loss to a 4 year old. Get them to understand what its like to fall in/out of love. To have your heart broken. It’s not possible, because they have no frame of reference to even know these concepts could exist. This is what its like to explain life to a teenager. There is so much out there that in time you will be made aware of…


Yes. It’s called What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know.

Someday life will open itself, unfolding its truths to you. But not yet. You have to accept that you are just not there yet, grasshopper.

this too shall pass

Check out this article from National Geographic:


You’re welcome.


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