Interpreting Adult

It’s always helpful to be realistic with yourself about your weaknesses and shortcomings, and here I will address one shortcoming almost all teens experience: accurately interpreting adult social cues.  Teens are still learning to interpret social cues such as voice tone, facial expressions, body language, etc. Don’t feel bad – you never get it right all the time no matter how old you get. But realizing that you are especially prone to misreading social situation will help you learn quicker. So let me give you a couple examples to help speed this along.

Teens are quick to interpret disappointment and other negative emotions in adults when none was intended. When you are trying to figure out your own value and worth, you usually fear disappointing people. That is a problem, especially when you consider fear predispositions you to look for the very thing you are afraid of. It can honestly put adults a bind, where no matter what they do it’s like they can’t win with you: if they don’t correct you, they are a bad parent. If they do correct you, you feel rejection or shame. Which is worse?

Here’s one tip to help: understand there is a difference between disappointment in your behavior vs disappointment in you. Separate your behavior, performance, your music, your friends, etc from you. Understand that while I may not agree with someone’s political stance, I can still like them. Your parents may not like some of our friends, but that isn’t the same as not liking you. They may not approve of your school grades, but that made no difference in how they feel bout you. So in the sam way, the next time you are corrected sharply for being out too late, understand that is anger and disappointment about a choice you made, but that is not about you.

Here’s another tip to build off of that: One emotion that is hard to interpret is ANGER. One reason it is hard to interpret is because anger is not considered a real emotion or at least not a primary one. Anger is similar to the color green in that green is not a primary color but is made of the combination of the primary colors, yellow and blue. Anger is usually an expression of other underlying emotions. Very often fear is one of those primary emotions that manifests anger. So, let’s say you come home an hour after curfew and you have not been returning calls and texts. You parent is up late waiting to scold you when you get home and they are clearly angry. Their voice is loud, their words are sharp, their eyes are wide or squinted, forehead bunched up, finger is pointing, etc. You immediately feel they are disappointed in you and are angry with you. What if you did not go with that feeling in the moment but looked past that feeling. What if you looked past your parent’s anger? What would you see? There is a good chance you would see love mixed with fear. Fear that their loved one is making bad choices, is in trouble, is headed a bad direction. Momma bear is fighting FOR her cub, not against her cub. In this case the cub is in danger not from a predator but in danger from it’s own behavior. So the behavior is the target of that anger you are getting, not you.

I know, maybe that’s too hard of a distinction for you right now. But let the seed of that distinction be planted in your mind. I think it’ll help some later on.



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