“I can’t make her do anything, she just wants to laze around all day” - Teen expert shares why the belief 'teenagers are lazy' is a myth and how understanding this might help your relationship

Read on for the rest of the top 5 myths about teens and tweens and why they're 'simply not true'

Teen lounging in bed with phone and laptop
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Many people have preconceived notions of what living with a tween and teen will be like, ideas handed down from each generation with hushed whispers of hormones and laziness. Here, teen expert, Sarah Ockwell Smith tells us how this just isn't fair and how learning why your tweens and teens behave like this might help with understanding and empathy.

“Mum, if you want us to respect you, you have to respect us!” I can’t remember what we were fighting about, probably something to do with housework and messiness, but I do remember vividly when one of my teens responded to my out-of-control rantings with this sentence. It hit me like a gut punch. They were right of course, but I instantly found myself feeling more enraged and indignant. I wanted to scream back “Don’t you speak to me like that!” I'm not alone in this, I know many parents today are still confused about teenage behaviour and teens are labelled rude and antisocial all the time. 

I had been raised to believe that children of any age should respect their elders (and leave their room once in a while - you're not the only one who wonders why their teen won't socalise). In reality, what this had taught me is that as a child I should acquiesce to adult demands, show obedience and compliance, and never voice my concerns about how I was being treated, however unfairly.

Once I’d taken a breath I could only agree with my teen. They were right. The best way to raise a respectful tween or teen is to begin with respecting them first. In wider society however my teen’s retort would be considered grossly disrespectful and if I’d posted about it online, I would probably be advised to dish out an array of consequences.

I’m a mum of four young adults and an expert and author specialising in raising tweens and teens, I have spoken to over 100 parents and here are the five most common myths I hear:

Top 5 myths about tweens and teens that are not true

  1. They're selfish
  2. They're lazy
  3. Tweens and teens today are poorly behaved
  4. They need 'strict' parenting
  5. They won't spend time with you

1. They're selfish

“My son is so selfish, he never thinks about others!,” “My daughter is so self-centred, she doesn’t care about my feelings.” These statements are common amongst parents of tweens and teens. We think that they are all self-absorbed, empathy voids.

Why this isn’t true: Tweens and teens do care about others (yes, even their parents), they just struggle to engage the thinking parts of their brains before the emotional ones and this disordered behaviour is commonly mistaken as selfishness. During adolescence it’s important for teens to focus on who they are now and who they want to be in the future, this intense self-focus, a crucial part of identity development, is often misinterpreted as a lack of empathy for others when in fact teens often care deeply about the feelings of others, and how they are perceived.

2. They're lazy

“I can’t make him do anything, he just wants to laze around all day,” “she would stay in bed all day if I let her, and she doesn’t ever tidy her room.” Tweens and teens are often described as ‘lazy,’ but what parents are describing here is a combination of procrastination, overwhelm, natural disorganisation and different sleep needs.

Why this isn’t true: During puberty, the body clock shifts, meaning that tweens and teens need to go to sleep later and wake later than they used to. This shifted circadian rhythm lasts until the early twenties. Your tween or teen isn’t being lazy when they are still in bed at midday, their body just works on a different time zone to yours. Similarly, many tweens and teens often freeze when faced with a big task, such as tidying a messy room, because their brains are not fully developed in the areas needed for them to approach the task rationally, planning out what to do in smaller chunks, instead they will commonly freeze and do nothing or put off the task for as long as possible.

3. Tweens and teens today are poorly behaved

“The problem with the kids of today” complaints have been around for centuries. Each generation tends to view their own youth with rose-tinted glasses, believing that they were somehow better behaved and more polite and respectful than current tweens and teens.

Teenager laughing or cringing at parent

(Image credit: Getty Images)

There is also an element of bias here in that adults will select news reports of unruly adolescents and use them to illustrate their claim that ALL of the tweens and teens are poorly behaved today. This is like selecting an article about an adult criminal and using it to highlight that ALL adults are poorly behaved today, it’s nonsensical.

Why this isn’t true: Tweens and teens today are actually better behaved than those from previous generations in many ways. They smoke less, drink less, care more about the environment, do better at school, have sex later, have fewer teen pregnancies and are more pro-social (more caring towards others). They’re pretty amazing actually.

4. They need 'strict' parenting

There is a strong belief in society that as children get older they need a firmer hand. Many feel that tweens and teens “shouldn’t be mollycoddled” and “should be taught that the world is a tough place.” At school discipline quickly moves away from star charts to detentions, isolations and exclusions and a mainstay of discipline at home in the teen years is the removal of freedom (grounding) and the confiscation of belongings. Parents are advised to come down hard on their offspring ‘for their own good,’ only this authoritarian approach to parenting is not for the good of tweens, teens, or their parents.

Why this isn’t true: Strict parenting, focusing on punishments and exclusions is ineffective in the long term. Simply, the tweens and teens stop caring and stop being scared and parents are left with nothing but empty threats. It also causes huge chasms in the parent-child relationship, which is actually the key to better behaviour. In fact, what they needs is the same understanding, nurturing approach that we are advised to use with babies and toddlers. Just because they’re bigger and look more like an adult, it doesn’t mean that their psychological needs are any different. The best discipline tools parents have are empathy, connection, and communication. Think of discipline as a way to teach your tween or teen how to behave, the best teachers are ones who are kind, considerate, relatable and are good role models, not those who yell, punish, shame, and belittle.

5. They won't spend time with you

While it is true that your tween or teens social orbit will increase as they get older, with friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and other family members taking a larger role in their social life, this doesn’t mean that they won’t want to spend time with you. Yes, it is the nature of life for children to grow up and branch out in the world away from their parents and it can be hard for us to let them go, but it’s not letting them go forever, they will always come back.

Why this isn’t true: As a parent, you will remain central to your tween and teen for many years to come, it is usually you that they will need most when they are in trouble, require help, support, and a listening ear. By nurturing your bond with them you can ensure that your relationship with them will continue to stay strong for many years to come.

As parents, we like to think that we make our own parenting decisions, we like to think that we’re doing it consciously, but in reality, most of us are repeating words, actions, and beliefs that we inherited from our parents and theirs before them. In short, we believe what we heard growing up, especially when it comes to beliefs about tweens and teens, an age group that society loves to demonise. If you’d like to break the cycle in your own family, this article will help you to understand what’s really going on for your tween or teen and bust some commonly held societal myths.

With a little work to undo the erroneous beliefs from your own adolescence and some insight into what is truly happening in your tween or teen’s brain and mind, these years can be wonderful. It’s your chance to start to reap some of the hard work you put in as a parent as you admire the amazing young person that your tween or teen is truly becoming.

Where to go for more help on dealing with teens

Talking to your teenagers - NHS

Helping a young person talk about their mental health - Mind

‘Between: A guide for parents and carers of 8-13yr olds’ by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Amazon £12.96

‘How to Raise a Teen: A guide for parents and carers of 13-21yr olds’, by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Amazon, £13.99

Here Goodtoknow we also talk about the different ways you can try communicating with your teenager, from 25 conversation starters to the one question you should ask your teenager to improve your relationship immediately. Plus, what to expect when your teenager starts dating and how to get them to talk to you about it.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith
Tween and teen expert and author

Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a mother of four young adults. She has a background in Psychology and clinical research and has also worked as an antenatal teacher and doula. Sarah has written fifteen childcare books, covering everything from newborns to teenagers, with a special emphasis on ‘gentle parenting’. Sarah regularly contributes to National TV and radio, including Good Morning Britain and BBC Radio 4 and 5, she has also written for national publications including The Guardian, The Express, The Daily Mail, The IPaper and The HuffPost. Sarah lives with her family, two rescue dogs, cats and chickens in North Essex. Sarah's newest book How to raise a teen is due to hit shelves July 4th 2024.