Teenagers: What They Say Versus What They Mean

Aaah, teenagers. They’re a special breed of human who think putting on deodorant is the same as having a shower. They don’t need a wardrobe because they’ve got a floor, and when challenged they’ll point out that the clean clothes are the ones near the door that haven’t been stepped on (yet).

They’re listening to everything that’s being said although they appear to be wearing AirPods and playing with their phone the whole time we speak to them. Mine don’t appear to hear me asking them to take out the recycling when they’re standing next to me, but they can hear me ask them if they want to go and get burgers with their friends when I whisper from another room. Freaky!

Teenager truths

Teenagers are also keen to ensure trifles like pressing work commitments don’t get in the way of their parents meeting their needs with very little notice. They want their parents to know work deadlines shouldn’t stop them from being on time to meet their mates to go see The Fast and The Furious for the fifth time in two weeks.

They’re also master manipulators. You tell your teenager she must vacuum the car before she can get $10 to buy lunch. By the time the guilt-laden protracted negotiations have finished, you’re giving her $20 and cleaning the car yourself.

Okay, so I am having fun at the expense of the teens in my life and their teenager truths. But they don’t read anything unless it’s a caption on TikTok anymore, so I am pretty sure they won’t read this story!

Understanding what’s going on in teenage heads will give parents like you an edge. Here’s a guide to decoding what’s really going on with the surly strangers your sweet kids have become. You won’t be surprised to know there’s a big gap between what teenagers say and what they mean.

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What teenagers say vs what they mean can be two totally different messages. Source: Bigstock

The longest minute

They say: I’ll be there in a minute.

They mean: I’ll be there in many minutes – as many as I need. In fact, I am going to ignore you so many times you will forget the trivial household chore you were going to ask me to do.

In matters of food

They say: There’s nothing to eat.

They mean: By telling you the fridge is empty, I am trying to make you feel unworthy as a parent and more likely to pay for pizza.


They say: I don’t have any homework.

They mean: Well, I do have maths homework but I don’t understand it and I am not a nerd like you who thinks homework is necessary. You’d have to pull the wi-fi out of the house for me to do it tonight because a new season of 13 Reasons Why has hit Netflix and I need to work out why Hannah did it. Maths isn’t on my radar. Wait. What’s a radar?

Too tired

They say: I’m tired.

They mean: I know you asked me to unpack the dishwasher but I know that if I pretend to be tired for long enough you’ll get sick of the dirty dishes on the sink and do it yourself.

Money matters

They say: Can I have some money to top up my train card?

They mean: I can’t ask for money for lunch because you’ll either give me four dollars in 20c pieces or make me a salad sandwich. So I ask for train money. We both know I don’t ever use my train card, but it’s a lie we both seem willing to accept.

Uber chores

Teen says: Should I sweep the front driveway?

Teen means: I’ve ordered a Halal Snack Pack with extra mayo on your UberEats account and need to be out the front when it’s delivered.

Game time

Teen says: Just one more game.

Teen means: We both know games like this never end. If you let me, I’ll say ‘one more game’ for the next 48 hours.

Smell you later

Parent says: Have you had a shower lately?

Teen says: (sniffs armpits and makes a face) Nah, I’m good. Teen means: My armpit smells like something died up there but I can put up with it if you can.

There’s a certain look that teenagers use when they’re forced to stop what they’re doing (even though it’s almost certainly nothing) and give us some face time. It’s a mixture of boredom, pity, amusement and hunger.

Remember, they’re not conversing with us, they’re biding time until they can get back on their phone/laptop/video game. But half-arsed parents like me parents don’t stress.

We don’t over parent and we don’t intervene unless it’s needed. And we do not micro-manage our teenagers’ lives and then act surprised when they can’t make choices for themselves.

Good luck with your adventures raising teens. Trust me, you’ll need it.

More half-arse parenting advice

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Source: Herald Sun/Nicole Cleary

Half-arsed parenting isn’t just helpful when raising teens. Oh no – it’s perfect for ALL parents. Dr. Susie O’Brien’s book The Secret of Half-Arsed Parenting is out now. You can get it at Booktopia, Dymocks, Good Reads or Big W.

Check it out on Insta and stay tuned because we’ve got more half-arsed parenting pearls of wisdom to share every week!

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Dr Susie O'Brien is a journalist at the Herald Sun, author of The Secret of Half-arsed Parenting and mother of three. She is a regular media commentator and appears weekly on Sunrise where her biggest audience is women on treadmills watching with the sound turned down.

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