Many parents become exasperated with their teens. They are frustrated with their rudeness, their defiant attitude, and the drama they generate with their friends.

Teens can be tough to handle, but I try to comfort parents and let them know that the behavior that they are witnessing is usually perfectly normal. Not only that, it is not necessarily bad. It is actually good; teens are doing what they are supposed to at this very vulnerable developmental stage. Parents are also surprised that there are some valid reasons for their baffling behavior.

Here are four principles that will help you understand why your teens act the way they do and some helpful strategies to connect with them.

1. Individuation

Teens are at an age where they are trying to individuate. A teenager needs to separate from his/her parents and become their own independent person. Teens live by the principle “You can’t tell me what to do!” This is a natural result of their struggle to find themselves. They relay this message to their parents and teachers in their words, their actions, their physical stance and their attitude.

It is beneficial when parents interact with their teens to respect this need for autonomy. To help us do that, requests can be prefaced with, “Would you mind setting the table?” “Will it work for you?” is a helpful phrase. For example, “I am going to need your help getting the yard cleaned up on Sunday. Will that work for you?”

2. Understand their struggle.

The teen years are a time of self-exploration. Teens are trying to develop their distinctive selves. At the same time, teens will reject any activity: “Hiking is so nerdy!” clothing: “No one wears velour anymore!” or ideas: “I am not telling my friends that they should bike to the park!” that makes them feel different than their peers. The phrase, “But all my friends are doing it!” takes on new meaning as children enter the teen years.

This can be very confusing for parents. Instead of calling teens out on their contradictory behavior, “I thought you wanted to be your own person! Why do you care what Sara thinks of you?” we want to be more sensitive. This can go a long way in helping parents maintain a loving relationship with their teen. We can support them in their struggle to find themselves.

We can also let them know that its normal to seek peer approval, “You really want Eli’s opinion on your new glasses before you make the final decision.” This does not mean that you have to go out and buy your teen what all their friends have. It also doesn't mean that you have to allow them to do what all their friends are doing. However, showing your teen that you understand, “I see it is tough not to be able to go to the party when all your friends are going,” “I wish those designer shoes that everyone is wearing were in our budget,” can go a long way in letting them know that you truly understand their dilemma. That it can be tough to feel different from your peers.

3. Teens are just trying to get by.

Teens have one overriding fear that they will say, do or wear something that makes them seem dumb or different than their peers. Adolescent hormones cause heightened emotions; the embarrassment that they feel is extremely painful. This makes them wary of making a mistake that will brand them a “loser.” So if one of their friends makes the social faux pas telling everyone they like a certain song by a “nerdy” musical group, they’ll all turn on her to make sure that everyone in the group recognizes that they don't share that same “nerdy” opinion. This kind of conversation can become merciless. It appears to be mean, intolerant and cruel behavior. However, knowing the “behind the scenes” reason (fear of appearing different) for their behavior, we can understand that the teens in this scenario are really just trying to survive this everyday social interaction.

Instead of criticizing our teens, we can show them we care while stating our expectation, “Managing friendships can be tough, even for adults. As hard as it is, being kind when everyone else is being mean, is important.”

4. Teens take it out on their parents.

Parents are often hurt by their teen’s rude behavior. It can also surprise them when their teen’s teacher or parents of their teen’s friends praise them for their politeness. The strange thing is that this shows their love and need for you. Teens are experiencing a tumult of emotions. They need to be able to express their frustrations and vent. It’s the teens who have good relationships with their parents, who feel most comfortable letting loose on them.

According to Wendy Mogel, in “Blessing of a B Minus”, rude behavior, “let’s you know that your teen is trying to desperately separate from you and that you are the “safe” person who can receive their frustration with not yet being all grown up.”

The best thing that we can do as parents is to ignore their provocation and not respond in kind. In that way, we are actually role modeling appropriate ways to deal with rude behavior. We do need to insist that they treat us respectfully, however the best admonition and reminder to speak respectfully is a gentle, “ Can you change your tone? It’s hard for me to listen when you speak to me that way.” Or “ Can we talk about this when we are both feeling calm?”

Teens are often struggling through this period of their lives. They need our support and love during this time. Understanding the reasons behind their actions and treating them kindly can help them grow into the adults we want them to be.