A Survival Guide to Adults

Adults are from a different generation, but it can feel like they’re from another planet. We tell you why the world looks different to grown-ups—and how to deal with them here on Earth.

Adults can be . . . weird. They’re always worked up about something that’s no big deal. They’re supremely uncool. They have zero chill. And why can’t they ever figure out how to use their phones? Even worse, these mysterious creatures have tremendous power. Adults determine your grades, run your extracurriculars, and police your social life. It can feel like their quirks are designed to make you miserable.

But adults aren’t hardwired to give you a hard time—they just experience the world differently. See, grown-ups have something teens don’t: a fully developed prefrontal cortex (PFC). That’s the big chunk of brain at the front of your head that controls decision-making, planning, and risk assessment. Since your brain develops from the back to the front, your PFC is (no offense) still puny in comparison. Neuroscientist Dr. Frances E. Jensen says: “The teenage brain is like a brand-new Ferrari. . . It’s all revved up but doesn’t quite know where to go.” And adult brains are more like your parents’ old station wagon. They aren’t flashy or fast, but they’re super-safe.

Adults may not see things your way, but you still have to share the road with them. Learning how to communicate effectively with grown-ups will not only make them more likely to see your point of view, it might also help you realize they’re not that different from you. (Bonus: These communication tips will also come in handy when you’re—gasp!—an adult yourself.)

Frustrating adult behavior #1: Their relentless obsession with time.

Your boss is on your case about being late (again), but your coach never lets you out of practice on time. You don’t want to lose your part-time job or your position on the team—why can’t your boss stop watching the clock?

How you see it:  You’re only 10 minutes late—no big deal, right?

How your boss sees it:  She has no idea where you’ve been or that your coach doesn’t wear a watch. When you rush in 10 minutes late every day, all she’s thinking is that you don’t take your responsibilities as seriously as you should.

How to see eye-to-eye:  Ask for help. “You don’t need to be able to solve a problem, you just need to be able to state it,” says Lucie Hemmen, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in teens. So calmly present your dilemma to the adults, and ask if they see a solution. Maybe your coach needs a reminder to focus on the clock, or your boss can move your shift back 30 minutes. Remember: They don’t want you to be late either! And your boss will be super impressed that you addressed the issue, instead of shrugging off her comments or making lame excuses.

Frustrating adult behavior #2: They assume your social life is optional.

You bombed your last pre-calc test, and now your parents are going to make you miss the big party this weekend to stay home and study. How can you convince your parents to suspend house arrest?

How you see it:  Socializing is not just the icing on the cake of your life. It is the cake. Why don’t your parents get how important your friends are?

How your parents see it:  For adults, hanging out with friends is kind of like sports practice: They might really enjoy it once they get there, but if it gets canceled, they’d be psyched to go home and relax instead. They know there will be other parties, but failing precalc—now that’s a big deal.

How to see eye-to-eye:  Make your case with facts, not feelings. Because when it comes to getting what you want, staying calm, acknowledging your parents’ point of view, and offering up solutions is what works best. Is there an extra-credit assignment you can do or office hours you can attend? If you can show your parents that you understand how important precalc is—and that you have a solid plan to raise your grade—they might give you a second chance.

Frustrating adult behavior #3: They act like you’re immune to stress.

You’re the MVP of the
yearbook committee—
there’s no photo you can’t edit and no layout you can’t format. You love the work, but the group’s adviser keeps giving you major tasks, and they’re starting to get in the way of the bajillion other things on your plate. How can you tell your adviser to cool it without losing your superstar status?

How you see it:  You’re flattered that your adviser thinks you’re so competent . . . sort of? But why doesn’t he recognize yearbook isn’t your only commitment? Does he want you to fail?

How your adviser sees it:  A little bit of stress doesn’t faze adults the way it does teenagers—so your adviser may not realize that adding one more layout to your to-do list is enough to drown you.

How to see eye-to-eye:  Set a boundary. Even adults have trouble with this one, so if you can learn to do it now, you’ll be ahead of the game. “It can be hard to express what you need, especially from people you have a more formal relationship with, like a teacher or a coach,” Hemmen says. Be respectful but firm: Tell your adviser that you appreciate your time on yearbook but want to keep it fun. Propose a realistic amount of work you can do each week—then make sure you stick to it.

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Skills Sheets (6)
Skills Sheets (6)
Skills Sheets (6)
Skills Sheets (6)
Skills Sheets (6)
Skills Sheets (6)