We all know that raising teenagers is challenging. It’s just the way things are—a part of life. We were difficult teenagers at one point as well. The thing that makes raising teenagers so hard is that one day it seems like we have normal, loving kids and then BAM!—they change. They are no longer our little angel who loves to play board games, throw the ball around the backyard or play dress-up with us. They become a raging ball of hormones who wants to hang out with friends, listen to vulgar music or just be alone—anywhere or anything that doesn’t involve us.
In the grand scheme of things, the pulling away is a good thing. If our teens continued with the same level of clinginess from childhood through high school, how would we ever get them out of the house?
How could they ever learn to be independent adults? It might be a painful process for parents, but it’s necessary, and it’s healthy.
The thing we need to consider is how to parent our teens well. How can we be more understanding and loving toward our teens? How can we ask them questions in a way that promotes discussion? Let’s find out.
20 How Was Your Day?
We ask our kids, “How was your day?” and the answer is usually “Good” or “Fine.” What are we really asking? Are we being genuine? Is the question just an evening ritual? If we want our teens to engage in conversation, we must ask more engaging questions.
According to Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. who explained to Psychology Today, the older children get, the less likely they are to open up.
There may have been a complex set of social situations that happened during their day. If we truly want a more meaningful conversation, we have to be specific.
Try: Did anything surprising/crazy happen at school today?
19 Why Didn’t You Just Tell The Kid to Leave You Alone?
Most teens don’t tell mommy when another kid has been mean to them. Developmentally teens may feel like they need to work things out themselves, as per Net Family News.
Aaron Cheese’s son was being bullied starting in elementary school. Cheese’s son didn’t tell his parents until he was 15. Michael Martin of NPR asked what took Cheese’s son so long to tell him. Cheese replied, “He didn’t want to bring it home… and he also really kind of felt ashamed.”
Don’t blame the victim by asking, “Why didn’t you just tell the kid to leave you alone?”
Try: Listening, offering support/advice and check in to see if things improve.
18 Why Didn’t You Just Ask Questions?
Our teen comes home with a less-than-stellar test score. They explained to us that they didn’t understand and we ask, “Why didn’t you just ask your teacher to explain?”
There is nothing wrong with telling our children to ask a teacher questions. Questions should be encouraged, but what if they don’t understand what questions to ask? What if they asked and didn’t understand the response?
What if their relationship with that particular teacher is strained? According to Parent Circle, some teens have a hard time accepting failure. They may feel ashamed and unsure of themselves.
We should approach any failure with solutions and support, not an oversimplified question.
17 Why Are You So Sensitive?
Teen years are filled with intense emotions. According to The Guardian, because teens’ frontal lobes are not fully developed, they are more prone to mood swings. The underdeveloped frontal lobe leads to more conflict and anger.
Carl Pickhardt Ph.D. from Psychology Today adds that teens are easily embarrassed. Embarrassment can make teens feel inadequate.
When our teens show signs of being sensitive to something that someone has said or done—especially when it’s us—we should keep in mind that emotional sensitivity is characteristic of the teen years.
“Why are you so sensitive?” is a poorly thought out question, but maybe they’ll respond with, “My frontal cortex isn’t fully developed mom!”
16 Why Did You Do That?
Asking a teen, “Why did you do that?” is like saying “Are you stupid?” At this age, they can read between the lines and—as we discussed earlier—they are emotionally sensitive.
The AACAP admits that teens sometimes behave impulsively or even irrationally, but they claim that there are biological reasons for these characteristics.
We have already discussed that the frontal cortex is not developed yet. Another change is the rapid increase in connections between the brain and cells which is essential to coordinate thought, action and behavior, as per AACAP.
So, why did they do that? The answer is science.
15 Why Didn’t You Just Say 'No'?
Fitting in is important for teens. According to Livestrong, teens need to feel like they belong to feel good about who they are.
Even adults must admit that in some social situations, it’s hard to say no. The pressure of the crowd can be overwhelming. For teens—with added brain and hormonal changes—saying “no” can be even more difficult.
Since it’s tough to say “no,” we can sympathize with our teens. Suggest different ways to handle their unique situation. We can become more involved in their lives, help them to recognize when to say “no,” assist them in developing integrity and good character. We must practice conscious parenting.
14 Why Don’t You Just Get Over It?
Nothing is more important to teenagers than their peer relationships. These relationships play a big part in their self-confidence.
Issues with their peers that we deem trivial can be incredibly embarrassing for them.
Pickhardt from Psychology Today defines embarrassment as a "startled response to having one’s individuality or inadequacy unexpectedly made the uncomfortable object of public attention."
Imagine being biologically predisposed to feeling hyper-emotional and then having a Facebook post bring out something embarrassing. Imagine being asked by mom, “Why don’t you just get over it and move on?”
Sometimes adults forget what it feels like to be a teen. We should always handle touchy situations with compassion.
13 Why Is Your Room Always A Disaster Area?
If we expect a civilized answer to this questions, then we must be crazy! According to Grown and Flown, there are several reasons why teens have messy rooms, and we may be the ones to blame.
What? Who, me?
We overschedule them! Teens are busy, and sometimes we are to blame. We want them involved in all kinds of activities because it keeps them out of trouble and gives them purpose.
No wonder cleaning isn't their top priority.
Another reason is that... in this age of overindulgence, we buy excessive material possessions for our kids. There is stuff all over their rooms because we buy them too much stuff!
12 Why Don’t You Ever Talk To Me?
Well, this is awkward…
Getting our children to talk to us can be hard, but we can’t start with a pity-party. According to Child Mind, parents should try to have positive interactions with a teen who is not talking. Engage in activities they enjoy or sit down for meals.
Another thing parents tend to do is get angry. When teens aren’t talking, we’d like to punish them or yell at them. This will strain the relationship. It feels like disrespect when a teen won’t talk or is short with us, but Child Mind says, “Look for the distress under the disrespect.”
Their actions are an indication that something is wrong.
11 Why Do You Hang Out With Her/Him?
We want our teens to hang out with the brightest, most talented and all around good kids. Sometimes they choose friends we can’t stand. Part of finding themselves is befriending people who can widen their perspective, as per Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. via Psych Central.
The trick is, we have to find a balance between keeping them safe and letting them navigate the world on their own.
We have to encourage open communication. If we scold and forbid without communicating, we risk our teen shutting down. We also have to get to know their friends. We can’t ask, “Why do you hang out with him?” without ever attempting to get to know that person.
10 Why Didn’t You Do/Turn In Your Homework?
Good luck getting an answer for this one. If we get an answer, it may be something like, “I forgot,” or “It was in my locker.” They may even ask, “Why am I getting in trouble for something I didn’t do?”
It may be difficult to entice a teen to put down something they enjoy for homework. Amy Morin of Mom.me covers how to encourage teen boys to complete their homework. She says we can help them come up with a plan, set aside specific homework time and establish rules and consequences.
For instance, homework must be done before games or electronic privileges will be limited or taken away.
9 What’s Wrong?
“Nothing.” The answer we’ll ultimately receive. It can be difficult for parents to determine if teens are displaying “normal” behaviors or if they have a mental illness, substance abuse or some kind of behavioral difficulty.
According to Friends of Mental Health, teenage years come with drama; it is a phase of new experiences. With these new experiences come episodes of sadness, anxiety or frustrations.
If these episodes last more than a few days, then there may be cause to worry. Friends of Mental Health suggest telling our teens our concerns and then consulting a family doctor if symptoms continue for prolonged periods or worsen.
8 How's Your Appetite?
Probably not the best question to ask any teen girl or a teen boy struggling with his weight.
According to the AACAP, approximately 12.7 million children and adolescents are obese, and overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults. Therefore, weight gain is a cause for concern.
However, Jill Castle—a childhood nutrition expert—says we should be careful with our words.
Commenting on their appearance, nagging our teens about exercise and healthy food does more harm than good.
A few things we can do—invite teens to do something active with us, buy healthy food for the house and model healthy eating.
7 Do You Plan On Living Here The Rest Of Your Life?
When our teens aren’t motivated academically, and they can’t seem to find purpose. It is our job to motivate them, not discourage them with condescending questions.
According to the Huffington Post, we can motivate our teens by figuring out what makes them excited. We can have them take a personality test, have teens set a goal and stick to it.
When they achieve their goal—we must celebrate.
Questions like, “Do you plan to live with us the rest of your life?” only communicates our disappointment. It’s okay to let a teen know that we are disappointed in their actions, but we must take action to improve their apathy.
6 Why Can’t You Be More Like Him/Her?
Comparing our kids to other kids is counter-productive—and annoying. Why would we expect our teen to do what others do? Hmm, don’t know.
Is it because we have our own a plan for their lives? Yes, sort of.
Are we interested in helping them develop their own life plan? Of course.
According to the Huffington Post, it’s important to teach our kids to be grounded and not hyper-competitive. When we encourage “comparing behaviors,” we foster jealousy, negativity, self-doubt, and nervousness.
The Huffington Post adds that we can and should point out their mistakes, but we should also encourage our teen to improve rather than comparing them to others.
5 Why Don’t You Talk To _____ Anymore?
Relationships can be short-lived in the teen world. Because teens are dating and having new experiences, they may bring someone over that we’ll never see again. When we ask, “Why don’t you talk to _____ anymore?” it could bring up negative feelings.
When the question brings up painful emotions, it is our job to comfort our teen. We can’t rush our teens' healing time, and we shouldn’t minimize their relationships, as per Your Teen.
Saying things like, “You were only dating her for two weeks,” is not conducive to the parent-teen bond.
Try reassuring your teen that you are there for them and build their self-esteem with positivity.
4 Do You Ever Listen?
When we ask our teen if they ever listen to us, we are most likely indicating that they’ve forgotten to do something. They usually just give us a blank stare or an attitude.
According to MomJunction, there could be several things that causing short-term memory loss in teens: anxiety and stress, depression and lack of sleep. Other things like substance abuse or vitamin deficiencies could be the culprit.
Although it’s important to be aware of underlying issues, we shouldn’t hastily conclude that our teen has a serious problem, we must keep in mind that organizational skills usually improve as teens mature, as per Livestrong.
3 How’s Life?
“Fine,” says the teen.
“How’s life?” is one of those questions we ask a long-lost friend we haven’t seen in ages—not our child who lives with us! No wonder our teen won’t answer this questions. It doesn’t make sense.
If we ask this question, we’re probably just trying to nourish the relationship with our teen. Family Circle says that teens crave space, but they want us to reach out to them; they need constant reminders that we care.
Instead of asking a random question, we should make an actual effort to understand what our teen enjoys so they can start spilling what’s really going on in their lives.
2 What’s Your Problem?
When we ask our teens, “What seems to be the problem?” it usually means that they have an attitude.
Either their mouth or their body language is communicating something that we don’t like; however, this question is patronizing.
Dona Matthews Ph.D. of Psychology Today says sometimes dealing with our teen’s “tude” is a matter of fine-tuning our own attitude. She says we should expect a power struggle; a good argument can help a teen discover what they truly care about.
It may take a lot of time and effort to get a handle on the “teen tude,” but it’s always worth it. Remain calm and stop it the snarky comebacks.
1 Will You Ever Grow Up?
Is that what we really want? We’ve been complaining that they grow up too fast and now we’re asking them to grow up?
Megan Devine—LCPC of Empowering Parents—says that parents try to force teens to accept adult logic through lengthy lectures. Devine says that if we think that teens are going to adopt a better attitude and appreciation for our perspective just because we make a logical argument, we have another thing coming.
We don’t want them to grow up too fast. We’re trying to keep them from maturing too quickly while also raising responsible, productive adults. Chill with the condescending questions and start consciously parenting.
References: NPR, Net Family News, Psychology Today, Parent Circle, The Guardian, Psychology Today, The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, LiveStrong, Grown and Flown, Child Mind, Psych Central, Mom.me, Friends of Mental Health, Jill Castle, Huffington Post, Your Teen MomJunction, Family Circle, Empowering Parents