Now, it might be surprising to hear but, despite their impassioned attempts to appear otherwise, teenagers are in fact normal human beings just like the rest of us. They have thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, and emotional needs that are screaming to be met. The trouble lies within all those raging hormones, which cause an ever-changing body and results in the teens never knowing the kind of mood they will wake up in the next morning.
On top of that, there are all of these strange, confusing thoughts and feelings that they’ve never had to deal with before, washing over them like emotional tsunamis. No wonder teens can be moody and unpredictable. You would be too. In fact, you were. Not that long ago, you too were a contrary bundle of confusion trying to find your way in a world that told you not to be a child, grow up, all the while also telling you that you aren't an adult yet, so stop trying to act like one.
To help both these scared children hiding behind a mask of confidence, we as parents need to say fewer of the things that make life more difficult for our teens and more of the things that will help them feel safe, secure and loved.
20 Don’t: Stop Being So Emotional
You’ll be more successful going outside in a hurricane and screaming at the wind to stop blowing than you will by telling your teenager to stop being so emotional. Think about it. When you have been worked-up, angry or upset, has it ever helped to say to yourself “Just stop with the emotions”?
On occasion, this might make us stop and think as adults but that is the crux of the problem. Teens are still learning to handle these adult emotions, and until they've worked that out, this phrase will make them feel like you don’t understand and that you are dismissing the importance of their feelings.
19 Do: I’ll Always Be Here For You
Under all of that bombastic teenage bravado, there is still a child who is worried that one day you are going to discover you don’t like them very much. Not knowing who you are, what is happening, how to deal with feeling, or where you are going in life can make you pretty insecure, so your budding adult needs to hear that no matter what happens, mom will always be there.
A follow-up to this one that I have always found useful is: “I may not always like what you do or approve of your choices, but there is nothing in this world that you could do that would ever make me not love you.”
18 Don’t: Why Can’t You Be More Like...
Comparing your child to others is damaging in so many ways. You are telling your teenager they are not good enough for you, that you think the child you are comparing them too is better. This can start a runaway train of thoughts: "Mom doesn’t think much of me, I’m a disappointment, she would rather have the other child than me, I’m no good, I’m worthless, nothing I do is good enough", and so on and so forth -- you get the picture.
Instead, try to think about what you are trying to achieve. If you are trying to encourage your child to do better, look at the things they do well and use those strengths as a firm foundation on which to build your child's confidence and skills.
17 Do: Be True To Yourself
Tell your child, “The road we take through life is riddled with forks where we have to look at who we are and where we are in our lives and then decide in which direction we want to go. If you spend your time choosing your direction according to what everyone else wants, you’re going to emerge into adulthood in a place you don’t want to be.”
Teach your teen to be honest with themselves and with others. Give them the freedom to flourish without having to hide any aspects of who they are and let them know that their happiness is more important than living according to someone else's ideals.
16 Don’t: Stop Wasting Your Time On That
Many of us have a hobby or interest that is part of who we are, something we cannot imagine our lives without and generally speaking, teens are still discovering what those building blocks of their adult life might be. Heck, having said that, there are plenty of us who are way into adulthood who are still trying to discover what gives us the pleasure and satisfaction we all need in our lives.
If you tell a teen they are wasting their time, not only are you setting up an adversarial situation, but you are saying that something important to them, and by extension they themselves, are a waste of time. Instead, try to show an interest and an understanding of what they get from the pass-time that bothers you so much.
15 Do: I’m Proud Of You
Choose something about your teen as a person, or something they have done that makes you proud. Now, when you are passing each other in the kitchen, or in a similar, relaxed, nothing-going-on situation, put your hand on their arm, look them in the eye and say “I am very proud of…” It is easy to fall into the trap of complaining about what they are doing wrong but take the time to tell your baby-adult that you are proud of them and watch what happens.
One word of caution. Don’t say you are proud to be their mom or are proud they are your child. Choose something they have control over to be proud of, not just the fact that they exist.
14 Don’t: You’re So Disrespectful
“Thank you for pointing out one of the many things you think are wrong with me. Being a teenager, I already have plenty of worries about all of my perceived faults but the mom I worry might not love me if she knew who I really am, adding more to the pile is always productive. By shouting at me, telling me I am disrespectful, you are not only setting me an excellent example but your reproach has shown me the error of my ways and I am henceforth instantly reformed.”
If your teen is disrespectful, calmly let them know their behavior is inappropriate and give them clear guidelines on what behavior you expect, from everyone, not just them.
13 Do: I love You
Yes, your teen knows this to be true already, but all of us need to hear those words out loud from time to time. This is especially true when you have a teenager in your home who is not being the easiest person to get on with.
This is the time in your life when you are most likely to say and do thoughtless things and have no idea afterward why you said or did them. Your not quite a child and not quite an adult needs to hear you still love them, even when they are being a prize ass.
12 Don’t: Yes You Can, Try Again
Are you the kind of upbeat, encouraging parent who, when faced with a child who says “But I can’t do it” automatically responds with “Of course you can, you just need to try again”? If the answer is yes, then sorry, I have bad news for you.
This might feel like positivity and encouragement but what your teen hears is that you are dismissing their thoughts and feelings out of hand and that you think you know better than them.
Cue the automatic defense reflex that kicks in when we are being told we are wrong, and before you know it you have a fight on your hands.
11 Do: What Can I Do To Help You?
When your teen finds him or herself with a problem, it is often a mom's automatic response to try and swoop in and fix things. After all, that is what moms do for their children isn’t it? You have looked after, cared for, nurtured, and problem solved for your kiddos all these years and it is difficult to dial that back.
Try to refrain from telling your teen how you are going to help with a problem. Instead, encourage maturity and independence and ask your child what is the best thing they believe you can do to help.
10 Don’t: 'No'
This is not about saying yes all of the time and giving in to a child’s every whim, it is about not saying “no” automatically or as a knee-jerk reaction.
As soon as mom says “no”, a teen will ask, just as they did when they were little, “Why?” You’ll then get into a discussion and your young debater will throw every counterpoint in the book at you, hoping for a change of heart.
If you stand your ground, despite the fact your teen has a reasonable point, you’ll end up looking like an unreasonable ass and losing their respect. Change your mind and you’ve taught your teen that you’ll cave under pressure and you’ll be in for a world of hurt for the next few years.
9 Do: Let’s Discuss It
When your teen presents you with a sudden request, especially if this happens when you are busy with something else try not to automatically say no. Instead say something like, “If I have to decide right now it’ll be a no, but if you can wait until later we can talk about it.”
This is an excellent way to both avoid the knee-jerk no, and to let your teen know you are open to weighing up their point of view against your own. Not only does this say “your opinions matter” but it also says “I don’t assume I know better than you and I am willing to wait and find out what you have to say before making a decision.”
8 Don’t: You’re A Liar
If you’re dealing with a teen who’s being dishonest, one of the worst things you can do is call them on it head-on. This leaves your teen with two choices. First, your storyteller can admit they lied. This involves not only losing face, but having to admit they are in the wrong, and dealing with the consequences of their actions. Secondly, the flexible truth teller can dig in their heels and stick to the untruth. Guess which one happens most?
If your child is lying, take a breath, go for a walk, do whatever you need to do in order to avoid an instant fight, then come back and try a different approach.
7 Do: What Makes You Say That?
It is not unusual for people to misunderstand each other. Even when you think you have said something clearly, the person you’re speaking with could still get the wrong end of the stick. Teens are especially adept at beginning a conversation with a particular thought in their head, assuming you are both on the same page. With this in mind, asking why your teenager has said something is an extremely effective strategy for avoiding misunderstandings which are frequently followed by arguments, shouting, stomping up the stairs and the banging of the bedroom door. And that’s just you.
6 Don’t: Are You Sure You Should Be Eating That?
This question, no matter who you are asking it of, comes across as “Are you sure you should be eating that? You’re fat enough as it is, you don’t want to be piling on any more pounds now, do you chubster?”
Teens have enough trouble with self-esteem without hearing this from mom. If your child is overweight, happy, and healthy, then make healthier alternatives available. If you are living with a teen who is unhappy about the number on the scales or their health is suffering, look to build their self-esteem in ways that are not connected to their body, and address any health issues as unconnected.
5 Do: You Are Special
We all need to hear that we have value. It is a rare person indeed who is so self-assured and so self-confident that they do not doubt themselves on occasion. The traumatic teen years take this worry and multiply it a thousand fold.
Many teenagers may roll their eyes and walk away with a “yeah right” when hearing mom say this, but you can almost guarantee, once they’ve turned their back on you, a satisfied smile will crack that facade of indifferent teenage cool. Knowing there is always one person in the world who thinks you are special, even if it is your mom, is priceless.
4 Don’t: You Don’t Know Anything
On the league table of pointless things to say to a teenager, “you don’t know anything,” “you have no idea what you’re talking about,” or any variation on this theme are right up there.
Teenagers don’t need to be reminded they have no idea what they are talking about, or what they are doing. A teens swagger and bluster are merely ways to cover up the fear that everyone around them has their lives figured out while they are blowing in the wind.
When your teen starts talking confidently and all that tumbles out of their mouth is garbage, take a moment to consider if you really need to correct them, or if you could safely let it go.
3 Do: I’m Sorry
If you want to raise a compassionate, empathic child who is willing to admit when they have made a mistake, set them a good example and apologize when you get it wrong.
Some moms worry that apologizing to their child it undermines their position as the parent, making them look weak and in some way giving the child the upper hand.
In reality, the opposite is true. Going to your teenager and saying “You were right, I was wrong, and I’m sorry” will show how an adult behaves. Admitting you were wrong, taking ownership of mistakes, and respecting your teen enough to reach out and say sorry is a sign of strength and your child will understand that.
2 Don’t: Not Now I’m Busy
It is not always easy to make the time to listen, especially if you have a teen who is in permanent crisis mode. These high maintenance kids might demand the world stops to help them immediately. You drop everything only to discover the crisis is an indecision over college courses, and they are still in tenth grade.
However, sometimes it is hard to muster up the courage to talk about something on your mind. It might be that on this occasion a genuine ear to bend or shoulder to cry on is needed and being fobbed off like this is devastating.
If you really can’t make the time right now, tell your teen that you want to give a discussion your full attention but you can’t right now. Explain you don’t want to only give them half an ear and ask if you can set a time to sit down together and talk properly.
1 Do: Thank You
Treat your teenager with the same respect with which you would like them to treat you. Take the time to acknowledge when they contribute to the smooth running of the household or when they do something without asking.
Better yet, say “Thank you for making it home before your deadline. I appreciate you making that effort,” or something similar when your teen sticks to your rules or gets things right. Positive reinforcement goes a long way to creating a relaxed, happy home environment where your teen can feel safe and you don’t have to shout.