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Things You Should Never Say to Your Teenager

And what to say or do instead

6 Things You Should Never Say to Your Teenager
Mark Butchko

Here’s the best analogy I can give for parenting a teenager: When you travel to a foreign land, you’ve got to be careful about your American mannerisms. The things we think are innocuous could actually be offensive. Give somebody a thumbs-up in Afghanistan, Iran, Greece or parts of Italy, for instance, and it’s the equivalent of flipping them the bird.

That’s what it’s like to live with a teenager. You’ll say things all the time with the best of intentions, thinking you’re being helpful or supportive, but you might be insulting them without even realizing it.

Here are six perfectly innocent things dads say to their teens that only make things worse.

“It’s not that big a deal.”

When a teen freaks out over a pimple or peer drama and you minimize their conflicts, even if you’re just trying to assure them that this too shall pass, what you’re actually telling them is “it’s not OK to feel that way, which means there’s something wrong with you,” says Cameron Caswell, an adolescent psychologist known as The Teen Translator.

Let them have their moment. Be a sympathetic ear, not the guy reminding them that their worries are trivial.

“No phone for two weeks!”

A phone is not just a phone, at least not to today’s teenagers. “It’s their form of communication, their form of entertainment, a form of education, a form of boredom busting, it’s everything,” Caswell says. “When we take their phone away, we’re not teaching them how to use their tools in a healthy way.”

It’s OK to take their phones for shorter periods — especially if they’re being punished for something directly related to phone use — but a week or more can be destructive. Instead, look for consequences that don’t cut their lifelines completely. Limit or ban certain apps, like YouTube or TikTok, or do an old-fashioned grounding. Yes, they can still communicate with friends on social media, but you’re just limiting their contact, not forcing them into the teen version of solitary confinement.

“We can talk about this tonight.”

If your kid hints at a problem (school issue, breakup) and you’re in the middle of something else (work, chores), your first instinct might be to pump the brakes so you can have a good, long talk later. But they’re ready now — and may not be later.

“If you can’t be in that moment and drop everything, that moment could be lost,” says Ed Gerety, who hosts the podcast Parents Navigating the Teen Years. It’s best to meet them when they open the door, even if it’s inconvenient for you.

“I told you …”

Teenagers often feel overcontrolled, says Deryl Goldenberg, a clinical psychologist who works with teens and young adults. So when you hit them with a “told you so,” you’re not allowing them space to fall and fail on their own terms.

Every stupid mistake they could’ve avoided if they’d just listened to you is them “learning how to problem solve,” says Caswell. “When we get angry at them for not making better decisions, it tells them to fear making decisions.” 

“Great job on your report card!”

“We want to encourage and praise our teenagers, but we have to go beyond the compliment,” Gerety says.

Be specific in your kudos. It’s not “you got all A’s”; it’s “I noticed the extra effort you put into studying on the weekends.” It’s not “you won”; it’s “I noticed how you really encouraged a teammate who was down.” “That way, you’re reinforcing the positive behaviors that they can use in life,” Gerety says.

“Sit down. Let’s have a talk.”

Teens often avoid talking to their parents because they can be critical and judgmental, Goldenberg says. And when teens do talk to their parents, they certainly don’t want an official dinner-table conference.

Take them out of their normal environment. Go for a walk or go to a sporting event or somewhere they can relax a bit to let conversation drift into natural and meaningful moments. “Some of the best conversations with teens are when you just go for a car ride,” Gerety says.

If you can let talks flow more naturally, you have a better chance of learning more about your kid and what’s really happening in their lives.

Follow Article Topics: Family-&-Fatherhood