10 Things to Never Say to Your Teen

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One awe-inspiring privilege of parenting teens is you get to see a work of art in progress. You can take part in mentoring a young person as he grows and develops.
God calls us to cherish and encourage our children, yet parenting teens is a hard job; sometimes we experience stress, anger, and frustration. In the heat of a crazy moment, we might say things without thinking that tear our kids down. We need to remember our words hold tremendous power over them.
As I write this article, I realize how many times I’ve said things I shouldn’t to my teens. As you read these words, you may see some things you’ve said too.

Proverbs 12:18 offers us an admonition and a hope: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Here’s one way our words can bring healing: when we say something we shouldn’t, let’s admit it and ask for forgiveness. I’ve discovered this improves my relationship with my kids almost more than anything. Remember that as you read these 10 statements.


1. I don't have time for you.

Of course, most parents wouldn’t say, “I don’t have time for you” point blank, but let’s think about the message we communicate to our teens when we look at our phones while they’re talking to us, work in the evenings during their free time, or cancel plans we’ve made with them.
Our kids will ask us to take them to the mall, help them with a project, or watch a silly YouTube video. They might ask to talk while we’re on the verge of finishing an important project or falling into bed exhausted at 11:00 p.m. Whenever possible, let’s show interest in them by making time to talk, attend their sports events, or listen to a song together.
An important message our teens need from us is “You’re important to me, and I love spending time with you.”


2. I'm disappointed in you.

Sometimes you’ll feel let down when your teen makes mistakes. However, the words, “I’m disappointed in you” place a heavy burden over our young people’s shoulders because more than anything, they want love and affirmation from us. They need to know we still approve of them as people even though we don’t like what they did.
Here are alternative things to say:
  • “I wish you hadn’t done that.”
  • “How do you feel about this?”
  • “What might have been a better way to handle it?”
  • “What do you think is a good way forward?”
  •  

 

3. I told you so.

Our kids sometimes ask for advice and then do the opposite of what we recommend. Remember how you did that with your parents?  I’d be the first to admit this drives me stark raving mad, but I’m learning to let go of control. Remembering what it was like to be a teen myself helps me be more gracious when my kids apparently need to learn things by making mistakes for themselves.
The words “I told you so” sound just as self-righteous to our kids as they do to us. I’m trying instead to breathe deep, bite my lips, and say, “Hey, I’m sorry about that” when my kids experience negative consequences after throwing my advice out the window.


4. Do you think you are _______ enough for that?

Sometimes our kids will set goals that seem unrealistic, and we want to protect them from disappointment. For example, a young woman who sings beautifully told me she once dreamed of applying to a Fine Arts Conservatory. Yet her father discouraged her by asking, “Do you think your voice is good enough for that?” Years later, she remembers his words and wonders what might have happened if she’d tried. Perhaps her dad could have offered to pay for a few voice lessons instead. She might have gotten accepted, but even if not, today she’d have the memory of her dad’s support.
Ultimately, we have no way of knowing what our teens can accomplish until they try. Let’s seek to help them achieve their goals when they aim high, instead of discouraging them from trying.


5. Have you gained weight?

Teens are ultra-sensitive about their appearance. The simple question “Have you gained weight?” can send a young woman on a spiral of insecurity. She’ll look in the mirror and see 20 pounds more than she actually weighs.
Eating disorders are rampant among teens, especially girls. If you notice your teen gaining weight, you’d be wise to stress exercise and healthy eating without emphasizing the fact that you’ve noticed she’s gained weight.


6. Just trust God.

My kids will tell you I’ve said this. When someone’s going through a hard time, of course we want to encourage them to trust God, but we can’t use these words as a Band-aid to slap on our teens’ hurts and make them go away.
If we say, “Let’s trust God” too soon, before taking time to really listen to their struggles, our kids might feel we think their problems aren’t valid. They may even feel guilty for struggling. Let’s make sure we listen well before attempting to share spiritual truth or encouragement.


7. You're driving me crazy.

Let’s face it: our kids will drive us crazy. They’ll run out of gas, lose their keys, skip class, take our makeup, wear our clothes, track mud in the house, break the microwave, and spill Coca-Cola all over the carpet. Sometimes the question, “Are you trying to drive me crazy?” comes to mind, followed by “Can’t you do anything right?” 
Such questions and statements are better left unsaid. Take a deep breath. Relax. Say things like:
  • “It was just a mistake.” 
  • “How can we fix this?”
  • “Could you help?” 
 

8. This is just a phase you're going through.

My teen daughter finds this phrase exasperating. When older kids are depressed, discouraged, or struggling with school, parents try to help them gain perspective on their problems. We want them to know their problems won’t last forever, but saying “This is just a phase” might communicate that we don’t take them or their challenges seriously.
If your teen tells you He doesn’t believe in God anymore, or he’s decided he’s gay, seek to listen first, show your love for him as a person, and gently communicate your views.


9. Why can't you be more like your brother?

Any parent with more than one child has no doubt discovered they can be as different from each other as day and night. We need to give our kids the freedom to be themselves without living under the shadow of a sibling. Sometimes we can inadvertently communicate that we’re comparing our kids by saying things like:
  • “Your sister never did that.”
  • “Your brother always did his homework on Sundays.” 
  • “You’re the creative one of the family. She’s good with numbers.”
 

10. Don't say anything you won't follow through on.

Our teens need to know they can rely on us, so let’s not say we’ll take them somewhere and then change our minds. We can’t plan a family date and then say yes when our boss or friend proposes an alternate plan. This means looking at our schedules and thinking carefully before committing to something. Of course emergencies can change our plans, but let’s make those the exception rather than the rule.
We want our kids to trust us, so let’s be careful not to say anything we won’t follow through on.


ABOUT THE WRITER:
Betsy de Cruz writes to encourage people to stick close to God, even when life gets bumpy and crazy. Most days she feels privileged to live with her family in the Middle East; other days she wants to pull her hair out and catch the next plane home. Betsy’s passion is to encourage women to get God’s Word in, so their faith can spill out. On her blog, Faithspillingover.com, you’ll find tips for Bible study, prayer, family life, and everyday faith. You’ll also find Betsy on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/monkeybusinessimages

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