“I’m a cool mom, sweetheart,” may or may not be a repeat phrase in our household. Rest assured, however, that it always elicits a slightly raised eyebrow from our teenage daughter and a not-so-subtle side-eye and unladylike snort from our pre-teen.
Apparently, I’m the only one who thinks I’m a cool mom? Weird. Raising teens is an interesting job. On one hand, they finally understand your sarcasm and hilarious jokes.
On the other hand, they’re sometimes sensitive, and you have to watch what you say to them. As an unapologetically unfiltered kind of person, it’s not the easiest task for me to remember that some things just shouldn’t be said to a teen.
The topic of things parents should never say to their teenagers is…unique and personal. Why? Because so many things you shouldn’t say to your teen seem like common sense that no one should have to tell you (I wish I never had you, I wish you were more like your sibling, I hate you, you are ugly, you are not a good person, you suck, you’re not my favorite child, etc.).
Do those things ever cross the minds of parents? They certainly don’t cross my mind, but I’m always shocked by the kind of parenting other people engage in, so I understand that these are actual phrases some (awful) parents say to their kids. It’s not good.
But I’m not here to focus on the things you absolutely definitely should know better than to say to a child (because these things literally should NEVER cross your mind, ever, okay?). I’m here to focus on the things you’re saying that you don’t even know you’re saying.
1. How Was Your Day?
It sounds innocuous, but it’s getting you nowhere. Rather than asking your teen a question that permits a one word answer, try asking more in-depth questions. It’s how you get them to open up and embrace talking to you.
2. Brush Your Teeth
They are teens. If your teenager isn’t brushing his or her teeth without prompt from you, rest assured you have bigger issues to deal with in life.
3. I’m Tired of Your Attitude
Listen, I know you’re tired of attitude. We are all tired of attitude, but telling your emotional, hormonal teen that you are tired of their attitude is never a wise decision. Try asking them gently, but firmly, why they are upset, and what you can do to help.
4. If I Were You…
You’re not, and it sounds condescending. When the words if I were you come out of my mouth, it’s because I’m talking to another adult who is making a poor choice and I’m letting them know their choices are poor. Don’t say it to your children.
5. What Were You Thinking?
There’s a simple explanation for this one – they were not thinking. Don’t ask your teen what he or she was thinking when they did something you find inappropriate. Ask them why they did this. Ask them what prompted the words, actions, or decision. Do not ask what they were thinking because they were obviously not thinking.
6. I Don’t Understand You
It’s not really anyone’s job to understand anyone else. If we are being entirely honest, I don’t even understand myself half the time, so why would I think I should or could understand my teen? Rather than telling your teen you don’t understand him or her, why not ask them to help you understand their thought process/decisions/reasoning.
7. Don’t Be *Insert Emotional Response Here*
Sad. Mad. Angry. Whatever. Never, ever, ever, ever tell a teenager (or anyone else) not to feel something. Feelings a personal. Emotions are not something anyone can control, and the way a person feels is never wrong.
Don’t tell them to stop being whatever emotion they are feeling. Now is a good time to hug your teen and tell them that you understand emotions can be big and overwhelming, and you are here for him or her when they are ready to talk about it. The worst thing you can do as a parent is invalidate your child’s feelings.
Invalidating your child’s feelings is the most common reason they shut down and stop talking to you. If you’re telling them they should not feel a certain way about something, why would they want to talk to you?
If you’re telling them that their feelings are wrong and they are wrong for feeling them, what makes you think your teen is ever going to confide in you again knowing you’re just brushing them off and telling them to get over it? Do better.
8. It’s Not That Big of a Deal
But…it is that big of a deal in the moment, in their minds. Listen, I’m almost 40-years-old, and sometimes I have a breakdown over things that most anyone else would tell you is not that big of a deal, but it is to me.
Just because you know as an adult that the things your teen is going through right now really aren’t that big of a deal does not give you the authority to minimize your teenager’s feelings. They’ll learn on their own – and they need to learn on their own.
9. Grow Up
They are growing up, and that’s why they’re acting like this. It’s part of growing up…the learning. Also, just ask yourself to choose a time when any other person on the planet earth told you to grow up and you found it to be reasonable, solid advice. You didn’t, did you?
10. Do You Ever Think About Anyone Else?
It’s a selfish question, so don’t ask it of your teens. Of course they were not thinking of anyone else in the moment. They were thinking of their own needs, their own wants, and themselves in the moment.
And here is an unpopular opinion – stop teaching your kids to always think of everyone else and not have moments of selfishness. This is precisely why so many kids turn into people-pleasing, miserable adults who do and do and do for everyone else and don’t do for themselves.
They’re taught from an early age to ‘think of everyone else,’ and not themselves. Everyone should have a selfish streak – it’s for self-preservation, self-care, and because you have to live with yourself. This means you have to like yourself and treat yourself well, and that sometimes means thinking of you and you alone – and no, not thinking about anyone else.
11. Because I’m the Parent and I Said So
No. Just…no. While it’s not wrong, and you do have every right as a parent to make a decision and follow it up with this one, it’s time to find a more creative way to tell kids no or five them a final decision.
My mom, dear Deb, is an educator, and she has been since I was a baby. Growing up, my brother and I heard a lot of ‘because I’m the parent and I said so,’ from mom and dad when we wanted to do something or go somewhere with our friends. There was never an explanation, and I cannot stress to you how frustrating this is as a teenager.
I harbored so much resentment toward my parents for so many years because they just didn’t let me do things, and they never even had a reason for it. As an adult, I now know that my mom said no because as an educator, she knew far too much about the families of our friends, and her decision to tell us no was always for the best.
I also completely understand now that she could not very well look at us and say, “No, you cannot go to a sleepover at this child’s house because her mother’s live-in boyfriend is a convicted sex offender,” because it was inappropriate, and it might cause her issues at work. So, no, because I said so, was the answer.
I’m not saying her reasons were wrong – they were NOT wrong – but I do wish she’d have found a better way to make sure we knew she had a good reason for telling us no. Not having the resentment that I had would have changed our relationship for the better for those many years of frustration.
12. I Don’t Care
Bad, bad, bad. You’re the parent, you should care. I mean, trust me, I literally do not care about half of anything my kids tell me (there are only so many times I can hear about how fast my son is on the track at school before I literally no longer care to hear this story any longer. Proud? Yes. Excited to hear about it 13 times an hour? Definitely, absolutely not). But the key here is to never tell your kids you don’t care. That’s bad.
13. Do I Look Like So-And-So’s Mom?
I’ve seen the other moms around, and I am thankful and grateful and hashtag blessed that I do not look like them. I said what I said. But the point of this one is not to be petty and rude, but to tell you to stop using this phrase. Again, do not compare yourself to other parents. Sit your kids down and tell them why you won’t make the same decisions as other parents, etc. Kids have a lot of respect for parents who are honest with them rather than those who simply brush them off.
14. I Told You So
When was the last time someone told you that they told you so and you nodded in agreement and happiness? Right. Stop saying this to your teens. Yes, you did tell them this would happen. Yes, you are right. Celebrate quietly and in your mind and move on. They are already upset, and they don’t need you rubbing it in.
15. You Do Not Have the Right to Speak to Me That Way
Unpopular opinion – your teens do have the right to talk to you that way. They have the right to say anything they’d like. Our first amendment is literally all about the freedom of speech, and it’s not wrong.
Now, should they say whatever they want to you with no regard? Absolutely not. There is a level of respect that your teen needs to use – that all people need to use when speaking to other human beings – and respect is absolutely necessary.
However, your kids should feel comfortable enough with you to tell you how they feel without fear of being judged or getting in trouble. Let this be a dialogue that opens up a line of communication between you.
Do not hesitate to address the respect factor, but be sure you’re also speaking to your kids with respect, too, because your teen learns by example.
16. Calm Down
I’ll take ‘things that never make a person feel better or actually calm down’ for two hundred, Alex.
17. While You’re Living Under My Roof…
Honestly, you’re not wrong with this one, but it’s also not productive. It’s combative and rude, and it would be so much easier to simply say, “Our family has rules, and this is one of our rules.”
18. You Made Your Own Bed and Now You Lie in It
Yes, they likely did make their own bed, and now they have to suffer the consequences of their actions, but this is such a flippant and unnecessary remark. It’s much easier to be upfront, open, and honest with your teen and provide a life lesson.
The life lesson is that every action has a consequence, and this is now a teaching moment. This is not a moment to tell your teen that they deserve what happened to them – even though they very likely do deserve it.
19. I Hope You Have a Child Just Like You One Day
Listen, I have a child just like me, and she’s a delight. An absolute delight. It’s not the punishment it sounded like it would be when my mom said it to me all the time growing up.
That’s the key, though. It always sounded like she wanted me to suffer, and that she was telling me that I was a terrible person who made her miserable. I realize that this was not her intention, but teenagers don’t know that. So, don’t say it.
20. Don’t Come to Me for Help
Never, ever tell your teen not to come to me. You might not like their choices or decisions, but they should always feel the need to come straight to you when things are tough or when they mess up. Always.
Additional Resources for Parents of Teens
- 20 Things to Do on a Car Trip With a Teenager
- 20 Things You Should Stop Doing For Your Teenager
- 20 Tips for Mothers of Teenagers to Stay Calm
- What to Do When Your Teenager is Out of Control
- 20 Mindfulness Activities For Your Teen