Parents want to help their teens. They try to give us wisdom, with the best intentions, but so often it’s phrased in ways that just don’t work for us. If you’ve ever gotten the impression that your teen just wants to tell you to “f*** off” that’s probably because the truth is we do! It doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate that you care, but the way grown-ups give teens advice can be unhelpful, and sometimes even harmful. So here is a list of the top ten things parents say to their teens that no teen ever wants to hear, and some alternatives to help with communication.
1.“When I was your age…”
Think back to when your parents said this to you, did it ever lead to a meaningful conversation? Teens hear this statement and think “that was like a million years ago. Don’t you think things have changed?” Whether it’s your generation or ours, teens don’t want to hear about what it was like when you were a teen, because it’s not the same.
Alternative: “Do you want to hear about my experience when I was your age?”
Asking the questions or offering to share your experiences gives us the opportunity to say “no” and it is a far more respectful way of getting your point across. It feels less commanding and more like a conversation.
2. “We’ve all been there and gotten through it.”
Maybe you have been there. Maybe you know exactly what we are going through. Even so, while you are trying to tell us that we will get through it, it feels like all you are really telling us is that our problem is insignificant. Don’t minimize our experience with yours.
Alternative: “This must be really hard.”
3. “Grow up.”
We are teens! Not adults. We are learning how to be adults and trying hard, so don’t tell us that we are doing a bad job at “adulting.” Trust me, it’s hard enough without your input.
Alternative: “I appreciate that you are learning from your experiences.”
4. “There are bigger things to worry about.”
For us, or at least some of us, there aren’t bigger things to worry about. School, friends, sports, relationships. Those are all the things that mean the most to us. It might seem insignificant compared to divorce and taxes, but those “little things” are the biggest parts of our lives and making us feel bad just makes us feel like you don’t understand our perspective.
Alternative: “That must be really hard for you. I’m sorry you are worried about these things.”
5. “You think this is hard? Wait until you get to college.”
Telling us that we have harder things coming up in the future is NOT comforting. It is NOT inspiring and NOT supportive. So avoid these statements and focus on being present with the teen.
Alternative: “I know how hard this is for you.”
6. “No one is going to hold your hand in the real world.”
Teens are in the “real world.” Just because we don’t all have jobs or families doesn’t mean we don’t know what the “real world” is like. Telling us that we won’t have support when we are older only makes us anxious. Also, it might make us feel like you are talking about yourself. Won’t we have your support when we are older? Won’t you help us out anymore once we are in the “real world”?
Alternative: “I’m here to support you no matter what life throws at you.”
7. “This won’t matter in a few years.”
Again, please be present with us. To us, our test grades and relationships mean the world to us. Don’t tell us that these things don’t matter because they do to us. Do we know that one bad test grade won’t destroy our future? Yes. But do you have to tell us? Absolutely not, especially in the moment and with the pressure to get into good colleges it really feels that way.
Alternative: “Right now, I know this seems like the worst thing in the world.”
8. “I had it harder than you.”
You don’t know what is hard for us. Times have changed. People don’t just get into college anymore. Teachers give hours of homework and don’t coordinate when they give tests. Our life is not a walk in the park, so again, don’t minimize our experience. Walk a day in our shoes and get back to me.
Alternative: “Can I share with you some strategies that worked for me?”
9. “Technology makes it so easy for you.”
Yes, we have technology. Yes, it has its perks. But we still have to do a lot of work. We don’t just get to “copy and paste” answers from the internet for our homework (mostly). “Have you heard of this thing called a book?” you may ask. Of course, we have. We aren’t living under a rock and a lot of us have an appreciation for books, but why shouldn’t we use all of our resources to be successful? You’ve always taught us to use what we have and to work effectively and efficiently. Hating on technology just widens the disconnect between teens and parents, and doesn’t help us learn how to use technology in helpful ways (because it has amazing upsides but we also know social media can make anxiety worse). If you want to help us please acknowledge that we live in an increasingly digital world and help us learn to navigate it.
Alternative: “Can you show me how this technology helps you with your school work?”
10.“Don’t you know how lucky you are compared to other kids?”
Yes. I do know that. And sometimes, that reminder is important. But a lot of the time, it’s important to focus on me and not compare me to other people.
Alternative: “When you are ready, let’s each name three things we are grateful for.”
You may think that you know exactly what to say to teens, but all of the above are filled with judgment that hurts our sense of self and can make us shut down. It’s easy to think that because you have been there before, you’re an expert. If you want to connect, ask us questions, don’t tell us about how we should be feeling.
Adults need to understand that if they continue to speak to teens in these ways, it can push them farther and farther away. I challenge all adults to be more conscious of how they speak, what they say, and what impact they are having on teens.
Sophie is the President of Here.Now.’s Board of Directors and is also the author of “Don’t Tell Me To Relax: One Teen’s Journey to Survive Anxiety.” She’s passionate about destigmatizing mental illnesses and promoting mental health and resiliency.