“Raise your hands ALL the way up if you’ve ever regretted something you said to your teenagers.” That’s what I asked a crowded room of parents. Finally one brave soul named George stood up in urgency. “JD, can I speak?” I saw the passion, frustration and love in this man’s eyes and brought him up to the front of the stage to speak as the entire group of teenage parents cheered and clapped. His eyes fully directed towards the floor watered up and his hands quivered. “I regret everything,” he said and quickly broke down. The room changed as this courageous man started to pour his heart out about all the mistakes he had made wishing he could turn back the clock. “I’ve lost him.” The last part of his outburst he said among his peers in complete vulnerability and remorse.
This is what I see as a Youth Coach & Transformational Speaker in New York City. Reality Check: Parenting is not easy! Your baby is not a baby anymore. Perhaps you’re not the hero you once were to them. Liar. Lazy. Untrustworthy. Dumb. Rebellious. Sound familiar? Those are some adjectives our trainers say while describing their teens. Maybe not you but this is the reality for so many families. There is much at stake.
Here are five phrases you should never say to your teenager.
1) “How was school?”
The ultimate “one word answer” question. “Good” or “OK” being the most common replies, or if you’re lucky you might get a “It’s ok”. With all the morphic changes both physical and emotional going on with teenagers, it’s makes absolute sense that they would be reserved to tell you what you really want to hear. That said, the art of asking questions with your teenagers is to ask questions that will actually generate real dialog. Show interest in the things that matter to them to establish trust. “How is your science project going?” Be interested in the details revolving their lives. Broad questions will generate vague answers. Be specific and be interested.
2) “Why can’t you be more like your friend Jacob in school?”
Comparing your teens to a sibling or friend is like taking a sledgehammer to their self esteem. In many cases teens are already doubting themselves. When you want to address an issue like poor academics speak from a place that inspires. “You’re someone that everyone says is so bright and good to people. Thats what we all love about you. I know you’re struggling in math. I also know that you want to be an engineer. I want to support you in that. Let’s talk about the challenges and create a solution that empowers you.”
3) “Do what I tell you to!”
That might have worked in our generation, but then again so did switches, whips, and our mothers chasing us around the dinner table to hit us! This is a new world. A world where the authoritative parent has become obsolete. If you want respect from your teens, treat them like an equal by giving them their dignity and respect. Create that in your relationship daily. Also refer to what they want to be and how their dreams are tied to what they do now. “Susan, I know you always tell me you want to be this great reporter. I see it in you. You absolutely have what it takes. That’s why as your parent and someone that will fight for your dreams, we can’t have this happen because it’s not in alignment with what you say you want.”
4) “Why don’t you spent time with better friends?”
If you want your teen to withhold communication with you, then go ahead and insult their friends. In working with parents I see this all the time. Judgement. Teenagers have their own value system and the more you impose your values on to them, the more likely they are to resist and rebel. Ask questions about their friends and be interested to know who they really are. Then you start to open up the ideas of ‘are your friends going to support you in getting you to where you need to go.’ This is tricky because you can’t merge these two points together because it comes off as your agenda. Be objective. Maybe you’ll be surprised by the qualities of your teen’s friends and your teen’s choices. “So tell me about Julian. I know he’s your best friend. What does he like to do on weekends? What do you love about him?”
5) “It’s not good to …. “
Good vs bad; right and wrong. They have been imbedded in our language for so long that even in the trainer world we catch ourselves misusing these words. When you label something your teen is doing as “bad” the common feelings and actions that arise are “guilt, blame, resignation, rebellion, anger, feeling judged, and loneliness.” When you back someone up with saying they are doing bad, even if you think you’re correct, it will most likely not have the impact that you ultimately want. Again, speaking from the vision of what your teen really wants and dreams of, you can state that something doesn’t work. “You want to be a pediatrician and we all believe 100% that you can be the best at it because of your passion for children and helping them through those tough times. Let’s make that happen. Or, “I don’t want to pass blame on you Stephen, but not doing your homework simply doesn’t work for what you say you want. How can we get you back into the vision you say you want?”
It’s never easy being a parent and no one ever gave you a manual on how to parent. You’ll see that many responses revolve around the word “vision” and “dreams” to reignite the passion and connection to your teen.
For more information about how you can support your teen, visit the link below: