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Is That Any Way to Speak to Kids? Things To “Never” Say To Your Teen

I recently read an article titled “60 Things You Should Never Say to Your Children.” On the list are:

  • “Hurry up and get ready,” because it makes leaving the house more stressful but not more speedy.
  • “Practice makes perfect,” because it can make kids feel bad when they never achieve perfection.
  • “Great job,” because it conditions a child to rely on praise and have a false sense of self-esteem.

I’m not going to lie: I’m pretty certain I’ve said—or yelled—some form of each of these statements to all my children at some point. And I know I’m not alone.

Despite our good intentions—I do believe that we parents truly have the safety and well-being of our children in mind—we sometimes say the wrong thing. In fact, many of us on the Your Teen editorial staff have examples of times when we’ve said the wrong thing to our tweens and teens.

Here are a few of our memorable mistakes:

My daughter used my credit card to buy a yoga mat and yoga towel. I asked her if she thought that was a reasonable purchase. She said yes so I commented, “I’m disappointed in myself that I raised you to think that spending $120 just because you want to is acceptable.” 

She proceeded to post on social media, “My mother said to me just now, ‘I’m disappointed in myself that I raised you to think that way'” without explaining the situation. The pity poured in as people, including my own friends, told her to “hang in there,” that “tomorrow will be a better day” or not to worry because she “was a great kid.”Eca

I have a default habit of saying “What were you THINKING?” in a tone of great exasperation when I’m trying to understand a kid’s thought process and elicit a careful explanation of a regrettable decision.

I wish I had taken a deep breath first and been more calm and asked, “Help me understand what happened here” instead.Jane

When someone asks me how an outfit looks, I am doomed. I still have no idea how to avoid entering the inevitable battle. — Sue 

I am trying to break the habit of asking my children “why” they did something. We all know that when I ask that, 1) they have no idea why they did the thing; and 2) what I really mean is, “That was a dumb thing to do.”

Not helpful. Instead, I try to just deal with what’s in front of me instead of engaging in blame or pointless interrogation. Key word: try!


“Stop acting like a toddler.” 

It’s so easy to get incredibly frustrated when one of my big kids suddenly regress to behaviors that seem more suited to a two-year-old, but pointing that out serves no purpose except to exacerbate the behavior or shame them for being goofy and ridiculous. And it’s often that they’re just over-tired. 

It’s said in frustration, but I know they’re not really acting like toddlers; they’re acting like the adolescent kids they are—sometimes overwhelmed by life and having to process everything going on in their world. And, hey, sometimes I act ridiculous for the exact same reasons! — Kristina

I have been yelled at and hung up on for asking my daughter if she went to the gym. I’m asking because I want her to be healthy; exercise has proven to alleviate her stress, and—endorphins and all. But she immediately views it as an attack—that I am implying that she needs the exercise to lose weight.  

Now, I try not to ask because I realize that I am just adding stress to her stress. When she calls me and she is feeling anxious, I suggest that she take a walk. — Jody

So what can we do to make sure we say the right things to our kids? Wendy Mogel, author of Voice Lessons for Parents, gives some great advice about not only what we say but how we say it. She says our tone of voice, along with our body language, can speak louder than the words we actually use.

The fact is, though, that no matter how hard we try (and we’re trying!), we’ll definitely mess up and say the wrong thing from time to time. And as parents of teens, anything we say can and will be used against us. So when your better judgment fails and you say something you wish you hadn’t, at least know that you’re in good company. Other than taking a vow of silence, that’s about all we can do.

Jody has spent her life around teens, as a teacher and as a parent of three.

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