Things to Say to Your Teen When Everything You Say is Wrong

Everything I Say to my teen Wrong


It seems like the moment our kids hit middle school an invisible wall goes up between us.

They jump in the car and we are there with our eager smile, we might even make the mistake of saying, “How was your day?” just hoping for a little something. And what do we get in return?

A grunt or a look. Maybe we are even lucky enough to get a word. “Fine.”

We can’t help but worry when they don’t open up and talk to us, because if we don’t know what’s going on, how can we help them?

(insert screeching tire sounds here!)

And now it spirals.

They upset us, we yell, they yell, we point out how they are wrong.

The unfortunate truth is this. The last thing our child needs is our unsolicited advice.

In this stage of their life communicating by “helping” never works out very well.

You know you’ve tried it, and chances are it didn’t go well.

We are completely taken by surprise when they turn their angry eyes on us and start to argue. Out of nowhere! We had such good intentions. And yet, in the end, we walk away feeling bad, realizing that the conversation didn’t go as we intended. We didn’t get the response we wanted, leaving us at square one when they no longer want to open up and talk to us.

So what do we do? This can’t be it, can it?

When you look back at what you said it can be hard to figure out where it all went wrong. We think we were being so helpful, we want to take an interest in their lives, how could that possibly be a reason to argue?

Becoming aware of the things we say that trigger our child and learning how to better respond, will help you become more supportive of your kids when they’re feeling troubled or upset and in need of guidance.

Here are some common things your tween or teen might say and what NOT to say if you want to become a safe place for your child to open up and talk to you.

There’s a great book called How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk.”  They have some great examples of reactions we almost all have when our child actually wants to reach out and talk.

See if you recognize any familiar responses in these comments. Notice how you might feel if you, from an adolescent’s perspective, were sharing with a friend and they responded in this manner.

“I don’t know if I want to go to college.”

  • “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course, you’re going to college.”
  • “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
  • “I can’t believe you would even say that. Do you want to break your grandparents’ hearts?”

“Why do I always have to be the one to take out the garbage?”

  • “Because you never do anything else around here except eat and sleep.”
  • “Why do you always have to be the one to complain?”
  • “How come your brother doesn’t give me a hard time when I ask him for help?”

“We had this long lecture on drugs today from a policeman. What a crock! All he did was try to scare us.”

  • “Scare you? He’s trying to knock some sense into your head.”
  • “If I ever catch you using drugs, you’ll really have something to be scared of.”
  • “The trouble with you kids today is that you think you know everything. Well, let me tell you, you’ve got a lot to learn.”

“I don’t care if I’ve got a fever. No way am I missing that concert!”

  • “That’s what you think. You’re not going anywhere tonight except bed. “
  • “Why would you want to do anything that stupid? You’re still sick.”
  • “It’s not the end of the world. There’ll be plenty of other concerts. Why don’t you play the band’s latest album, close your eyes, and pretend you’re at the concert?”

How about we turn that around so we can get a positive response!

Become More Conscious of Both Your Feelings and Your Child’s.

Some of these statements and responses might make us laugh. I can definitely confess to having similar comebacks with my kids. Are you aware of how you are feeling when you react to your child in similar ways? And how your child might be feeling? Might you both be feeling similar senses of fear, confusion, resentment, or disappointment?

In my experience, parents react out of their own discomfort when their child expresses their feelings. It’s normal for parents to want to push away uncomfortable and upsetting feelings that their child has (and that we have too). We want our kids to be happy.

Understand the Cost of Your Response.

When parents respond in these ways it dismisses their child’s feelings, criticizes their thoughts, and questions their judgment. It shuts the child down and adds to their upset rather than helping them to deal with it.

Listen for What Really Might Be Going On.

Begin to listen to the hidden messages that your child might be saying. There is so much more going on inside of them that they are trying to process and figure out. We miss opportunities to really connect with them when we only pay attention to the words they say, rather than being curious about how they are feeling. Listening, seeking to understand, and letting our kids know that they have been heard helps them to know themselves in deeper ways.


It’s Also Helpful Just to Try A New Approach

Here are some ideas of how you can respond differently*:

“I don’t know if I want to go to college.”

  • “Sounds as if you’re having some real doubts about it.” “You’re wondering if college is right for you.”
  • “Know what would be cool? If you could look into a crystal ball and see what your life would be like if you didn’t go to college… or if you did.”

“Why do I always have to be the one to take out the garbage?”

  • “Boy, I hear how much you resent it.”
  • “It’s not your favorite activity. Tomorrow let’s talk about rotating chores. Right now I need your help.”
  • “Wouldn’t it be great if the garbage would take itself out?”

“We had this long lecture on drugs today from a policeman. What a crock! All he did was try to scare us.”

  • “So you think he was exaggerating—trying to frighten kids into staying away from drugs.”
  • “Scare tactics really turn you off.”
  • “Sounds as if you wish adults would give kids straight information and trust them to make responsible decisions.”

“I don’t care if I’ve got a fever. No way am I missing that concert!”

  • “What rotten luck to be sick—on today of all days! You’ve been looking forward to that concert for weeks.”
  • “I know. You had your heart set on going. The problem is, with a fever of 101, you belong in bed.”
  • “Even though you know there will be plenty of other concerts, you sure wish you didn’t have to miss this one.”

Make Sure You Focus on Feelings First

The idea is to try to reflect back and put into words what you think your child might be feeling instead of reacting out of your feelings. You can always check it out by asking them, “Have I got that right?” They will usually correct you and say more.

Listening provides your child with the greatest comfort. It’s your acceptance of your child’s unhappy feelings that will give them the tools to better cope with the situation.

You may ask – when do I get a chance to talk about what I think, believe, or value? There will always be a chance to share that. However, when you listen to your child’s feelings first and seek to understand what they are feeling, the better your chances will be at being heard as their parent.



*examples from How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk.”

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