9 Things Never to Say to a Teen

Originally published October 2014

Leave it to Facebook to remind me how to parent.

Oh sure. Had this platform been available when my teens were tots, I would have been all over parenting advice. And I can pretty much guarantee I would have been blogging about it. I’ve gots all the feelings about my kids wrapped up in a stack of scrapbooks—the one thing I would save if my house was on fire. Well, besides the kids.

So I have a healthy respect for the mommy bloggers out there sharing the experience, creating community and keeping it real for all the other mommies. And it was someone sharing a Parents Magazine story about what NOT to say to your kid that inspired this little ditty. Just remember this—nearly all advice should come with a grain of salt. Kids aren’t cookie cutters and parents aren’t perfect. I know I’ve said the following words many, many times and regret them as soon as they come out of my mouth.

“Are you really wearing that?” Who am I? Their mother? Given the chance, I am certain my mom would love to regale my kids with stories of some of the asinine ensembles I put together growing up, and yet here I am, fairly unscathed from my teen years. There’s a hard stop at assless chaps and fetishwear, but if my son wants to wear a shirt about six sizes too big, or my daughter is mixing plaids with prints, it’s not the end of the world.

“Good God, can you stop with the texting?” Ahem. Remember those things called home phones? With long, kinked-up cords that stretched from the kitchen to your bedroom closet? That we 40-somethings would spend HOURS on? It’s not that different from what our kids are doing. If it’s driving you or your wireless bill crazy, there are alternatives. Like setting up restrictions. Asking kids to put the phone away when doing homework or at dinner. Or, my favorite, keeping the electronics out of the bedroom. Start this when they first get a phone and you’d be surprised how compliant they can be. Or maybe I just got lucky.

Believe it or not, kids will plug 'em in if you ask …
Believe it or not, kids will plug ’em in if you ask …

“Have you finished that college app yet?” This is so, so hard. It’s a lot like letting go of that two-wheeler for the first time to see how far your kid makes it before their face meets the pavement. But as I sat and listened to the speakers at one of our high school’s parent information nights, these words rang true—the motivation to apply for and go to college has to come primarily from the student. If you are filling out the application and if you pick the school, how invested is your kid going to be in doing the hard work that gets them to that graduation day?

“Why aren’t you getting more playing time?” I can only speak for my own kids, but here’s the thing—they’re already under enough stress from their coach and teammates. It’s probably not all that helpful when all of the sudden, their familial support network seems to be crumbling around them. It does mean something to have made the team—the experience is more enjoyable for everyone if you just sit back and … enjoy it.

“I know you can do better.” OK, so I have no basis for this, other than to say, maybe there’s a better way to examine a situation and encourage a better outcome. Take grades, for example. If as a parent you aren’t pleased with the performance, try asking specific questions that offer an opportunity for improvement. Is a topic too difficult? Is it an early morning class and your kids isn’t getting enough sleep?

“How was school today?” One of my favorite parenting books of late is Rosalind Wiseman’s “Masterminds and Wingmen,” devoted specifically to talking to/relating with/understanding tween and teen boys. A key piece of advice? Not badgering them with questions the second they hop in the car after school. It’s decompression time, not inquisition time. Save the big discussions for later in the evening. In fact, Wiseman is a big fan of talks just before kids hit the hay.

Sage advice on how to talk to boys.
Sage advice on how to talk to boys.

“I don’t like your friends.” As hard as we try to make our kids just like us, they’re individuals, with their own interests. And, occasionally, these interests may draw them to a person or a group you don’t understand or care for. There’s some great advice here, but to summarize, your best bet when faced with a less than idealistic friendship is to ask questions, listen, and continue to encourage your kids to make smart choices when faced with less than savory situations.

“You can’t be a (insert career choice).” Face it, it’s not really up to you. You can encourage, you can support, you can direct, you can explore options. But it’s your kid’s life. There are already an outstanding number of challenges and hurdles on your child’s road to adulthood—social, emotional, academic, financial—and at the end of the day, all you can do is support and arm them with the tools to take them on. Whatever the career, help them focus on being amazing at it.

“I don’t believe you.” Ouch. Sure, some kids on their way to emotional maturity make a pitstop at what feels like pathological lying. “No, there’s not a test today.” “Yeah, coach cancelled practice.” “I didn’t take a $20 out of your wallet.” Of course there’s no good time for kids to be caught in a lie, and most of the time, natural consequences like a bad grade or getting benched take care of the problem. But losing the support of a parent? One, two or even ten bad choices doesn’t make for a bad kid.

I’m no expert, but I am parenting teens. Until there’s a support group that comes with box wine and Bosco sticks, I’ll just keep on keeping on about books. Like to read? Need a good suggestion? Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

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