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5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Teenager

Having challenges communicating with your teen? Experts offer tips on what not to say.

Those teen years! If you have challenges communicating effectively with the adolescents in the house, you are not alone. It is easy for parents to get frustrated or angry, and end up lecturing and criticizing. And it is just as easy for teens to roll their eyes and tune you out -- especially if you speak harshly, or embarrass them in front of others.

Every day, parents of teens face the tough task of setting clear boundaries and ground rules, without bossing, criticizing, or attacking. Consider some of these pointers from experts.

Don’t be too bossy. “Teens hate to be told what to do,” says family psychotherapist Fran Walfish, PsyD. “Parents, be sure to phrase commands, directions, and suggestions in such a way that your adolescent doesn't feel dictated to, or that you are decreeing laws.” And do it with a smile and humor whenever possible.

Speak privately. “Try not to criticize in front of friends and siblings,” says Juanita Allen Kingsley, director of business development for Century Health Systems, where she teaches courses for teens. A caring tone is also recommended.

Be constructive. “Criticism should be a learning tool, accompanied by an explanation,” says Allen Kingsley. Make sure your words are meant to guide -- not aimed at hurting someone.

We asked experts to share some of the worst phrases to utter to teens.

1. You should … “It doesn't matter what follows these two words, it's human nature to rebel against them for most people, and teens feel this more strongly than most,” says family physician Deborah Gilboa, MD, author of Get the Behavior You Want...Without Being the Parent You Hate. “This is the age when autonomy means everything, and that meansnot doing whatever a parent thinks you should, even if they agree.”


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2. You are lazy. This will not get chores done faster. “Most children are not lazy,” says psychologist Stacy Haynes, EdD, LPC, ACS. “What happens is, we wait until they are teenagers to give them chores and then expect them to be on it.” Get kids involved in helping earlier, so it isn’t a big surprise when they are asked, she says.

3. You won't be able to do that. Teens are hypersensitive to criticism, so try to offer a rationale. “On its own, telling a teen that she's not capable is negative and hurtful,” says Allen Kingsley. “But to say, ‘I'm concerned that you won't have the time you need to get this done well,’ or ‘You'd have to make sure you learn about X-Y-Z to do this’ -- now the teen has an explanation.” 

4. You'd be so pretty/good-looking if you'd just … Teenage life is all about wanting to be liked and seen as attractive. Be gentle if addressing appearance. “[Teens] are truly sensitive to our criticism, no matter how hard a shell they may seem to present,” says Gilboa. “Since our child's appearance is nowhere near the most important of his or her attributes, we need to focus on the self-exploration and keep negative comments to ourselves.”

5. What a mean, nasty person you are. Psychologist Alex J. Packer, PhD, says negative statements about a teen’s character can lead to a place of “great shame, hurt, regret, confusion, and/or anger.” He suggests trying something like this: “You’re usually a kind and generous person, so we need to talk about why you said such mean things to your sister.” This helps parents learn about their kids, and restores calm while addressing grievances.

Packer collected thousands of comments teens find hurtful while working on his book,How Rude! “No parent can be perfect 100 percent of the time,” he says. “And sometimes the stresses of child-rearing and life in general cause moments of thoughtlessness and anger when we say things we regret or don’t mean.” He suggests parents minimize regret by taking a time-out before reacting to a tense moment with a teen.

“In the midst of a conflict or provocation, count to 10 -- or, better yet, to 100 -- and if possible, remove yourself from the situation to give yourself time to think,” he says.

He says to tell your child, “I need to give this some thought,” or “I’m very upset and want to calm down before we discuss this.” Return to the conversation when you’ve both cooled down.

Read useful child care tips here.

Read interesting ways to spend time with your family and improve your family life here.

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