Things You Should Never Say to Your Teen

Landmines! One misstep and… boom! This may very well be what it feels like when talking to an angry, rebellious and moody teenager. When there are all kinds of indications that your teen is into some kind of trouble (i.e. drugs, gangs, criminal acts, etc.), how do you talk to your teen without starting a word war? How do you start connecting to your teen so that you know how to go about getting help for him?

You can start by being careful about what you say to your teen. It is easy to say things at the heat of the moment, in the middle of an argument. But you should remember that once these words are out, it can be impossible to take back and these words can do serious damage to your relationship.

Here are some examples of things you should not say to your troubled teen:

– “You’re such a loser!”. Avoid giving self-fulfilling prophecies to your child. Saying your child is an idiot and constantly pulling him down not only destroys your relationship with your teen, it also undermines your teen’s confidence and sense of self-worth. If your child does something wrong, focus on the behavior and not on a personal attack.

– “What were you thinking? Why did you do something that stupid?” First, start by acknowledging that teens still have trouble with impulsive acts. Science supports this – a teen’s pre-frontal cortex (the area that controls impulses and decision-making) has not yet fully developed. A teen may actually have good intentions that backfired upon implementation. Rather than blaming, start by probing for the reasons and their intentions behind why they did what they did.

– “Why are you such a drama queen? Aren’t you being oversensitive?” A teen can blow her top over a sister borrowing her outfit or someone getting the top score in his favorite video game. Your teen may agonize over being ignored by her crush or by a fight with friends. Rather than dismissing or minimizing his feelings, take time to discuss these with him once he has had enough time to cool and calm down. You can also try empathizing with and listening to your teen.

– “Why can’t you be more like…?”/”I wish you would act like…” Nothing can be so hurtful and enraging that comparing your teen with someone else, especially a sibling. Sibling rivalry will already be in play among your children and comparing them with one another will worsen things. Again, focus on the behavior rather than launching a personal attack.

– “That’s it. I’m done with you.” This can be said when you are at your wit’s end with your child. However, the truth is that as a parent, you are not done with your teen. Your teen’s behavioral problems are strong reasons for you to stick it out and take the necessary steps to help him through the tumultuous years.

– “I hate you, too.” Often, the teen will scream that he hates you in an effort to have the last say. Do not, in any circumstances fall into the trap of going down to his level. Remember, you are the parent.

So now, short of biting your tongue, what can you do to avoid saying the above phrases? Here are some tips:

– Take a break. If you can, get out of the confrontation until you have both calmed down. Start by taking a deep breath and counting to ten. If that does not work, count to 100. If this still does not work, leave the room. Staying calm helps you control your temper and prevent you from saying words you may want to take back right after it has left your mouth.

– Focus on behavior and consequences. Rather than haranguing your child about his “stupid decisions”, simply remind him of a previous agreement or rule. Because he broke that rule, then you are simply implementing the consequences. This is much like what a police officer will do when you are caught speeding. There is no lengthy lecture about what a danger you are to the other driving public before the officer hands out the ticket. He simply hands out the consequences of your behavior – the ticket.

– Work to calm the situation. In the event that walking away is not an option, you can exert effort towards de-escalating the situation before it becomes too heated. Some ways to de-escalate include:

o Watching your volume and pitch when you speak

o Avoiding “you accusations” and using “I messages” instead. Look at the difference: “You never listen to what I say.” And “I am frustrated because I feel that I am not being heard.”

o Repeating what your teen says in an effort to clarify what he means.

– Get help when your confrontations are getting violent. Sometimes your confrontations do not end up in just verbal tussles, but in potentially physically violent ones. It may be that your teen needs help in processing his anger and other related issues. You may not necessarily be the one to help him with this. There are professionals who are trained and equipped to help your child.

– Provide a change of environment and opportunities to grow. If you feel that your child’s behavior is taking a turn for the worse and can actually be harmful to him and others, consider enrolling your child into a troubled teen program or a teen wilderness camp. This provides a temporary respite for both you and your teen as there is a change in environment. An effective troubled teen program can also provide your child with challenges and situations that can help him grow and mature.

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