20 Things You Should Never Say to Your Teens

Somewhere between parents and teens, the messages of love and caring get lost. Bringing fear and anxiety from their own experiences, parents sometimes forget what works and what doesn’t. It is amazing to find that the sentences we say to our teens are the same sentences we hated when our parents said to us.

A long time ago, one of the mothers in my early childhood center brought me a book about expressions mothers use. I laughed really hard and I could swear the author wrote the book about my mom. Is it possible, I wondered, that all moms uses the same phrases?

Well, surprise, surprise, when I talk to teenagers, regardless of their gender or cultural background, they all claim parents of teens use the same expressions. You have heard one, you have heard them all!

I was a bit unhappy with that. No, I didn’t want to be just another parent of teens and I am sure you too, do not like to be “just another parent” saying the same things your teen hates. I am sure you do not want to be in the conflict most parents are in with their teen. So here you have it, the most “annoying, boring, upsetting, disrespectful, arrogant, controlling, embracing…” things parents say which sets their teens off.

As a parent, all you need to do is be conscious of those expressions and find alternatives. You can easily use the frequency of using those phrases to measure the quality your relationship with your teen. If you use some of the expressions a lot, do not be surprised if your parenting is hard work. Of course, the less you use them, the better the relationship will be.

TeensUse the self-assessment below to measure your relationship with your teen.

Give a number from 0 to 10 to each of the phrases. Give 0 to phrases you have never used. If you use a phrase once in a blue moon, write 1. If you use it a lot, write 10. Be honest with yourself.

When you are done, give your teens the same list and ask them to fill it in. You may be surprised to discover that what you think you say is not the same as what your teens think you say. Do not despair if this is the situation. It is a good start for communication.

  1. No!
  2. When I was your age…
  3. We’ll see.
  4. Of course I trust you, but…
  5. Stand up straight
  6. If I were you…
  7. Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself?
  8. Not now!
  9. I don’t care who made the mess, you clean it up.
  10. Don’t talk with your mouth full
  11. Got any homework?
  12. You’re not going anywhere till your room is cleaned
  13. Be home early
  14. Please do something with your hair
  15. I just don’t understand you.
  16. I am sick and tired of your attitude.
  17. We’ll talk about it later
  18. Clean up the mess in the kitchen
  19. Brushed your teeth yet?
  20. Turn the music down.

I was surprised myself to read the above list in the book “A Handbook for Happy Families” by Dr John Irvine. Personally, I scored a 10 for “Got any homework?”

You see, we have programmed our kids over the years to react to things that we say and somehow, we have managed to program them to turn off the communication channels when we use certain expressions. How about finding the expressions you use often and find other ways of saying them?

Teens, just like the rest of us, look for support and comfort in their choices and decisions. What was suitable to say when they were 6 years old (“Brushed your teeth yet?”) is not appropriate to ask when they are 12 or 17. Using the same phrases without adjusting them to more mature, responsible, knowledgeable, experienced and understanding kid will cause your teen to feel you think they are as mature as a 6-year-old and that you do not think they are more responsible, knowledgeable, experienced or understanding than a 6-year-old. If you have not worked out a way to make them more than they were as primary school kids, then you are surely an embarrassing parent in their eyes.

Again, we go back to the conflict between what parents want to give and what teens are able to get.

When you say, “When I was your age…” you want to give them insight but they get arrogance.

When you say, “We’ll see…” or “We’ll talk about it later” to give you both time to think, they think you are shutting them up or avoiding the discussion.

When you say, “Stand up straight”, you want the best for their body and self-esteem and they feel you are controlling them.

When you talk about cleaning their rooms to teach them self respect and responsibility, they take it as if you care about cleaning more than you care about them.

When you ask them to turn the music down or change their hairstyle, they interpret it as if you do not respect their choices.

If you want to understand how hard it is for them to accept the above expressions, imagine your own parent, sibling, partner, friend or boss saying the same things to you.

LatteLet’s say you go out with your sister for a hot chocolate, you tell her about your plans for a romantic dinner with your husband and ask her, “Can you please babysit for me on Friday?” and she says “No!” just like that. No explanation. Just NO. You try to ask her about the reasons and she gets upset and says, “Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself? What’s wrong with you? I don’t understand you! I am sick and tired of you expecting me to be available for you just because you are going for a romantic dinner with your husband. Do you expect me to be available to you that every time you need a babysitter?” You apologize, because it is not what you meant, and you are stuck with no babysitter, after booking the restaurant for your romantic dinner.

How would you feel?

Or let’s say you are having a romantic dinner with your partner and he says “Darling, don’t talk with your mouth full” or “Just sit up straight“. You talk about your best friend cheating on her or his partner and you say that you are in love and it will never happen between you and your partner, but then he says, “Of course I trust you, but with the divorce rate today, you can never know”. And that night, after the romantic dinner, just before you get into bed, your partner asks, “Brushed your teeth yet?”

How would you feel?

How about this? Your best friend comes to your house for a visit and says, “You need to clean up the mess in your kitchen“, and when you say, “Let’s go out for coffee”, she asks (politely), “Are you sure you want to go out before you finish cleaning your kitchen? You are convinced you can do it later, because you really need a break from your new course at work and from housework. “Yes, I am sure”, you say and pack your bag. Your best friend, wanting the best for you asking, “I took the same course last year. They give lots of assignments. Don’t you have homework?” On your way out, your husband says, “We are going out for dinner tomorrow night. Be home early“.

How would you feel?

Check this out: you are at work and your boss passes next to you and says, “You must do something with your hair“. You are embarrassed, you immediately look for the mirror and ask, “Have you read my promotion request?”, and he says, “Not now! We’ll see. We’ll talk about it later“.

How would you feel?

Couple having romantic dinnerHere is one more: you go to visit your dad in a nursing home and bring a CD you bought with new versions of his favorite old music. You tell your dad about problems you are having with your promotion at work and not having enough time to clean and your dad says, “What are you complaining about? When I was your age, we had to walk to work and we only got promoted after 20 years of hard work”. You say, “It doesn’t work like that anymore. People don’t work 20 years in the same job”, but your dad is in “old times story land”. You tell him about problems you are having with your kids and he says, “If I were you, I would teach these kids a lesson”. It does not help you to say, “But dad, I am not you”, thinking to yourself “Thank God”. Upset you did not take his advice, which was relevant 30 years ago, your dad says, “Turn the music down. How can you listen to this music anyway?”

How would you feel?

I know you have been saying to yourself, “It’s not the same as me and my kids!” Is it different?

If you are looking for ways to communicate with your kids on a more equal level, to give them the tools to be responsible, respectful, to take care of themselves and develop a sense of fairness and tolerance, start by understanding what they most hate you saying and say it differently.

For another way to communicate
better with your teen,
check out my book
“Be Special, Be Yourself for Teenagers”

Be Special, Be Yourself for Teenagers by Ronit Baras

Happy parenting your teen,

  • http://myfeetarentugly.com Debra

    It’s amazing what we say to our teenagers and children in general. When you flip things around, it really makes you think about what comes out of your mouth. I work with teenage girls and during my girl’s circles, one topic was that their parents didn’t understand them. I think listening to your teen and relating to them as equal might help, just because they are younger doesn’t mean that they are brainless. Great article, it really drives the point home. myfeetarentugly.com

  • http://www.theteencoach.com Sarah Newton

    Love this article thanks for sharing..I have also shared it with my readers with a link back to you….hope that is OK.

    Great pointers


  • Pingback: Family Matters » Blog Archive » 20 Things Teens Say to Set Parents Off()

  • E

    HA HA HA, that was really to the point. I’ve never seen it explained that way. Really makes you grasp the feeling. It’s a two-fold thing thought… Once you become a responsible adult, it suddenly makes sense, all those times your parents said those things.

  • http://www.behappyinlife.com/ Ronit Baras

    I am glad it makes more sense.
    I wish parents and kids could understand each other better.

    Thanks for visiting my site.

  • Pingback: Felicia Thornton()

  • Tim Anderson

    This is something anyone can appreciate. Thanks for the great share!

  • karen

    nice points raised here. hope this comes to mind when i bear teens myself. thanks for sharing.

  • Michelle

    Yes, I agree. I am a teen myself and these things, if said would make me very mad. My father sometimes says to me and it is defiantly the thing that makes me extremely mad is “Im the adult and you’re the child.” I don’t really understand why, but I just cant stand that sentence.

  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/index.php/about/ Ronit Baras

    HI Debra,

    Yes, it is amazing what we say to our kids.
    I do hope parents say encouraging things but sometimes they can’t because no one encourages them so they don’t know how to say it.


  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/index.php/about/ Ronit Baras


    Sure, you can share it with as many people you want.
    That’s the idea…

    Happy day

  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/index.php/about/ Ronit Baras

    HI Karen,

    Be prepared!
    I am joking.
    There is nothing to prepare yourself.
    Teens are kids and there is nothing different about them. At least not greatly different than having a 4 year old. It is just that when your child is 4 you think ( only think) you have more control and when your child is 16 you think ( only think) you have lost that control ( that you never had in the first place)…


  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/index.php/about/ Ronit Baras


    Well, it is just a sentence that states the fact that he is an adult, which it true and that you are a child, which is true too.

    On the surface, there is nothing wrong with stating the truth but underneath the sentence there is a fear of losing control.

    I am a mother of teens and I am sure there are things I say to my kids they don’t like at all.
    ( My daughter is 21 and she just started writing in this blog, I am sure she will share some of my nagging sentences)

    it is not a big deal, if your dad loves you and you love him, you’ll be fine.


  • Jennee

    I agree completely.
    I really hate it when my dad starts with “when I was your age..” story, I try to tell him something and he does not even let me finish before he started his story. I tell him that story does not apply because that was 40 years ago (he is 56), and also I am girl, so our problems would be different.

    Another time, my dad said “If you would just listen to me your life will be easier” I got annoyed, mainly because its my life I want to make my choices and not just follow what he wants me to do. I don’t even make bad choices, other than I don’t really leave the house much and super shy.

  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/index.php/about/ Ronit Baras

    Hi Jennee,

    Gal and I had a friend that his dad used to do that all the time and in front of us, his friends. Every time we came to visit, he would tell us how spoiled we are, how lazy we are, how ungrateful we are, how non- experienced we are, how un knowledgeable we are, how hard it was in the old days, how people in the past had values and we – young kids, have no values.( we were teens)
    You know what?
    I thank him for it. Do you know why?
    He did it so much and we hated it so much that I learned that this is not the way I will talk to my kids.
    I learned from him that he was living in the past, not updating himself. He probably had an unfinished business in the past and in his head he said ” I wish I could go back in time and do something differently”.
    I remember us arguing with him. ( our friend – his son – gave up long before we did) We told him ” why are you blaming us for the technology. Why are you talking about us having food and shelter as if it is a bad thing. Isn’t it the reason you are working so hard to give your sons( 3 boys) what you didn’t have? if it was that good, why are you trying to provide for them and send them to school? )
    you know what?
    Nothing we did or said changed his mind. He was trapped in the memories of the past and it was his strange way of saying ” I had a hard life. My past was rough and tough” weird way, but when we got it, it didn’t seem as bad as before.

    Your dad probably loves you very much and when he says “if you just listen to me…” I think he hopes that it will make your life easier and he probably means to say ” I want to make your life easier than mine and I’m worried about you”.

    You can tell him ” Dad, I know you care about me. As I am growing I need to learn to make my own choices. You can’t be with me every second of the day and help me with that. so I need you to help me make good choices not by telling me what to do but by showing me your good choices in life. Show me by being an example”

    If he talks about the past say: ” Dad, I am sure you want what is best for me but 40 years ago, we didn’t have TV and Computers and mobile phones and the world that I need to live in ( which is not my choice) has new things that I need to learn to live with. I think both you and I need to make new choices now because life is different now”

    I am sure it will help him understand that telling you what to do and talking about the past is not what he needs to do.

    It is great to hear that you don’t consider yourself as making bad choices.
    Well done! keep thinking good things about yourself.

    happy day

  • Norie

    I definitely started laughing when I read this one. When you put it in the context of our lives, I realised how it would offend. My stepfather would at least tell me every year how ‘mothers were to blame for how their children turned out’. Often I would say that fathers have a role. Oh no! he said its all the mother’s fault. Then he would tell me to watch chickens because that’s the best way of parenting. Chickens chase their chicks around and peck them if they get out of control. I later learned that he had a horrible horrific upbringing. He is so damaged that I am glad I did not follow his advice. Thanks Ronit! If only all parents could read your advice, they would all bring up great kids.

  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/index.php/about/ Ronit Baras


    As I said before, I admire you for having the courage to raise your kids different to your dad’s upbringing.

    The easiest thing to do is to continue your parents’ upbringing without questioning it. Easy and wise are not the same thing. I know people raising kids in such a bad way that they excuse for it is ” My parents did this to me, look at me, I turned perfectly fine”

    You need courage to say ” No, this is not a good upbringing”.
    I would feel sorry for your step dad that he grew up like that and never had the courage, the strength to parent differently – not that we can blame him. This kind of parenting cripples the kids and we cant blame crippled people for being disabled.


  • Pingback: Measure Your Relationship With Your Teen | Empowered Teens and Parents()

  • lovely sacdeva

    i agree with this my parents are also doing sme thing wid me i just this thing .

  • http://www.ronitbaras.com/ ronitbaras


    forgive them!