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.
Use 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.
- When I was your age…
- We’ll see.
- Of course I trust you, but…
- Stand up straight
- If I were you…
- Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself?
- Not now!
- I don’t care who made the mess, you clean it up.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full
- Got any homework?
- You’re not going anywhere till your room is cleaned
- Be home early
- Please do something with your hair
- I just don’t understand you.
- I am sick and tired of your attitude.
- We’ll talk about it later
- Clean up the mess in the kitchen
- Brushed your teeth yet?
- 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.
Let’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?
Here 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.
Happy parenting your teen,