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5 Words to Avoid When Talking to Teens

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I knew my 15-year-old was having a rough week, so I brought a mug of hot chocolate up to her bedroom and asked how she was doing. “Mom, everything is just so hard. I feel like I want to quit,” she explained. “Well remember,” I replied, “when you’re on your period, you are hormonal. Your feelings are going to be multiplied by 10, so don’t make any major decisions this week.” A fire lit in her eyes. Not a warm, inspirational fire either—more like molten lava rising in a volcano. And what followed was a tumultuous conversation about how she felt misunderstood, all while I was feeling misunderstood, too. I had forgotten how risky talking to teens can be!

Truly, it can feel like walking on eggshells. Sometimes we can accidentally trigger all kinds of anger by our choices of words. Since this incident, I’ve realized there are several words that cause most teenagers to cringe, and we should intentionally avoid using them when talking to teens. These 5 in particular seem to put up walls (or cause that fire to ignite). Why start a fire when you already have enough fires to put out?

1. But

“But” indicates that your teen is off-track, and you are about to put him or her back in line. Your teen says, “I don’t want to take piano lessons anymore.” And you say, “But you’ve been taking them for five years. Do you want to waste all of that?” When we say “but,” teens think we aren’t listening to what they’re trying to say, but that we’re just trying to get them back to our own “better” point of view.

They do not feel validated when we say “but.”

2. Just

When talking to teens, “just” often comes into play when we are trying to tell them how to fix a problem. Your teen says, “My homework is so long and tedious.” And you say, “If you just had gotten started on it right after school, you’d be finished by now.” We make it sound like a simple fix, and it may even sound as if we are saying he or she is lazy, or slow, or fill in the blank.

They feel stupid when we say “just.”

3. Never

“Never” can get the volcano stirred up really fast. “You never take care of your pets.” “You never treat your siblings well.” What we really mean is we are frustrated with something our teen is doing. Just like in marriage, using absolutes like “you never” with our kids will immediately put them on the defense. Chances are, they did take care of the pet at some point, and they were nice to their siblings that one time last month. But because you say “never,” they think you won’t ever recognize the times when they DO get things right.

They feel we only see the bad stuff when we say “never.”

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4. Always

“Always” goes hand-in-hand with “never.” These black-and-white words are not our best choices. “You always talk to me disrespectfully.” Is that really true, or are you frustrated with the amount of disrespect you’ve received lately and you wonder what’s going on? Try being specific so the topic of conversation isn’t whether she “always” talks to you disrespectfully, but that the thing she just said was disrespectful. Then you can find out why. “Honey, when you said ___ to me just now, with that tone of voice, rolling your eyes, I felt very hurt and disrespected.” Being specific gets the focus on the right things.

They miss the point when we say “always.”

5. Hormonal

“But just remember, you’re hormonal right now” probably wasn’t the best way to respond to my daughter’s tearful frustration. Even though I was telling her this from my own experience, to her it sounded like I was dismissing her feelings as not being real. We can even fall into this trap with our sons, brushing off their feelings as being moody teenagers. What my daughter really needed was validation and encouragement. If you suspect that hormones are really wreaking havoc for your daughter that day, say something validating and simple like, “Hormones stink, don’t they?” Or just bring her an Advil and a heating pad—and a hug.

They feel dismissed when we say “hormonal.”

If you’re feeling brave…

Avoiding triggering words when talking to teens will help you both stay calm and communicate on a better, more mature and productive level. And after you’ve mastered these five, ask your teen if there are any other words you say on a regular basis that bother him or her. As long as you don’t get defensive, it could be a really interesting and helpful conversation. BONUS: You can also share the words that your teen says that cause you to bristle! (Um… “Whatever.”)

What words seem to trigger your teen?

ASK YOUR CHILD...

Is there anything I say repeatedly that gets on your nerves?

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