You want a good relationship with your teenager. One in which she will open up to you about her challenges, turn to you when she needs advice, and respond to you with respect. While there are many parenting practices that promote a close parent-teen relationship, there are three common parent-responses that are likely to damage it.
Over the last decade of coaching teenage girls and young women, I’ve listened to many girls describe interactions with their parents that leave them feeling hurt, confused, and distant.
Here are three phrases that can destroy your relationship with your teen daughter:
You should be grateful! Look at all you have.
Teens (like most of us) resent being told they “should” do something. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed that when you “should” your teen in one direction, she will want to do the opposite. A “should” comment like this is more likely to trigger feelings of shame or guilt, rather than gratitude.
Simply reframing this “should” into a question can lead to a very different outcome. For example, you can ask:
What was good today?
What are you happy about?
Can you find something to be grateful for?
Your teen might not know the answers right away or she might give you a sharp response, but, as I have learned from over a decade of coaching teens, even if she doesn’t show it immediately, these questions prompt a new perspective and support the development of authentic gratitude.
Keep in mind that gratitude cannot be demanded. If you want your teen to be grateful, make gratitude a family practice. Share what you are grateful for with your teen. Model appreciation and gratitude toward others.
You have no reason to be sad/upset. You are better off than most people.
This response immediately invalidates your teen’s feelings and makes her feel worse. It also teaches her that because she is “better off” she is not supposed to experience emotional upsets. A comment like this sends the message that only certain feelings are acceptable and all others should be suppressed or ignored.
A response that will strengthen the parent-teen relationship and promote your teen’s emotional intelligence, begins with a validation: It’s OK that you are feeling this way.
Followed by a reassurance: It’s really hard right now. Things will change. You will get through this. I’m here for you.
Then a question: What support do you need? or What would help you feel better?
It might be necessary to give your teen time to emote before she reaches the point of knowing what she needs. In giving her space, validation, reassurance, and the right support, you reinforce that she can get through a difficult feeling, and you are there for her as she moves forward.
You’re fine. You’ll get over it.
This is the most damaging parent response and a surefire way to build a wall between you and your teen. Even if you know she will be fine and get over it, saying it directly leads your teen to believe you think her problems, feelings, and life experiences aren’t important. When your teen feels invalidated and dismissed, she will not want to open up to you.
When your teen is struggling, it is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship. You do this through validating and reassuring, as mentioned above, and responding in ways that show your unwavering support.
Sometimes your teen may just need you to listen. Sometimes she needs a hug. Sometimes she needs you to hold space while she moans and groans, cries and rants. Sometimes she needs to hear responses like:
I see how much you’re hurting.
It makes sense that you feel that way.
Would you like to talk more about it?
Would you like me to listen or help you figure out what to do?
When it comes to strengthening your relationship with your teen, a good practice is to pause, and reflect on your teen’s character, her feelings, and her needs. Give yourself a moment to consider your most loving, relationship-building response.