This Post: What NOT to Say to Your Teen When They’re Upset: 8 Phrases to Avoid
Co-written by: Marybeth Bock & Nancy Reynolds
Any parent of teens knows that dealing with the highs and lows of their teen’s emotions takes a heaping spoonful of patience, self-awareness, and love.
One minute they’re ready to take on the world and the next everything around them seems to be crashing in. Whether they had a fight with a friend, they’ve been left out of the plans with friends on a Friday night or they get riled up because we asked them to take out the garbage, sometimes, our kid’s emotions simply get the best of them.
While quite often their worked-up emotions are legitimate, other times the smallest thing can set them off and sometimes even they can’t explain why they’re feeling annoyed or upset… they just are.
Their Brain Doesn’t Help Matters
With their size 11 feet, deep voices, and towering presence, teenagers may look all grown up physically, but research has shown that their brains have a lot of growing up to do. in fact, the part of their brain that helps manage emotions (among other things) continues to develop well into their mid-20s.
In essence, this means that your teen’s still-developing brain coupled with their swinging hormones can trigger them to feel things in a much bigger and stronger way… hence, the dramatic heavy sighs, slamming doors, and occasional “you’re ruining my life,” accusations.
Still, regardless of whether our teen’s emotions are legitimate or perceived, really doesn’t matter. It’s the way they feel and they are fully entitled to feel.
So, rather than brushing off or minimizing our teen’s feelings, which will only make them more annoyed, agitated or angry, we should be validating their feelings and emotions, empathizing with them, and doing our best to comfort them when they need us most. Here’s what NOT to say to your teen when they’re upset along with eight phrases you should avoid (unless you want to make matters a whole lot worse).
What NOT to Say to Your Teen When They’re Upset: 8 Phrases to Avoid
Chill Out / You’re Overreacting
Little can rile up a teenager more than brushing off their hyped-up emotions with a cavalier “chill out” retort. Sure, there’s a chance they really could benefit from chilling out a bit, but in the heat of their emotions, it comes off as very condescending. Think about it, would you say it to your boss, a colleague, or a cherished friend? Never.
Your teen is at an age when they’re craving a more mature, respectful relationship with you. Don’t let them down by stoically standing on your parental pedestal. Step down, get eye level with them, talk to them about what they’re feeling, and help them deal with and manage their emotions.
You’re Being Dramatic
Yep, teenagers do, in fact, have a tendency to get a little dramatic. They’re hardwired (temporarily, anyway, until their brain develops) to fly off the handle, yell, slam doors, and even blame the world for their problems. But remember, they’re learning the hard skill of regulating their emotions.
Your teen needs you on their side now. Rather than focusing on their behavior, dig a little deeper and find out what’s driving it. Then listen. Try to remember what it felt like to be a teenager – it can be a lonely and frustrating time if you don’t have parents who strive to understand you.
What’s Wrong with You?
Teenagers are notoriously comparing themselves… with their friends, classmates, and even with perfect strangers on social media. Too often they feel like they simply don’t measure up. The last thing they need is to have you confirm their absolute worst fear. That there really is something wrong with them.
Your child needs all the self-confidence they can get in their teen years. Build them up. Make them feel healthy and normal and empowered, not weak and abnormal and helpless. Validate their feelings (even if they do seem a little unreasonable). Tell them, “I can see how that would upset you,” or “What happened really sucks, you have every right to be upset.”
It’s Not That Big of a Deal
We all know how darn hard it can be to witness our kid’s intense feelings without trying to stomp them out with a “Geez, don’t you think you’re getting worked up over nothing? it’s not THAT big of a deal.”
Oh, but it IS a big deal to them. A huge part of showing up for our teens when they’re upset actually comes down to keeping our own emotions in check. When we offer a flippant response to their authentic feelings or dismiss them by tossing out a condescending remark, we’re actually shutting down the conversation and giving our teens a valid reason NOT to come to us the next time they’re upset.
You’ll Get Over It
If there’s one thing that can immediately shut down a conversation with our kids it’s when they think their feelings are being trivialized or generalized. “Middle school is tough on everyone. You’ll get over it just like everyone else.”
There aren’t any “cookie-cutter” experiences in adolescence. No two teens’ experiences are the same. When you toss out a blanket “You’ll get over it” statement, you’re dismissing your teen’s feelings and sending a clear message that their experience doesn’t justify your time, attention, or a compassionate ear.
This is What You Should Do
It’s so easy to jump in and fix our teen’s problems. But sometimes, that’s not what our kids need. Quite often, they’re not looking for us to fix their problems, they just need us to listen.
Ask your teen, “Do you want to vent or are you looking for suggestions and solutions?” Let them decide whether they want your help. If not, sit and listen and let them get it off their chest. If they are looking for suggestions, tread lightly. Don’t offer them a roadmap, just a few tips. They need to figure some things out on their own.
I’m Too Busy to Talk About This Now
Teens have a way of needing us when they need us and pretty much ignoring us when they don’t. They might not come to us as often as they once did, but when they DO come to us, they want our undivided attention.
While there are times you might not be able to drop everything and listen, when you can, you should. Why? Because this time, your teen came to you. They could have turned to friends, a counselor, or even strangers they met online, but they didn’t – they chose you.
If You Continue to Act Like This, There Will Be Consequences
It’s important to recognize that there may, in fact, be times when our teens’ frustrations and agitation get so out of hand that consequences should be put in place, i.e. they start name-calling, swearing, screaming with no end in sight, etc. But in more “normal” instances, we have to give them room to feel and be upset… room to have a really crummy day.
If things start to escalate, diffuse the situation by saying, “Clearly, you’re very upset. I want to help but not when you’re acting like this. When you’re calm we’ll revisit this conversation.” Then, walk away, leave the room, or take a drive. The conversation will be far more productive when you’re both clear-headed and calm.
As parents, it’s important to remember that ALL our teen’s feelings are valid – even if we don’t fully understand them. Their feelings belong to them and they have a right to feel how they feel.
The more we validate our teen’s feelings and offer them a safe space to communicate them without being judged, criticized, or marginalized, the more they’ll continue to come to us and learn to identify their feelings, verbalize them and regulate their emotions in a healthy manner.
Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
If you enjoyed reading, “What NOT to Say to Your Teen When They’re Upset: 8 Phrases to Avoid,” you might also enjoy reading:
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