what not to say… to a teen

Okay, so it’s been almost a decade since I was a teen. But believe me when I say I remember it well. Probably a little too well. And there were a handful of things uninformed adults liked to say that were, well, less than helpful. Whether the teen you’re attempting to converse with is your offspring or not, there are a few things you shouldn’t say.

“One day you’ll ____” It doesn’t matter how you end that sentence. Whether it’s “understand” or “get married” or whatever, it’s not always helpful. Because teens hear all the time that they have a future and they have a lot to look forward to and blah blah. The thing is, while that’s all good and great, it’s like you’re saying “just hang out in limbo for a few years until you get to the age when people actually respect you.”

Not okay. You may look at a teen and see a life unlived, but they’re already living. Now. Here. Don’t tell them their lives are in the future. Don’t pretend they don’t exist now. Sure, it’s fantastic to talk about the future positively, but don’t ignore their present.

“How’s school?” Probably one of the last things a high school student wants to talk about is school. It might be your go-to topic in dealing with those “youngsters,” but you’re not doing yourself any favors. Don’t fixate on school. Ask about their lives instead. Settle for a simple “how are you?” or “how’s it going?” like you would ask an adult. You may actually get a decent response. If you just ask about school, you’re likely to only get a muttered “fine” as they run away as fast as possible.

“So do you like *insert celebrity here*?” Just because the person you’re talking to is young doesn’t mean they’re up on all the latest celebrity gossip or that they want to talk to you about it. And just because they’re a teen, it doesn’t mean they listen to teen singers and watch teen stars on tv. In fact, they may be watching more mature shows than you are. (Not to mention, there may be a new “it” celebrity you haven’t heard about yet, so you could just end up looking old and out of touch.) Spare yourself.

“You’re so lucky. I wish I was your age again. Appreciate this time while it lasts.” Not the time or place to reminisce about your past. Looking back from however many decades ahead, your teen years probably seem fuzzy and warm and glowy, like a rendition of Grease. They probably weren’t. You’ve repressed the memories of school stress and difficult-to-understand relationships and parental drama.

Being an adult is ten times better. Seriously. I’m not saying being a teen is all bad, but it’s just a transition time. Adulthood, while it has its own challenges, is much easier to handle.

“You can do anything you set your mind to.” On the surface, that seems encouraging. Nice attempt. Underneath, you’re saying “good luck, kid. I hope you figure it out.” or possibly “why aren’t you more amazing?” The teen years bring a thousand different decisions with them. Important ones. (Don’t worry. Most teens know their decisions are important. They hear it over and over.) They have to choose friends, figure out classes/electives, choose school activities, select a college, figure out a major. Talk about life-altering decisions!

And they have to do all of that while placating their parents, balancing relationships, and keeping up with schoolwork. Stress. Ful. So while encouragement is good, telling them they can do anything, reminding them of the thousand options out there, is not the best route. If you want to be encouraging, tell them you’re there for them or to let you know if they need help. Be the cool, no-pressure adult in their lives.

The bottom line when talking to a teen is respect. Although they may look like it to you, they’re not children. Respect them and there’s a good chance they’ll respect you.

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