5 Things Our Teens Need to Hear From Us

by Virginia Walton

- 5 Minute Read

Last week my son and I had a rough morning...

At the last minute, he was rushing to get ready for school because he'd spent the whole morning messing around with the dog, his iPad, etc. On the way to school, I lectured him about all the ways he wasn't meeting my expectations. Through the rear-view mirror I saw him get teary and then he said, "I can't do anything right for you." Ouch. 

We nag our kids because we love them, but often it feels like criticism to them. (And let's be honest, how well do we, even as adults, receive criticism?) These 5 things, said regularly, can provide some balance to our frequent critiques.

1. "I'm hearing what you're saying and I get it."

One complaint I hear a lot from teens is, "My parents don't listen to me!" Too often we interrupt, dismiss, or turn into a reactive mess when our kids are trying to tell us something. We need to calm ourselves and REALLY LISTEN to them, acknowledge their point, and find some empathy. THIS DOESN'T MEAN YOU HAVE TO AGREE. Our kids just need to be heard by us. Think of it this way -  when someone really takes the time to listen to you and validate your feelings, it feels amazing, right?

2. "I'm sorry." 

It's inevitable. As parents, we are going to screw up, maybe on a daily basis. No one can trigger us like our kids, and when we're full of anger/fear/hurt it's hard to keep a level head and say the right thing. Just apologize. Admit you flew off the handle and said some things that were hurtful. You are giving them a gift - you are modeling for them how to "repair" in a relationship. Most importantly, kids can sense when they've been treated unfairly, but if it's not acknowledged by their parent, they may decide it's somehow their fault. In this way, apologies help kids begin to trust their instincts in relationships. 

3. "I see (fill in the blank) in you." 

Most kids are not aware of their qualities/talents/skills outside of academics/sports etc. It's our job to teach them about the other parts of themselves that are special.  Are they naturally compassionate towards others experiencing adversity? Tell them you see this part of them and define why this quality is important in life. Do they try new things, even if they are nervous? Tell them they are brave and explain why being brave will serve them well in life. They will internalize your words and begin to see themselves as you see them.   

4. "I love you no matter what."

You might be surprised how many kids think their parent's love could be conditional based on academic, athletic, etc. performance. It's critical that our kids know they are loved simply because they are ours. We are their primary attachment figures and if they believe we might love them less for "under preforming," then they are in a constant state of performance anxiety. Their world is not safe or secure. Tell your kids you love them, no matter what, every day. 

5. "I noticed..."

Make an effort to notice the good in your child, not just what frustrates you or needs to be corrected. See the little things they do right every day and let them know you're proud of who they are becoming. 

Lastly, don't get discouraged if,  when you say these things, your child is dismissive or seems distracted. They are listening, even if it seems as though they don't care. They do. Our kids want our support, acceptance, understanding and most of all, our unconditional love.