Communicating with your older kid or teen can be a bit like walking through a minefield. You’re not quite sure where to step, and all available options have the potential for peril. If you say the wrong thing, you risk them shutting down completely, and that’s not helpful for anyone. Since you can’t just avoid them until they move out of the house or go away to college, it’s good to know what is especially triggering for older kids so you can adjust your approach accordingly.

In a series of videos, parenting expert Dr. Lucie Hemmen shared her top five things to avoid saying to teens and older kids. Some are intuitive, but others will have you rethinking conversations to figure out how you could have done things a bit differently.

1. Comparing the kid to a sibling/friend/teammate


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♬ original sound – Dr.LucieHemmen

It’s so easy to say, “Why can’t you get places on time? Your brother does it.” Or after a game: “You’re a better player than she is. Why weren’t you more aggressive in that last play?”

“Any kind of comparison ignites an emotional bomb inside the teenager,” shares Dr. Hemmen. “They very often have a moment of deep shame and embarrassment followed by resentment or anger. So, [it’s] a great thing to steer away from.”

2. Directing the teen’s behavior

How often have you been in a situation where you suggested something to your older kid, only to have them not even consider it? Too many times to count, most likely. Dr. Hemmen explains in another TikTok video that this is not because the child is especially stubborn; it’s actually part of their growing process: “It’s because they are at a time in their development when their own agency is supposed to drive them forward.”

This is especially challenging if you have a kid with ADHD or an executive functioning challenge because you are used to being their support person and offering suggestions. But Dr. Hemmen explains that they won’t need your help at some point, and your continued advice can become frustrating for them. Her suggestion: “Sit down with your teen and ask them, ‘Are there things that I am coaching you to do or managing you to do that you really don’t need me to do anymore? I want to respect that you are really becoming independent and self-sufficient, and I’m sure it’s annoying when I manage that.'” She suggests you give it a try and pull back on the suggestions that are no longer needed.

3. Asking too many questions


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♬ original sound – Dr.LucieHemmen

You have that rare moment when your teen is eager to talk and share something about their day. You want to keep them talking, so you ask a benign question, and instantly, your teen shuts down. Parents are often confused about why this happens and what they did wrong. Dr. Hemmen explains: “If you ask too many [questions] and you convey too much hunger for access into their personal life, it will stimulate an intrusion response with your teenager, and they will snap shut.”

Ultimately, you want to show interest in what they are saying but not TOO much interest. A parent in the comments shared, “The more quiet I am, the more he tells me,” so that could be another strategy to try.

4. Assuming the worst

Sometimes it’s hard not to jump the gun when you see your kid on the verge of repeating a bad behavior. You want to jump in and support them, but assuming they’ll make the same poor choice can demoralize them. Dr. Hemmen shared an example of a child preparing for finals. Instead of saying, “So, you’re not going to study again?” Dr. Hemmen suggests you say: “What’s your study plan? I want to know how I can best support you.” This change in perspective doesn’t imply any negative behavior and is more likely to elicit a positive response from your child.

5. Violating boundaries

“[Teens] typically do not want to know too much about your emotional life or your personal life,” Dr. Hemmen shared in another TikTok. This means that sharing too much about your divorce, the person you are dating, or other parts of your personal life might be too much for them—even if you thought you were bringing them into your inner circle or creating a bond. “What teens need to see in their parents is emotional stability. So anything that violates that or just feels too intimate is usually really uncomfortable for them,” Dr. Hemmen says.

Making changes in how you address your older kids and teens is not going to happen overnight. But if you pause and consider these recommendations, you’ll be one step closer to a relationship with healthier communication.

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