You see your teen feeling overwhelmed with school work, struggling with peer relationships, or constantly judging themselves and all you want to do is help them feel better. You do your best to say the right thing, but some words that may sound positive can actually hurt.

Teens don’t come with a “how-to” manual and despite being attentive loving parents we can say pretty unhelpful things sometimes. These aren’t always things said in the middle of an argument, but things we say to comfort or encourage our teens with the best of intentions.

Next time you find yourself ready to say one of these things pause and take a different approach.

1. Practice Makes perfect

It is true that the more you practice a skill the better you can get at it. However, “perfect” doesn’t exist. This not only sends the message that it isn’t okay to make mistakes, but that perfection is expected and to keep trying until they achieve it. Many teens hear that they are not good enough or worthy until they have achieved this perfection.

2. Don’t Worry or Don’t Cry

We say this often to try to comfort our teens, but instead it sends them the message that their feelings don’t count or are wrong. Instead try saying, “I can see why that be worrisome, what are some things you can do to feel less worried?” This shows your teen not only do understand their feelings but believe they are strong enough to address them.

3. How Was School Today?

This question is asked to show interest on your teens life, but is often met with one word answers – Typically, “good,” or “fine.” Instead try asking questions that require more than one word to answer, such as “what did you do for your science project?” or “who did you sit with at lunch?

4. I’m On a Diet

This is something to keep to yourself. If your children or teens hear you discussing watching your weight, being on a diet, or feeling fat they may develop their own body image issues. Instead try saying that you are eating healthy because you like the way it makes you feel.

5. If you don’t start doing better, you will never get a job/get into college

Often parents say this with the intention of getting teens to think about how their current behavior is impacting their future. If you don’t do your homework now or go to school, your hope of going to college won’t happen. However, if your teen is struggling with going to school adding pressure isn’t going to help. This sends them the message that you don’t believe in them. Focus on supporting the current behavior rather than a negative future. Instead try saying “What are some small steps you can take to get to school?

6. You Can’t Imagine the Day I’ve Had

As parents when you get home after a long day at work and the first thing your teen does is ask you for something or start an argument, this one can be easy to say. Often you are trying to get them to be compassionate and empathetic. What your teens hears is “My problems are more important than yours.” Your teen needs you to be fully present even when you don’t want to be. If you need a few minutes to relax, try pulling over listening to relaxing music or meditating in the car for a minutes down the road before walking in the door.

While these are often said with the best intentions, when we know more about how our teens interpret what we are saying we can truly be as helpful as we intended.

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Anyone with teenagers knows that teens can be an emotional rollercoaster. Teenagers feeling are intense and small issues can feel like the end of the world. I remember being grounded in middle school and having to miss a town event. This felt like I was missing the event of the century, like I was going to be left out of every event because I missed one.

Especially when life gets hard your teen may not notice any positives in their life. They may come to you with a list of stressors a mile long. As a parent, you may feel overwhelmed and not know what to do.

How Can You Help Your Teen When They Don’t Notice Positive Things

First, validate their feelings and stressors. It is normal to get overwhelmed and easy to focus on negative events.

Second, in DBT we have a skill Accumulating Positive Experiences/Emotions. When we are on auto-pilot we can get stuck in stress and don’t notice the good things. Encourage your teen to be mindful of positive things around them. take notice if it is a beautiful day, did something funny happen during the day, etc. Spend some time each night identifying something they are grateful for.

Last, help your teen identify what short-term positive experiences they can begin to add in to their life. What do they value? What do they enjoy? Maybe take some time to go hiking, walking, play music or an instrument, or other fun activities.

Adding positive experiences to our life is a great way to boost our mood long-term. Mindfulness and pleasant activities are shown to decrease depression and anxiety. Remind your teen that stress and feeling overwhelmed are normal feelings. They can feel both stressed AND have positive experiences.


Most teens have an inner critic, in fact many of us do, a voice that tells them they:

  • Are not good enough
  • Are not smart enough
  • Need to be prettier
  • Are not lovable
  • Need to work harder
  • And so forth and so on

This voice is can be all all consuming for teens. Many teens will either give in to the voice and say why bother or try to prove it wrong and be the “perfect” teen.

As parents and professionals we often tell teens to just think positively and say affirmations. That sounds great. I know I have said it. Watch this video to learn why that is actually counter productive and what you can do instead to help your teen build self-worth:

Self-Esteem Boosters Can Be Harmful


“Mom…Dad…I’m bored.”

Sound familiar? I used to say this to my parents all the time, even into my teens. Believing that your parents are responsible to entertain you is an innate belief in children. Parents feel on the spot to provide a solution or even like a bad parent if they haven’t entertained their children.

It is easier today than ever for teens to get bored. Children and teens boredom is easy to satisfy in the moment with the constant access to electronic entertainment (YouTube, Social Media, Video Games, etc). However, this constant access has created an increase in boredom as well. Teens are requiring “bigger and better” entertainment to be entertained. Their attention span is decreasing. Teens require more intense entertainment at a faster pace to not get bored. Electronic entertainment has also impacted their enjoyment of face-to-face socializing with family and friends. Social skills are decreasing with social anxiety rates increasing.

What should you do when your children and teens get bored?

Children need unstructured time. One of the biggest challenges as children is learning how to manage unstructured time. This is an important skill for your children to learn. Unstructured time is essential for children and teens. It gives them the opportunity to learn decision making. It helps them to explore their inner and outer world and begin to discover who they are. This is time when they explore their creative and authentic self.

A key to this unstructured time is no screen time. A good way to start is to agree as a family to times during the week that the family won’t use any devices. One day a week or a few hours a day. You may get some push back, but it will be worth it. Just encourage them and use your connection to help them see the value.

Think about before we had phones and we had to just wait in line or at the movies. Remember, how your mind would wonder to creative things or solve problems. This ability to vacillate between focused and unfocused thinking helps to create a sense of self and empathy.

Boredom is normal is teens and encourages them to actively entertain themselves. Join my Correction to Connection Workshop for more tips about parenting teens.