It’s no secret that communicating with a teenage boy is tough—like squeezing water from a stone, you might say—and the last thing you want to do is push your angst-ridden or aloof adolescent away. Alas, we don’t have a script to ensure you achieve meaningful connection and picture-perfect parenting with every interaction, but Kelly E. Green—clinical psychologist and founder of Raising Resilient and Addiction-resistant Teens—did share a few phrases you should avoid at all costs when talking to your teenage son (along with what to say instead).
3 Things an Adolescent Psychologist Wants You to Stop Saying to Your Teenage Sons
1. “Good vibes only.”
When your teen’s negativity comes knocking, you might want to will the bad mood away, but Green begs you to resist the temptation to employ toxic positivity. She explains that saying ‘good vibes only,’ or any variation of the sentiment, “is detrimental to emotional intelligence and sends the message that only positive feelings are valued or appropriate.”
Needless to say, it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to be happy and enthusiastic all the time—and what teenage boys tend to struggle with most is the ability to recognize and be OK with their own emotions. In fact, “one of the biggest risk factors for addiction and other mental health problems is difficulty with distress tolerance (i.e., being able to sit with discomfort without trying to escape or numb),” says Green. For this reason, the expert says parents should communicate that all vibes and feelings are welcome, including those that are commonly labeled as ‘feminine’ or ‘girly.’
2. “Man up.”
This one is wrong on so many levels, friends. For starters, it implies there’s only one way a man is supposed to feel (or not feel, as it were), and if the goal is to encourage distress tolerance and self-acceptance, as described above, you’re certainly not doing your teen any favors with this sentiment. Indeed, “telling teen boys to "man up" or "stop whining" challenges their sense of confidence and undercuts their ability to express their vulnerability. It can also damage their sense of agency by making them think you don't think they're enough as they are,” cautions Green. Bottom line: If you want your son to come to you with problems and ask for help when he needs it rather than suffering in silence, you best remove this one from the rotation.
3. “You’re too young to be…”
Concern for your kid’s safety is a given, so it’s easy to slip up and say something like this when you don’t approve of a particular behavior or choice. (Say, drinking at a party or spending the night at a girlfriend’s house). That said, Green recommends that parents choose their words more thoughtfully—namely because phrases like this “send the message that [you] don't truly respect the teen or trust them to make good decisions for themselves.” After all, if the end goal of parenting is to raise a capable individual who can make good decisions for themselves, patronizing your kid with a statement from the ‘because I said so’ category actually undermines that process. That doesn’t mean you have to stay mute, though. Per Green, a better approach is to open lines of communication by intelligently explaining the reasons for your concern. (“I’m concerned that if you’re drinking alcohol at a friend’s house, your judgment will be impaired, and you’ll accept a ride from somebody intoxicated.”) By doing so, she says that parents become “a source of knowledge [their teen] can turn to, instead of an enforcer they try to evade.”