No parent gets through child-rearing without embarrassing their adolescent on a regular basis. It’s just not possible. Teenagers are basically programmed to cringe at anything their parents say or do—especially if you happen to do something mortifying in front of their peers. But there’s a difference between shouting “I love you, honey!” at drop-off and saying something that could have a serious impact on your teen’s self-esteem or development. We tapped a family therapist for her advice regarding the latter—here are the topics she recommended avoiding in front on your teenager’s friends.
3 Things You Should Never Say to Your Teen in Front of Their Friends
Meet the Expert
Amanda Craig, Ph. D, LMFT has more than 20 years of experience as a family therapist and has worked in a variety of settings including research departments, juvenile correction facilities, high schools, Fortune 500 companies, substance abuse programs and university classrooms. She is the author of Who Are You & What Have You Done with My Kid?: Connect with Your Tween While They Are Still Listening
1. Personal Questions for Their Friends
Think: “Hey sweetie, do you need me to pick up some tampons?” or “Did you make up with Becky yet after that huge fight you had?” “Unless the friend is at the house all the time, you have spent time with them at the dinner table or they help around the house or they ask for advice or they share with you, do not ask,” says the therapist. You may think that you’re being helpful, but teenagers really freak out about personal stuff. “Teens want to figure things out on their own. They want some space to be independent. Bringing up personal things takes that independence away and embarrasses [them].” And it goes without saying that talking to your kid’s friends about anything your child told you in confidence is a big no-no. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk to your child’s friends at all, but just stick to non-personal, safe topics (i.e., what TV shows they like or what they want for dinner).
2. Grades or Test Scores
It’s not that you shouldn’t talk to your teenager about their grades at all (you should!), but this is not something that needs to be discussed in front of their peers—and that’s whether your child got an A+ or a C- in calculus. “Grades can be a tricky topic for teens because they are very aware of how ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’ they are, and the measure is grades,” says Dr. Craig. “Although we adults don't see it like that, when we start talking about grades it brings in a potential comparison that will leave your teen or their friends feeling inadequate, depending on who is getting higher marks.” So whether you want to praise your kid for nailing a pop quiz or talk about how to improve his marks, do it one-on-one, rather than in a group setting.
3. Problems That You’re Having at Work or with the Other Parent
You’re making dinner for the kids and as they’re chatting about their day, they ask you about yours—this is not the time to moan about your manager or complain about your spouse, says Dr. Craig. “This seems obvious, but you would be amazed how many parents will bring up their personal stuff as a way to relate or connect with teens. Although they seem older and interested, teens are not interested nor able to understand an adult’s perspective on big issues like marriage or career. It makes everyone feel awkward.” Save the work and marriage chat for your friends instead and connect with your teen in a healthier way by engaging with them about their interests (think: asking what music they’re into these days or watching TikTok videos together).