Raising teenagers is hard with a capital H.
It’s a rollercoaster ride of hormonal meltdowns, epic eye-rolling, and pushing boundaries. And unfortunately, this often means we spend more time than we’d like nagging, lecturing, and enforcing consequences.
But at the end of the day, no matter how crazy they drive us, what our teens need more than anything is our encouragement and support. They need to feel loved, despite their struggles and our own struggles with them, too.
Why nagging your teen doesn’t work
It’s natural to want to change your teen’s unsavory behavior. When you have to do it multiple times a day, it’s easy to feel frustrated and angry when they do not respond positively–or just ignore you completely.
Sometimes we get stuck in an endless power struggle, and our nagging becomes more about control than correcting behavior.
But what parents don’t realize is that regardless of how big or small the issue seems, whether its finishing homework and picking up their dirty clothes to getting home on time and practicing a sport, the primary message behind nagging behaviors is “You are not enough.”
This is why nagging doesn’t work, and the result is usually the opposite of what you want to happen.
Your teen may start tuning you out or maybe even lying to avoid a lecture. Threats of punishment or instituting negative consequences when they don’t follow through on the nagging also doesn’t work and will only further damage your relationship.
The negative words often become their inner voice, and can have long-term impacts on their self-esteem.
Why your teen may seem lazy and unmotivated
While on the outside it may seem like your teen is lazy, unmotivated, and trying to get under your skin, it’s important to remember that your child is going through a tremendous amount of changes and why nagging your teen isn’t always an effective strategy
The adolescent brain is developing at warp speed, with some areas growing faster than others. (Check out this article on the teen brain: The Best Way to Understand Your Teen’s Behavior Is to Start with Their Brain). Your teen may be struggling with managing skills such as decision-making, time management, and impulse control, so try to give some grace and dig deeper before lashing out at their behavior.
Our young people are also trying to manage their surging hormones when it comes to their physical appearance, peer and romantic relationships, emotion regulation, and discovering their own identities. They are often trying different personalities on to figure out who they want to be in this world (Check out this article: Dear Mom: Please Stick With Me as I Find Myself)
Also, many teens today are in a constant state of worry. They face many issues that we did not deal with at their age, including intense academic pressure, gun violence, global unrest, extreme weather events, and a constant stream of negative messages delivered to them through their phones.
While these reasons are not an excuse to let them get away with not keeping up with their responsibilities, we also can’t get into a pattern of nagging without acknowledging the external pressures are kids face. Teens today need empathy and compassion for the unique issues they deal with every day.
How to break the cycle of nagging your teen
Home should be the primary place where kids get positive reinforcement and non-confrontational support–no matter what.
This does not mean we don’t set up boundaries, rules, or consequences, but it should mean we build our kids up instead of tearing them down.
If you recognize that you are stuck in a cycle of nagging, that’s half the battle. Try not to dwell on this realization or place blame on yourself or your teen. Focus on starting anew.
Meet with your teen and discuss how to work on this cycle together. Identify the triggers and discuss ways you can handle the situation differently. Explain how you feel when they don’t listen to you, and why you think it’s important for them to complete these tasks. Then, listen to them in return to find out why they are having problems completing the tasks.
Set up a communication plan that is clear and consistent. For example, if you don’t put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, you are not to leave the house. If you do, the consequence will be losing your privileges the next weekend. You will provide one reminder, and then inform them of the consequences.
Also, keep in mind that sometimes your priorities are not the same as theirs. Ask them if there is a good way to keep them on task. It might be leaving them a to-do list on Monday’s or a text reminder on the day it needs to be done. The goal is to find a better way to communicate beyond nagging and not sound like a broken record.
The goal is to take the emotion out of it and help your teen to make the right decisions on their own.
Remember, nagging is often a problem between two people, but each person can change their behavior for a better outcome.
Instead of nagging your teen, try these positive reinforcement phrases
When you feel the most frustrated with your teen, a way to shift your perspective is by looking for the good, no matter how small.
By remembering to look for their positive behaviors, you are letting them know that you see their whole self. It also can shift your mindset, and eventually your relationship.
Also, when you feel frustrated and want to explain to your teen why taking out the garbage is important (even though you have explained that 99 times already), it’s a good time to reset your own behavior. Try taking five deep breaths, repeating some positive affirmations, or even using a gratitude journal so you remember the little things in your life that bring you joy.
Focus on the non-negotiable issues when you must course-correct their behavior, and try to ignore the small stuff (including not taking some of their remarks personally.)
Take whatever moments of peace you find with them, such as a drive to school, a quick family dinner, or before bedtime.
Six positive phrases to say to your teen to replace nagging
Not sure where to start? Here are six phrases to get you started to replace nagging your teen:
1. I’m Proud of You
Every day brings new challenges our teens must figure out and muddle through. We might know about some things, but we’re not always aware of all they experience and the difficult decisions they make every day. Point out some of the good things they accomplished that day so they feel seen and validated by you.
Let them know you know how hard they are trying and you see them doing some great things. Identify a few you know they need extra encouragement, like doing well on a test in a tough class. Maybe they are training hard in their sport, or perhaps they were able to manage their time well that day. They need our attention and ongoing support, so give it to them daily.
2. You Handle Hard Things Well
Our teens will face many complex issues as they grow up through these teen years, and we need to make sure we praise them for handling whatever hard things they experience on any particular day.
Did they make a tough decision that took a lot of courage? Are they struggling with a class or maybe a friend? Did they have a tough day at their job or have a conflict with a coworker? Perhaps they had to face a consequence for a mistake they made that was difficult to accept.
Being a teen takes a lot of hard work, and when they accomplish something that is difficult, we need to praise them. And even when they didn’t do something successfully, we need to acknowledge their efforts because growing up is all about messing up and trying again.
3. I See Your Beauty
We may not want our kids to measure their worth in their appearance, and of course, focusing too much on it would do just that. But the truth is their appearance matters to them- a lot. But there are so many ways to tell our teens we see their beauty.
Parents can help boost their self-image by noticing and acknowledging both their physical and non-physical attributes. It might be commenting on how great a certain color looks on them or letting them know they are having a great hair day. It could be commenting on how they are always kind to the neighbor’s dog or how their deep laugh is like their grandfather’s.
Adolescence is a time we need to boost our kids’ self-image so they start believing it themselves. Point out their unique qualities and remind them how loved they are for just being them.
And remember, no matter how much they shrug off your compliment, it means something to them. Promise.
4. You Belong
Our teens have a strong need to feel they belong somewhere, and often they don’t feel they belong anywhere. Other times, they are so desperate to find somewhere to fit in they will do anything to be a part of something, and this can lead to some really poor choices. (Related: Parenting Teens Means Dealing with Their Bad Choices)
It’s an exhausting road to try to fit in when you’re growing up and still trying to figure out who you are and how the world works. Tell your teen how important they are to the family, how much they belong and always will.
Sure, they may not show it, but knowing this gives them the security they need.
5. You Are Enough
Our kids struggle with so much self-doubt and low self-esteem as they get older. They wrestle with all their faults and flaws constantly. They compare themselves to other teens, which often leads them down a discouraging road of feeling defeated. They are their hardest critic, picking apart every detail of who they are and often they forget their strengths because they’re too busy focusing on what they don’t have.
We need to point out those positive qualities in who they are and the incredible potential in who they will be. Everyone has weaknesses and wants to improve on some things, but take time to focus solely on those character traits that make your teen unique and special. They need those reminders all the time.
6. No Matter What, I Love You
Our teens will mess up at some things, fail miserably at others, and have bad days. Their behavior can cause a ton of stress and erupt wildfires of fury. It’s hard parenting a teen, but even harder being one.
These are tough years all around, but we must anchor our families in the one thing that binds us together through it all, and that’s unconditional, relentless, unchanging, everlasting love.
Even on those really hard days, make sure your teen hears that they are loved no matter what they do. Tell your teen you love them so much because they are your child and you will never stop loving them.
They need to hear this more than you know.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
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