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 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.
But what parents don’t realize, is that regardless of how big or small the issue seems, finishing homework and cleaning their rooms to getting home on time and practicing a sport, the primary message behind nagging is “You are not enough.”
TThis is why nagging really doesn’t work, and the result is usually opposite of what you want to happen. Your teen may start tuning you out or maybe even lying to avoid a lecture. Threats or instituting a punishment when they don’t follow through on the nagging also doesn’t work and will only further hurt your relationship.
When nagging becomes a daily occurrence, adolescents will often push back. Worse, teens who face ongoing negative commentary often become anxious, depressed, or apathetic. The negative words often become their inner voice, and can have long-term impacts on their self-esteem.
How to break the cycle of nagging
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 tear 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 you can work on this cycle together. Identify the triggers and discuss ways you can handle the situation differently. Remember, nagging is often a problem between two people, but each person can change their behavior for a better outcome.
Instead of nagging, 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 too and letting you know you see them, it can shift your entire mindset, and eventually, your relationship.
Focus on the non-negotiable issues when you need to 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, during one of those fewer and farther between family dinners, or even as you pop in their room to say goodnight.
Not sure where to start? Here are six phrases to get you started:
1. I’m Proud of You
Every day brings new challenges our teens have to 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 really great things. Identify a few you know they need extra encouragement in, like doing well on a test in a really hard 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 a myriad of difficult issues as they grow up through these teen years and we need to make sure we praise them for handling whatever hard things they experienced 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 was 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. You Are Beautiful
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.
Telling our teens how beautiful or handsome they are might boost their self-image and maybe even help them start believing it themselves. Compliment their physical attributes and be specific. What features were they born with that will never change? Point those out regularly, so they begin to recognize those physical traits are unique to who they are.
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.
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 kids their age and this often leads them down a discouraging road of feeling defeat. They are their hardest critic- picking apart every detail of who they are and often they forget their own 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’re going to 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 other things, and have all kinds of bad days. Their behavior can cause a ton of stress and erupt wildfires of fury too. 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 an 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 that 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.
This is a contributed post by Christine Carter. She writes at TheMomCafe.com, where she hopes to encourage mothers everywhere through her humor, inspiration, and faith. Her work is published on several various online publications and she is the author of “Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness.” and “Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Navigating the Online World”. Both sold on Amazon.
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