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What Teenagers Really Want to Hear From Their Parents

I'm an educator who specializes in secondary education. Although I don't have children of my own, I've helped to raise raise thousands.

Teenagers Are Mysterious Creatures

After working in the education system for almost a full decade now, and spending the full balance of that time at secondary schools, I'll be the first to admit that teenagers are an animal all their own.

Every day with a teenager is a new adventure. Teenagers are so full of life, excitement, passion, and of course drama.

It's often hard to predict from one day to the next whether you will be on a teen's good side or bad side, and a lot of the time it's hard to figure out how this status was earned.

Living With Teenagers: The Ultimate Challenge...Maybe

As an adult that is trying to have a positive influence on a teenager, sometimes it feels like you can't do anything right. I'm not a parent, but as a teacher, I've had enough experience to understand how frustrating this can be.

What works one day, might not work the next, and no matter how hard you try, it's not likely that your teenager will always be happy with the way you interact with them.

With teenagers' attitudes, words, and actions being in a state of almost constant volatility, it can be difficult for those closest to them to know what words and actions these teens are the most in need of.

It can be extremely hurtful when you try to address a teen with love, compassion, and kindness, and all you get is harsh words in return, but sometimes that's exactly what happens.

It takes a lot of courage to continue pouring love out to people who often act like they wish you would just go away.

On the other hand, most of us adults can remember how hard our teen years were, and hopefully have a little bit of room for empathy in our minds and our hearts.

In fact it turns out that while it seems like living with a teenager is the ultimate challenge, that might not be completely true.

You should probably count your blessings with the realization that you are no longer a teenager yourself. If you look back and honestly reflect on your teenage years, you'll probably realize that you're glad that you don't have to go back to that challenging time in your life.

Both teenagers and the parents of teenagers are in a difficult stage of life, but as the adults in the relationship, it's important for parents to provide the stability and consistency that teenagers need whether it feels like it's a great time to throw in the towel or not.

This became especially apparent to me as I was researching to write this particular hub.

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Collecting Input From Teenagers

I work at a school with a very diverse population. We have students from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and religious beliefs. I thought that with so much diversity, this would be a great place to gather information from a wide array of teenagers.

I asked just over 200 students to participate in a voluntary anonymous survey, and I got responses back from about 110 of them. I was really excited, because I was able to get information from students that came from lots of different backgrounds and even from different cliques at the school.

I got input from honor students as well as from kids who rarely turn in their assignments.

Academically and socially, I got information from one extreme type of student to the other. If you are looking for a diverse group of teenagers to get authentic information from, this is it.

I gave each student a slip of paper and then gave them two options of what they could write on it.

  1. Tell me one thing your parents say to you that helps you to know that they really care or makes you feel special.
  2. Tell me one thing that you wish your parents would say to you so that you could feel like they care about you and think you are special.

I was pleased to discover that many students were willing to give me multiple suggestions, and it was interesting to discover the trends in what these teenagers were thinking and feeling.

You may be surprised that out of all the students I asked, only one wanted parents to say "Here's a million dollars have fun."


What do your teenagers really want to hear?

It turns out that the majority of students answered with some variation of one of four phrases they would like to hear from their parents.

Hopefully that makes it a little bit easier for you as the parent to start inserting these little phrases into your daily conversations with your teens.

I listed all of their suggestions from the most suggested to the least.

  1. I love you-The majority of these kids just want their parents to tell them that they are loved. Is it hard to say "I love you" to someone that is mistreating you? Of course it is, but these teenagers still need it. I was almost in tears when I realized how many of my students weren't sure that their parents even loved them. Please have the courage to say these three simple words to your teens whether they act like they love you or not, and say it often. Some kids were very specific in their answers saying they wish that their parents would say "I love you" every day or every morning and night. It turns out that even if your teens are a little awkward about it, a lot of them are craving hugs too. These kids are in a rough environment at school where they don't know who they can count on. They need to know they can count on you at home to love them no matter what. Even when you are giving a consequence for a negative behavior, your teen wants to know that you give them consequences because you love them (and it sounds like they want you to say those words instead of assuming that they will figure it out).
  2. I'm proud of you/Good job!-This category came in just behind "I love you." Many students said they felt like their parents only notice the things they do wrong, and don't notice when they are doing things well. One student even said, "I wish my parents would tell me they are proud of me because sometimes I feel like a disappointment." Nobody wants to feel like a disappointment, and the truth is that when people are feeling that way, they are often less likely to put forth as much energy towards doing their best in the future. It turns out that a simple phrase like "Good job bud!" can really make a difference.
  3. You're awesome/special/important/beautiful/a good kid/creative/the best-It's almost heart breaking for me to say this, and it was certainly heart breaking for me to read it, but a lot of these kids feel like their parents not only don't love them, but don't like them at all. I know that may sound harsh for all you parents out there. I'm sure you're doing your best, but your teenagers would really appreciate it if you could acknowledge how awesome they are instead of focusing on the negative. Your teenagers are going to have bad attitudes and cause problems sometimes, but as you know, they are still amazing people. Make sure they know that you know that. Also, teenagers are at an age where they are trying to figure out what makes them special, so it makes a really big difference to them if you point out some of their unique talents and characteristics that you think are really awesome.
  4. Thank you/You're a big help-Many teenagers feel like their parents don't recognize the contributions they are making to help out the family. Even if their contributions are small, they want you to say thank you. Think about it, do you feel like helping someone out if they never recognize the work that you have put in. Many students told me that when they finish doing a chore at home, their parents instantly give them another job telling them that they don't contribute enough, and they would be much happier to help if their parents just acknowledged the work they had already done.
  5. I understand-These teens want to feel like you understand them in all situations but particularly when something goes wrong or they are causing trouble. It sounds like they know they've done something wrong, but they want you to understand why they did the things they did. One student even said they would like to hear, "I'm sorry I don't get it, but I can try if you let me" which leads right into the next phrase that teenagers want to hear.
  6. You talk and I'll listen/How was your day?-Your teens want some time to just tell you what's going on. They know that you have a lot of advice, but sometimes they just need someone to listen to them. More than one students said they wished their parents would ask how their day was every day.
  7. Tell me to get good grades/take away my phone electrical devices so I can focus at school-I couldn't believe that this came up, particularly the part about electrical devices, because students get mad at me for confiscating their phones and iPods at school ever day, but it turns out that it means a lot to teens when their parents care enough about their future to remind them about getting good grades and even take away distractions at times. This might be one of those things that takes a lot of courage. I know that a lot of parents I've talked to don't want to take away their kids' phones, because they know what kind of horrible backlash they are going to get, but it sounds like even your kids think it's worth the pain and trouble whether they are willing to admit it out loud to you or not. Many students also said that it's good for you to motivate them by reminding them that their hard work will be worth it in the end.
  8. I've got your back/You can trust me with anything-These teens wish they could trust their parents to be reliable people to turn to when things aren't going well. Again, the environments and people they deal with can be really harsh, and they want to turn to you for help, but they have to know that you're going to be there for them.
  9. Hey/Hello-Several students said they wish their parents would just talk to them sometimes. I think this probably goes back to that intimidation factor a little bit. It's easy to be afraid of how your teen is going to react to you when you try to have a friendly conversation, but your teen values your efforts whether they admit it or not.
  10. Good night/See you in the morning/Sweet Dreams-You might be worried that your teenager is growing up too fast, but many of them agreed that they aren't too grown up for these tender phrases in the evening. In fact, they'd really appreciate it.
  11. Be safe/Take care of yourself/Call when you get there/Don't do drugs-There are some pretty rough kids at my school that have done some crazy things that are almost unfathomable to me. When I saw how many students wished their parents would tell them to stay safe and not do drugs, I wondered how many of these kids' lives could be completely different right now, if they knew that their parents wanted them to stay away from risky behaviors.
  12. Take a little time for yourself-Everybody knows that teenagers crave privacy. Obviously, it's important for you to still have a good idea of the things that your teen is doing, but sometimes when they are upset, they just need a little time to cool down on their own.
  13. I can handle this-Sadly, there are some teens that feel like somehow their role in the relationship has been reversed. They feel like their parents need taken care of instead of their parents taking care of them. Your teenager wants to know that you are fine even when they aren't there.

There were two other responses that were quite popular in my survey, but they had to do more with the way parents acted than the exact words they were saying.

  1. Spend more time-So many of these kids just wished that their parents would spend time with them. They felt sad that their parents never made it to any of their games or didn't set aside any time to just "do something as a family." Obviously, ever family's situation is unique. Some parents are so busy working to provide for their families that it is hard to have time to actually spend with their teens, and providing for your family is certainly a noble task. Just make sure that you are dedicating some time here and there just to hanging out with your teen so that they know they are worth your time.
  2. Use a calm tone of voice-The other response I got as far as actions go is that many teenagers feel like they are always getting yelled at, and they wish that their parents would talk to them calmly so that they could work on solving problems together. I'm sure a lot of these same teens are yelling at their parents and that's a lot of what leads to an increased volume on the parents' end, but again, it's important to remember who is the adult in the relationship and then act accordingly. Research shows that teens who are yelled at, particularly if harsh words are used towards them, often end up more rebellious down the road. This could be a case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Hang In There! You Are Making a Difference

As you can see, what your teens want the most is to be loved, accepted, and appreciated. They might not always act all that lovable, but they are still amazing people with great potential who crave validation from their parents.

Even when it seems like they would rather talk to a friend than you, your teens always value your opinion the most.

Hang in there! Tell your kids you love them and help them to see how wonderful they truly are!

As Leon Garfield once said, "Many a man is made good by being thought so."

Don't waste this once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference in the life of your teenager.


Mark Richardson from Utah on October 30, 2019:

Thank you for your positive encouragement. For lack of a better way to say it, a good feeling/spirit shines through in your work and comments.

Rebecca Young (author) from Renton, WA on October 30, 2019:

Mark, I'm not exactly a parenting pro, since I'm a teacher, but have never been a parent myself. That being said, I thought I'd ease your mind that I don't think it's that abnormal for teens to go through a phase where they don't want to talk to their parents much. I totally went through that kind of a phase myself. One of my biggest regrets is missing out on the relationship that I could have had with my dad during my teen years, but at least now we are able to have a good relationship with each other. For us, I think we both just needed more space. As soon as I moved out, our relationship got better.

I think the best thing you can do in the mean time though is to be consistent. Be consistent in being loving, kind, and appreciative even when it may be difficult. Look for the positive things about your son and point them out to him. Let him know that you notice his strengths. It's also important to be consistent with consequences (and make sure consequences are as natural and logical as possible). Make sure he understands that there are boundaries, and that mistreating others is never acceptable.

First and foremost though is love, and when it comes down to it love gets the last word too.

Mark Richardson from Utah on October 29, 2019:

Maybe you have some customized advice for me...I have a 15 year old boy. He has a very strong personality. In fact, I think that is the main reason that our second child is 4 years younger (we couldn't handle one sooner!). I think he'll either turn out really good or really bad. He is a great leader. Deep down, he is a good kid. He is very nice when he wants to stay up late. But he picks on his 2 little brothers so much. He is so defiant and disrespectful. That is not how I was as a teenager. He is very opinionated and he thinks he knows everything (I think more than the usual teenager). I try to be kind and he is just mean. I have tried to be his friend (which I shouldn't). I realized that he respects me more when I have something for him to look up to me for. When I try to talk to him, he either gives short answers or snaps that he doesn't want to talk. We try to control his screen time. Any thoughts or tips?

Rebecca Young (author) from Renton, WA on January 04, 2017:

I'm glad you liked it, and I'm grateful to get some feedback from a teen. That's really cool. I'm sure your words will mean a lot to parents of teens who read your comment. Thanks for taking the time to share how you feel.

Chantal Rose from Philippines on January 04, 2017:

As a teenager, I can definitely say that most of these are true. I strongly agree with most of them, specially the part where teens want to hear their parents appreciate them even by just complimenting the smallest things about them :) As a teen, I really do have a difficult time contemplating about what makes me "me", like what makes me different from my peers and all that. Thank you for sharing this! :)

Rebecca Young (author) from Renton, WA on June 06, 2015:

Thank you so much for your additional insight. I really appreciate it! I think you're right. A lot of parents just don't know how to act around their teens, and in turn end up distancing themselves during this difficult "phase" when what their children really need is their presence.

McKenna Meyers on June 06, 2015:

I found that so inspiring! We parents don't have to make HUGE gestures to make a difference in the lives of our teens. It's the every day interactions that count. It's sad that so many teens aren't getting this. My parents totally "checked out" during my teen years. They both got immersed in their careers and, perhaps, felt I no longer needed them. I was, in fact, suffering from severe depression during those years, and my parents never got me the treatment I needed. Parents need to pay attention and not just label everything a "phase."

Rebecca Young (author) from Renton, WA on May 20, 2015:

Thanks for your input! I'm glad you liked it! I was rather intrigued to get that far into the teens' psyche as well. I work with teenagers all the time, but it was really interesting to read their candid responses to my questions and learn a few things that were a bit surprising.

Krzysztof Willman from Parlin, New Jersey on May 20, 2015:

A very interesting analysis into the teen's psyche. Teens are often stereotyped as being anti adult and especially anti parent but I agree that they do need to hear some of these phrases to build self-confidence. A lot of teens get ignored and parents may think that's what they want, but it's likely the opposite. They want to be treated fairly and respected as well as be loved. Great article that's well written and analyzed.

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