Her words hit me like a bat to the chest: “Sometimes I don’t feel like you even like me.” My teenage daughter was in tears. We’d recently come down hard on her for some choices she made. But how had she come to this conclusion? Of course, as I thought about it, I realized we’ve never actually said those words. We tell her we love her, but I’m not sure we’d ever told her we like her.
It’s easy to assume our kids know what we think. And for men in particular, we tend to err on the side of action. While it is certainly true that “actions speak louder than words,” it’s also true that words have the power to shape how we see ourselves and the world around us. And I’ve come to believe there are some things every teenager needs to hear as well as see. Here are 7 things your teen needs to hear from you.While of course it’s critical that your kids know they are loved, they also long to be liked.
1. I like you.
Hopefully you tell your kids often that you love them. But do you ever mention that you like them? While of course it’s critical that your kids know they are loved, they also long to be liked. To like your teen is to purposefully look for things to affirm in who she is becoming. What makes you proud? What impresses you? Make sure she hears you say, “You know, kiddo, I really like hanging out with you.”
2. I’m sorry.
You are right about a lot of things. But you’re not right about everything. And when you are wrong, you need to learn to apologize. This models humility for your teen and enables you to build a relationship of mutual respect rather than simply one of power. Since every parent is wrong sometimes, one of the things every teenager needs to hear his dad say is “I’m sorry.”
3. It’s OK.
Your teen has messed up. I don’t mean rebellion (though probably that too). I mean, she just made a mistake. Maybe she backed the car into the garage door or spilled something in your car. Or perhaps she made a choice she regrets. One of the things every teenager needs to hear is that mistakes are just part of life. No one is immune. Of course you may have a responsibility to make something right, and you should. But it’s OK to make mistakes.
4. I trust you.
Any good relationship is built on trust. Because of this, it’s critical for your teen to know you trust him. Maybe this is hard to do because your teen has broken your trust again and again. I would simply suggest that you need to make it a priority to work on rebuilding trust with your teen. Rather than saying “I can no longer trust you because you did this,” work to offer small opportunities for your teen to regain trust. Of course he needs to experience the consequences of breaking trust, but you need to prioritize rebuilding it.
5. You’re really good at that.
You might think it’s obvious to your teen what she is good at. But she still longs for your affirmation, especially in the areas where she may not get public accolades, like how she deals with relationships or how responsible she is. Take time out of your day to notice what she does well and let her know you see it and you’re proud of her. One of the things every teenager needs from her dad is affirmation.
6. You’re not good at that.
It’s OK not to be good at everything. In fact, you have no choice. You will be bad at some (probably many) things. So will your teen. He needs to know it’s not a character defect; it’s simply part of being human. He’ll need your help, though, because the culture tells him there are things he should be good at, like sports or building things, that he might not be good at—at all. You need to help him recognize his weaknesses and not beat himself up but rather focus on his strengths, seeing them as his gifts to the world.
7. Knock it off.
One of the things every teenager needs is to understand what actions are appropriate. As she discovers who she is, she’ll try things she sees others doing—in real life and in pop culture—to see what suits her. But she will struggle to recognize which actions are appropriate for her. She needs your help. When your teen is being disrespectful to you or others, when she is acting entitled, or when whatever else she’s doing is unacceptable, she needs to hear you say “knock it off.”
Sound off: What are other things every teenager needs to hear from her dad?
Huddle up with your teen and ask, “What messages do you most often hear from me?”