How to Give Your Teen Advice & Not Start a Fight!

instruction manual
Giving your Teen Advice Without Starting a Fight

Before Your Teen Will Change, You Need to Change

Has your teen ever resented you for jumping in and saving them from making a big mistake? Or you tried to give them some sage advice only for them to tell you they got this, and they don't need your help, then storm away in a huff?

If that sounds familiar, you should learn to become a Herofree Parent. 

Herofree Parents know that the way to get along best with their teens is to help them become the hero of THEIR own stories.

Helicopter Parents are not HeroFree Parents. They are Heroic Parents. They are always the ones who swoop in and save the day well before their teen had a chance to figure it out.

Teens resent this. 

They think they can do anything and everything. Even though you know better, they don't. They see you as just holding them back, not actually protecting them. 

This is just one more thing that makes parenting so tough - you want to protect your kids while giving them the freedom and confidence to make their own choices, but where do you draw the line?

While there is no easy answer here, your guiding principle should be what steps would you take to make a decision like this? Distill that process into a few simple steps, then help your teen understand the framework so they can be the one who makes the decision. *Pro tip: teens love to think anything that goes well is their decision!

By approaching decisions this way, you show your child you care and support their decision-making process. Teens will start to take more initiative and ultimately become the hero of their stories. This process will help your child develop a greater sense of autonomy, knowing that their life decisions are within their control and not someone else's.

7 Words Every Teenager Hates to Hear

Teens are a hot mess of hormones & emotions, and knowing how to talk to them without starting a fight can be difficult. In the past 36 years of working with teens, I have learned that they hate any words or questions that directly challenge them. 

Teens Hate to Justify Their Actions

Do your best to stay away from interrogatory questions. But if you do slip up and start peppering your child with these, make sure you don't let your conversation become an inquisition (beware, a teen in a lousy mood can think any question you ask is an inquisition). 

The 7 Dirty Words

In the 1970s, comedian George Carlin had a hilarious comedy routine about the 7 dirty words you can't say on TV. Fifty years later, those words are mere child's play for kids. Walk into any middle school or high school bathroom during lunch hour, and you will hear just how comfortable kids are at using this language. 

But those dirty words for TV aren't the ones I'm talking about. Dirty words for a teen are any words that make them feel as if they are on trial. 

The 7 interrogatory words teens hate are:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
  • Which
  • How

These are words that make teens uncomfortable and guarded. Teen brains are not yet fully formed, and the logical reasoning part still has a lot of development left. So answering some of these questions can be tricky, and they realize you are asking a question they can't really answer.  

To avoid this, rephrase your question so you don't start like it is an interrogation!

  • Instead of "Who were you with last night?" try "Are there any people we know you were with last night?"
  • Instead of "What did you do last night?" try "Are there any details you should share about what you did last night?"
  • Instead of "How did you think you were going to get away with that?" try "Is there anything we should know from you before hearing it from someone else?"

So those are the easy reframes of standard parent questions. Now let's use that same concept but for giving advice and feedback.

5 Easy Ways to Give Teens Advice & Feedback

1. Reframe Questions
Aside from avoiding interrogative words, there are many other ways to ask questions without putting your teen on the spot. If they are working on a project, instead of asking, "why did you do that?" you could ask, "Can you tell me what led to this decision?"  Instead of asking, "Will that work?" you could rephrase the question as, "Are there any reasons to think that approach won't work?" 

When editing their essay, instead of asking, "Did you read this over?" ask, "Can I read this out loud to you, and you listen for anything off?" 

 **Notice how your teen becomes the hero of their story? They are the ones who save the day, not you.**

2. Ask Open Ended Questions
"Have you tried it this way?" or "What did you do that for?" creates an opportunity for short answers and a reason for your teen to shut down. Instead, approach them with open-ended questions and use language that shows understanding and respect, such as "Is there anything else you could have done here?" or "Do you get a different outcome if you change x to y?" 

Inviting conversations and allowing them space to express themselves freely will enable your teen to actively participate in any decisions affecting their lives.

3. Listen
One of the critical principles of Herofree Parenting is to listen actively rather than speaking out or offering solutions. This means having open conversations where you encourage your teen to express themselves freely without fear of judgment or criticism. That way, you equip them with the necessary skills for later-life decision-making!

4. Ownership
Taking control of decisions affecting their lives begins with asking teens questions that give insight into their thoughts and feelings. Using questions such as "Is there anything else you can think of?" or "Can you tell me what would work best for you?" displays an understanding that your teen can think through these tough choices independently!

5. Offer Options
Rather than giving one definitive answer as the solution, present two or three potential ideas or paths they could take. Let your teen decide what's best for themselves! This allows you to play an advisory role without too much influence over the outcome, which offers invaluable lessons about responsibility from an early age.

 **I call this the Jedi Mind Trick. Your teen will feel they are in full control of their choice, but in reality, you narrowed the choices to a few different options that you find acceptable and you don't care which choice they make, just as long as it is a good one.**


How to Have a Herofree Parenting Discussion

Having a Herofree Parenting Dialogue looks like a version of the Socratic Dialogue. In case you are unfamiliar, the Socratic Dialogue is a way of talking and problem-solving with someone. It involves asking questions that help the other person think more deeply and develop solutions they can be proud of. Questions asked during the dialogue should be open-ended, so there are no right or wrong answers. This helps encourage creative thinking and leads to better conversations.

Here are two examples to learn. The first is the typical Hero Perent and the flagrant use of the 7 Dirty Words. The second is the Herofree Parenting Dialogue.

Hero Parent's Inquisition & Rescue About a Past Due Project

Hero Parent: What is wrong with your project? Why is it late?

Troubled Teen: I don't know. It's hard. You don't know what I am up against.

Hero Parent: Why didn't you come to me earlier for help? **Notice how this parent wants to save the day!**

Troubled Teen: Because you would get mad that I procrastinated, tell me what to do, and then make me delegate something to someone you don't even know. This is my project, so why don't you leave me alone? I can fix it!

Hero Parent: You are grounded until your project is done! I don't care what we have to miss. You and I will stay up all night if we have to finish this project! **Notice the parent taking on the hero role once again.**


Herofree Parent Dialogue About a Teen's Project Running Past Due

Herofree Parent: I know your deadline for the project is coming due. Are there any steps you need to take to get that done?

Willing to Listen Teen: I totally underestimated how much time would be required to complete all the tasks. I have too many large tasks that make it hard for me to start because I need to figure out where to begin. I don't have a group I can trust with the big stuff.

Herofree Parent: Can you break the tasks into smaller parts, then meet with your group and get them to help more with the time-consuming but more manageable tasks?

Willing to Listen Teen: You know what I'll do? I'll list all the remaining steps and tasks, then label them based on how important and time-consuming they are. If possible, I can delegate some of the less critical but time-consuming ones to other team members. Yeah, I think that's what I'll do! **Notice the teen is now the hero.**

Herofree Parenting offers many options for teens by helping them understand that mistakes happen. Still, it's up to them - not you - to figure out how best to move forward from there! Your job is to give them frameworks for success and the space to make that happen. 

Learning how to improve your relationship with your teen starts when you become a Herofree Parent.