Passive-Aggressive Statements: Why They’re Sabotaging Your Relationship with Your Teen

Here's what those seemingly harmless statements are doing to your relationship

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Passive-Aggressive Statements: Why They’re Sabotaging Your Relationship with Your Teen

If we stopped to think about it, chances are we’ve all tossed out more than a few passive-aggressive statements to our teens. 

Certainly not with the intent to undermine our relationship, of course. They just slip out. A little sarcasm here and there. The silent treatment when we’re angry. A subtle dig in hopes of motivating them to try a little harder. It all seems pretty harmless, right? 

Well… not so fast.

It turns out those passive-aggressive statements we think are harmless are actually wreaking havoc on our relationship with our teens.

The fact is, passive-aggressive statements can take a serious toll on your relationship with your teen, including eroding trust, creating conflict and a hostile home environment, and, mostly, causing your child to feel undervalued and resentful while chipping away at their self-esteem.

According to experts, “Using passive-aggressive statements with your kids boils down to your inability to directly express your true feelings. It also happens to be one of the more detrimental forms of communication in any relationship.”

Here are a few passive-aggressive statements and why they’re sabotaging your relationship with your teen.

Passive-Aggressive Statements: Why They’re Sabotaging Your Relationship with Your Teen


What Does it Mean to Be Passive-Aggressive?

According to the Mayo Clinic, passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings, such as anger, frustration, annoyance, or disgust, instead of openly addressing them. There’s a disconnect between what a person who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior says and what he or she does. 

A Parent Behaving Passive-Aggressively Might:

Give their teen the silent treatment

When a parent is unable to bring their feelings to a conscious level so they can communicate them openly and honestly, they’ll opt instead to punish their child without actively doing anything. They might ignore their child or refuse to answer a call or direct question. They may also use this tactic when they’re angry or upset rather than approach the situation directly. 

Use sarcasm

Using sarcasm allows a parent to use words that mean the opposite of what they really want to say, especially to insult their child, to show irritation or even to mock them. 

Sigh or roll their eyes

Teens aren’t the only ones who sigh heavily, huff and puff, and roll their eyes. Some parents do, too. It’s an indirect way of expressing dissatisfaction, frustration, or contempt without saying a word.

Say one thing but their body language, tone of voice or expressions says something different

Nearly every parent is guilty of this from time to time. We say one thing but our tone of voice or body language sends an entirely different message to our teens. There’s a disconnect between our words and our feelings.

Use subtle digs

“Yeah, we all know math isn’t your best subject.” “Are you going to eat another doughnut? I thought you were watching what you eat?” “Maybe if you actually tried for once, you’d get an A on an assignment.” Subtle digs… those underhanded, snarky, and even nasty comments that foster resentment and erode our teen’s self-esteem. 

12 Passive-Aggressive Statements to Avoid Saying to Your Teen

Here are a few more common passive-aggressive statements and what you should consider saying instead.

1. “I Guess I’m Just a Terrible Parent”

Rather than tossing out a sassy comment like this, say something along the lines of, “Listen, I know I can’t always say yes to some things you want but that’s not because my goal in life is to make you miserable. My goal is to educate you, prepare you and keep you safe and if that means making unpopular decisions on occasion, then that’s what I’m prepared to do.”

2. “I’ll Remember This the Next Time You Ask Me to Do Something”

Research has shown that teenagers have a tendency to be quite self-absorbed at times, so there are bound to be times when they’ll refuse to do what you ask or decline to do a favor for you. Rather than say this, which is basically a threat disguised as a reminder, say something like, “I’ve done a lot for you and I’ve been happy to do it, but there are times I need you to help me or do things for me. I’d really appreciate it if you could take care of this for me by the end of the day.” 

3. “It’s Not Like You EVER Listen to Me…”

It’s true… sometimes, teens aren’t the best listeners. But this comment breaks down communication and trust and puts your teen on the defensive. 

instead say, “I’ve asked you twice to (clean your room, rake the leaves, clean out the garage, etc.) and you haven’t listened. I’d like it done by Sunday or you won’t be getting the keys to the car next weekend (or other consequence).

4. “No Offense, But…”

Say what you mean and mean what you say. This statement basically says “I’m about to offend you, but you’re not allowed to be offended.”

5. “I Don’t Expect You to Understand”

Our teens are young and they have a lot of maturing and growing up to do, but don’t underestimate their ability to understand complex subjects and thoughts. Sit down with them, talk to them, and give them a chance. They might surprise you.

6. “I Can See You’re in One of Your Moods Again”

It’s a nasty way of saying your teen isn’t capable of controlling their moods, which by the way, is true to some extent… their moods are difficult to control. Instead, say, “I can see you’re having a hard time right now. Why don’t you grab something to eat and chill out for a while? When you’re ready to talk about it calmly, I’m here.” 

7. “Sorry I’m SO Embarrassing to Be Around”

The truth is, you just might be embarrassing your teen by your mere presence. But remember, it’s all pretty normal and to be expected. While some teens might gladly give their parents a hug in public, others will pretend they literally cease to exist around friends. Don’t make your teen feel terrible about being… well, a teenager. Just brush it off as part of their normal development. They’ll come back around eventually. 

8. “I Get It… You’re Just TOO Busy for Me Now”

Nearly every parent feels rather dissed when their teen starts choosing friends over family or they opt to hang out in their room instead of hanging with the family. But, again, it’s all pretty normal. Don’t put your teen on the defensive and make them feel as though there’s something wrong with them merely because they need a little space and time to figure out who they are. Ask them directly to spend time with you, (make sure they’re not struggling), and show a little grace if they decline.

9. “You Don’t Appreciate Anything I Do For You… You Never Will”

Oh, but they will… maybe not today or tomorrow or even next year, but they will eventually. There’s so much research to support the notion that teens really are self-absorbed (rather clueless) creatures. They’re so wrapped up in their feelings, their friends, and their life that it leaves little room for anything else, including noticing or acknowledging everything you do for them. Instead directly point out their ungratefulness by saying, “Hey, I went out of my way to surprise you with your favorite Starbucks and I didn’t get a thank you. If you want me to continue doing things like this, you need to show a little appreciation.”

10. “I’ll Just Do it Myself Since You Never Help Around Here”

Not only are you accusing your teen of never helping, but you’re also letting them off the hook from ever helping again. Instead, say something along the lines of, “Here’s a list of things I need you to do. It’s okay if you don’t do them today, but I want them done by (day). If you don’t get them done, then (insert consequence).”

11. “You’d Accomplish a Lot More if You Weren’t So Lazy”

Just about every parent of teens has felt their teen is lazy, at times. But this nasty statement, which is disguised as helpful advice, won’t do any good for your relationship. Instead say, “I can see you’re lacking motivation to get this done. What can I do to help? Starbucks? Your favorite snack? Help you get organized?” Offer solutions, not criticism.

12. “I Guess MY Feelings Don’t Matter”

This statement places blame without offering any specific communication or solution. Instead, try saying, “I understand that you want to spend all your time with your friends, but I really miss you. I’d love it if you could carve out an hour on Saturday so we can grab lunch at your favorite restaurant.” (I said this exact statement to my daughter… it worked like a charm!)

Skip the sarcasm, silent treatment, and subtle knocks to your teen and opt instead to focus on healthy, open, and honest direct communication. You’ll be doing your teen and your relationship a favor.

If you enjoyed reading, “Passive-Aggressive Statements: Why They’re Sabotaging Your Relationship with Your Teen,” check out these other posts!

Sass, Sighs and Slamming Doors: Proven Ways to Defuse Your Teen’s Moody Outbursts

10 Gentle Tips for Dealing with a Moody Teenager

55 Ways to Ruin Your Teen’s Day (Without Even Trying)

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