Here’s Why We Should Stop Calling Our Teens Lazy

According to experts, DON'T, just DON'T call your teen lazy...

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Here’s Why We Should Stop Calling Our Teens Lazy

If we’re being completely honest here, chances are we’ve all racked up a few major regrets on our parenting journey… I know I certainly have. One of my biggest regrets was calling my oldest daughter lazy when she was a young teen. 

“All you do is hang out in your room. You sleep until noon on weekends, you’re constantly complaining about how tired you are, and getting you to help out around the house is like pulling teeth… you’re SO lazy!”

I wasn’t saying it to be cutting or mean. At the time, I was just so blasted frustrated that I let my emotions get the best of me. My goal was to get through to her and, hopefully, motivate her. I had no idea the impact those words had on my daughter… that is until she burst into tears and begged me to never call her lazy again. 

“I try so hard, Mom,” she said. “I go to school, go to practice, come home and do homework, stay up way too late, try to fit in time with my friends, try to do what you ask me around here, and then I start the whole thing over again… every single day.”

“I’m tired. I’m overwhelmed. And, sometimes, I just can’t keep up. Sometimes, all I want to do is close my bedroom door, shut out the world, and sleep. When you call me lazy, it makes me feel like a failure. I’m not a failure, Mom.”

Wow… that really stung. My daughter was so brave and honest to share what was in her heart. And, even though her words were difficult to hear, (sometimes, we have to put our ego aside and really listen to what our kids have to say, no matter how bad it hurts), I knew she was right. My girl wasn’t a failure by any means. She really was trying hard and I knew that.

I allowed my frustration to get the best of me in the heat of the moment and I said something I shouldn’t have. Not only did I owe her an apology, I owed her a solemn promise…that I would put those words in a box, lock them up and never let them slip off my tongue again.  

We might think our kids’ life is cushy. We might think they don’t have any real responsibility on their shoulders or pressure to deal with. And, we might even be convinced because they’re young, that they have mounds of energy and shouldn’t have any trouble keeping up. After all, what’s so stressful or exhausting about being a teenager?

Oh…but more often than not, we’re not looking at the whole picture, parents. Here’s the real reason we should stop calling our teens lazy.

Here’s Why We Should All Stop Calling Our Teens Lazy


What Our Teenagers Hear When We Call Them Lazy

According to Carl E Pickhardt Ph.D., adolescent psychologist, “Don’t do it. Don’t ever call your teen “lazy.” The label is more psychologically and socially loaded than most parents realize. To make matters worse, the term is usually used when a parent is feeling frustrated, impatient, or critical of their teenager, which only makes insulting injury from this name-calling harder to bear.”

While we’re flippantly tossing out the word “lazy” thinking it’s no big deal, those words strike straight to the core of our teen’s hearts AND self-esteem. What they hear is… You lack motivation, you just want to lay around and sleep a lot, you act tired any time I ask you to do anything, you’re acting entitled, bratty and expecting someone else to do it for you, you’re incapable, you can’t see anything through, all you want to do is escape on your phone, all you ever want to do is avoid work. You’re lazy on all fronts!

But are they really lazy? Or is it something else?

Before You Call Your Teen “Lazy,” Consider Other Possibilities

According to Pickhardt, before you harshly and negatively label your teen as lazy, consider the “WHY.” 

Maybe they’re so physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted that they’re having a hard time keeping up with the demands of life. 

Maybe they’re so overwhelmed by stress or the pressure to succeed that even the smallest demand feels like too much.

Maybe they’re struggling to stay focused, have diagnosed or undiagnosed ADD or ADHD (often wrongly labeled as laziness!), and have a hard time seeing things through to the end. 

Maybe they’re lacking nutrition, have a vitamin deficiency, are chronically sleep-deprived or they aren’t getting enough exercise.

Maybe they’re so disorganized that they don’t know where to begin and they need help.

Maybe they’ve become so internally resistant that they oppose anything they’re told to do. 

Maybe they’re so discouraged by failure that they don’t see a point in trying.

Maybe they’re so anxious that doing much of anything is overwhelming or frightening.

Maybe they’re so depressed they lack the capacity to care.

Maybe they’re internalizing something they’re afraid to tell you and it’s consuming them to the point where they can’t collect their thoughts or be productive.

Maybe procrastination has become such a habit that they can’t get anything done in a timely manner.

Maybe they’re so confused about which direction to take that they’re paralyzed and can’t make up their mind about what to do next.

Or, maybe they’re just so bored that they lack passion and nothing is of interest to them.

A BIG Factor to Consider Is Their Developing Brains and Bodies

Teenagers (most, anyway) are notoriously more lackadaisical compared to adults. Their still-developing brains have a lot to do with their ability to prioritize and tackle more challenging tasks and situations. So, while we may be viewing their behavior as “lazy,” they’re silently and desperately trying to manage the massive hormonal, psychological, and biological changes happening within their bodies. 

As parents, it’s our job to help “train their brain” through support and guidance – not yelling, badgering, or nagging. By lovingly communicating with our kids, helping them sort through their priorities, supporting them, and outlining clear expectations (and consequences), we’re equipping and empowering them with the tools they need to combat what we might call “laziness.”

Being Lazy Can Be a GOOD Thing… (Within Reason, Of Course)

Most teenagers lead a very hectic life, particularly during the school year. Some continue that hectic schedule straight into the summer with high-level competitive sports, volunteering, working a part-time job, and SAT/ACT college prep. It’s not easy being a teenager in today’s world!

That’s why a healthy dose of laziness might be just what they need to regroup, re-energize and re-fill their waning bucket of enthusiasm and motivation.

LET THEM BE LAZY when they need it. Let them chill out, have a Netflix movie marathon night, or spend the night listening to music or scrolling on their phone. Let them hang out with friends doing nothing much at all. Let them hit the reset button… it can do a world of good for your teen.

Work WITH Your Teen, Not AGAINST Them

Tossing out “You’re so lazy!” won’t serve your teen or your relationship with your teen well. In fact, you’re creating a divide with them when you should be striving to close that gap and build a stronger connection with them. And, you’re not motivating them to behave more responsibly or encouraging them to get moving, you’re actually building resentment, making them act worse, and, more importantly, making them feel worse about themselves.

The next time your teen is being (what you’d define as) lazy, talk to them, ask them if there’s anything going on behind the scenes, get into their head, and find out what’s really causing them to feel unmotivated. If they truly are, in fact, being lazy and avoiding work or responsibility at all costs, then put consequences in place. 

Above all, remember that laziness in teens can be a mask for a much more significant issue… don’t brush it off before digging deeper. 

If you enjoyed reading, “Here’s Why We Should Stop Calling Our Teens Lazy,” you might also enjoy reading these posts!

7 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Motivate Your Teen

Disorganized and Distracted: 6 Tips to Help Your Teen Tackle Homework with Confidence

101 Conversation Starters for Teens to Connect, Laugh and Get into Their Head

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1 comment

Kelly Hughes February 11, 2024 - 11:00 am

Totally frustrated with my teen currently.


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