7 Inspirational Messages You Shouldn't Give Your Teen

Father and teenage son cooking together in kitchen

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It’s important to give teens positive messages about their ability to create bright futures for themselves. But sometimes, well-intentioned, 'inspirational' messages can actually do more harm than good.

Here are seven messages you shouldn’t give to your teen.

1. Never Give up on Your Dreams

While it’s important to have dreams, you shouldn’t imply walking away from a dream is the same as being a quitter. Sometimes, you have to let go of one dream to make room for new dreams.

If your child hasn’t been drafted by the NFL by the time he turns 45, it’s likely time to give up that dream.

Rather than send the message that he should keep trying, no matter the cost, teach your teen that there are times it’s OK to quit or to change your goals.

A Better Message: "Set your goals high, but stay flexible because your goals may change over time."

2. Pursue Your Passion When Choosing a Career

This message is silly for a few reasons. First, most teenagers are passionate about social media and pizza—at least in this phase of their lives. Few teens know what their true passions are, or even what's out there to be passionate about.

Second, your teen may start believing the only way he can be happy in life is by making a living doing the one activity he enjoys the most. But, sometimes, leisure activities are only fun when they remain hobbies. Monetizing the things you like can zap the joy.

A Better Message: "Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability and remember that you can choose to be happy, no matter what."

3. Always Follow Your Heart

Teens—like adults—have irrational emotions. Telling your teen to base his life decisions on his feelings is likely to lead to giant risks, immediate gratification, and unpredictable behavior.

Teach your teen to balance his emotions with a bit of logic, so he can live an enjoyable—yet stable—life.

A Better Message: "Your heart can lead you astray. You'll make the best decisions in life when you balance your emotions with logic."

4. Just Think Positively

When your teen says he’s nervous about how he did on that science test, or he’s feeling uneasy about his college application, telling him to “think positively” isn’t helpful. His thoughts won’t magically influence the outcome after he’s already done what he can do.

Thinking positively won't somehow help him pass a test he didn’t study for and positive vibes won't cause a coach to pick him for the basketball team. 

Validate your teen's feelings but don't try to rescue him from his discomfort by trying to convince him that his positive thoughts have magical powers.

A Better Message: "Set your goals high, but stay flexible because your goals may change over time."

5. You Shouldn’t Care What Anyone Else Thinks

While your teen shouldn’t care what everybody thinks, it is important for your teen to care what some people think. Your teen should want his friends and family to respect him and it’s important for him to treat others with kindness.

A Better Message - "Decide whose opinions you value in life and tune out the opinions of those who don't matter to you."

6. Something Better Will Come Along

Trying to help your teen feel better after a disappointing rejection with the promise of something better isn’t necessarily a good idea. Whether your teen got dumped by his prom date, or he didn’t make the basketball team, there’s no guarantee something better awaits him in the future.

False hope will only provide momentary relief at best. Teach your teen to deal with failure and rejection in a healthy manner.

A Better Message - "Disappointment is uncomfortable, but it's part of life. You can turn failure into a learning opportunity."

7. You Can Achieve Anything You Want in Life

While this sounds like an inspiring message on the surface, this idea can be harmful. The reality is, everyone has limitations. So if your teen has a serious health problem, he may not be able to become a Navy Seal. Or, if he lacks musical talent, he may never land a major record deal.

Telling him he can do anything he wants implies hard work will help him accomplish anything—no matter how unrealistic or idealistic his goals may be. But the truth is, no matter how much effort he puts in, there are certain things he may never achieve. If he never catches a big break in life, it’s insulting to imply it's because he didn't want it enough.

A Better Message - "Hard work will take you far in life, but everyone has limitations. Focus on what you can control and accept what's out of your control."

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Modecki KL, Zimmer‐Gembeck MJ, Guerra N. Emotion Regulation, Coping, and Decision Making: Three Linked Skills for Preventing Externalizing Problems in Adolescence. Child Dev. 2017;88:417-426. doi:10.1111/cdev.12734

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Building Resilience in Children.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.