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10 Ways to Say NO to Your Teen


Saying “No” to a teen is tough, especially when you want to do so in a way that doesn’t ruin your relationship.  It’s almost like something’s stuck in their ears, or after they ask a question, they simply turn off listening.  If your teen does this, don’t worry, you’re not alone. 

The reality is, though, teens need to hear no sometimes. 

Teens who can’t accept “no” have trouble when they get to the employment world.  They are the teens like the one I saw in a recent TikTok video who said to her employer, “I wasn’t asking permission in my time off request; I was notifying you I wasn’t going to be there and you need to find coverage.”  Maybe that works at some places of business but it won’t work for long, and it makes life harder, when “no” isn’t a part of the vocabulary. 

No is a healthy way to set appropriate boundaries, give yourself space to think, and it’s just a fact of life. 

While I do encourage parents to say “yes” as often as possible (to the purple hair, the outing with friends, etc.), there are times when “no” is the word.    

As a parent, the more you get bombarded with requests the harder it can be to say “No.”  I remember being a teen and how persistent I was, grinding down on my mom’s determination to set boundaries.  (I did not accept no easily!)    

In my mind, saying “No” is the ultimate form of love, if done within reason.  When you say “No” to your teen about what’s not right for them (at this time)  and the things that don’t serve them, you’re able to make room for the strong “yes” that you want.  

It’s important to remember, things will change depending on the season of their teen years. 

A thirteen-year old may get a “no” to being out until 10:00pm whereas a seventeen-year-old may get a “yes.”  This can help keep things in perspective if your teen is really disappointed or upset by a “no” they receive.  

All that being said, sometimes it’s hard to come up with the words to say on the fly, in the moment when a request comes at you often with enthusiasm, persistence, or demanding. 

Here are some phrases I invite parents to use when they’re not sure how to answer, they want to say no, but don’t know how, or they just need some space…to process, to research, or to consult with another parenting adult.  

1) That won’t work for me 

This one’s funny, because I often hear teens use this line with their peers, which means, they know exactly what it means!  As the parent, you don’t have to give a reason or an excuse for saying no, you can just say no.  At the end of the day, if your child is under eighteen, you are the person responsible for taking care of them.  If what they want doesn’t fit with how you view care and love for your child, then you have a right to say, “No, that won’t work for me.”

2) Let me check my schedule (especially key when your teen needs a ride)

This one is great, if you’re not sure where you stand on the issue you’re being asked to weigh in on,  and you want some space to think.  Don’t let your teen’s urgency be yours.  It is not your fault if your teen “just found out [so and so] was going to the movies tonight” OR they waited until the last minute to organize something.  You’re allowed to take the time you need to check in with yourself on how you feel and/or with another parenting adult.  Take thirty minutes or a couple hours or a day to think about it, then respond.  Creating that space for yourself, will allow you to really think your own opinions and how you feel about the request.   If it’s something you’re not comfortable saying “yes” to, then use one of the other responses to say, no after you’ve checked your schedule.  

3) I can’t do that

Personally, I don’t think it matters if you “can’t” do it or “won’t” do it, but be aware, your teen may get into semantics, because if you’re choosing to say “no, I can’t take you to X’s party,” you may get back an angry response of, “You CAN you just WON’T!”  Responding with I can’t or I won’t is a pretty good phrase to end the conversation.  It’s clear and concise.  It’s not your responsibility to take care of your teen’s feelings from here, but it helps to acknowledge them.  As in, “I won’t take you to that party, because I don’t know if the parents will be there.  I know you’re disappointed and angry.  It’s still something I won’t do.” 

4) Unfortunately no

Again, this one is short and sweet.  You don’t need to give an explanation.  You’re acknowledging that it’s unfortunate (for them) that you aren’t saying yes, but you’re leaving it at that.  End of story.

5) I’d like you to focus on X right now, check back with me in a few _[months]____

This works well in instances where your teen wants to get a car or job when they’re struggling in school.  Academics and education may be your number one priority with your teen at this time, so you can use this line to say, “I’d like you to focus on getting all your grades above passing.  Check back with me when this happens, and we can talk about you getting [wheels or a job].”

6) We already have plans

Setting boundaries around family time, family events, or family vacations gets more challenging the older teens get.  They may start negotiating to stay home, have work or extracurricular commitments, or just not want to participate.  It’s okay to say, “We already have plans, so no you can’t spend the night at your friend’s; we’re going to your grandmother’s for dinner.”  Respect family time and commitments and put them on the calendar then say no to the other things that demand your teen’s time.  Yes, there is a balance, especially as your teen gets older.  You may start allowing them to opt out of some things, but ultimately it’s up to you and there will be times when you need to use this phrase (i.e. holidays come to mind).      

7) I’m not available, can you get a ride from a friend?

I like this one, because it offers a solution.  If you have a social fourteen or fifteen year old, chances are, you’re going to be asked multiple times a week for a ride to do this or that.  Maybe the answer isn’t always, “no,” at the same time, as a parent who works and has other children, you may have commitments, which prevent you from being your teen’s personal chauffeur.  (I know!  Crazy thought, right?!) 

So, if your teen wants to go somewhere every other day, it can be helpful to get them thinking about organizing their own rides.  This may or may not involve riding with other teenagers (check the laws in your state; a lot of states restrict the number of passengers a teen driver can have in the vehicle).  Decide what you’re comfortable with as the parent, and then encourage them to ask a friend’s parent for a ride.  Or maybe compromise by saying, “I can give you a ride there, but you have to find a ride home.”  Something like that, so you’re not always on the hook.  Your teen will also learn the art of negotiation through this experience and problem solving both skills which will help develop their pre-frontal cortex, or thinking part of the brain.  

8) That sounds great, and still I’m going to have to decline

Not every offer you get is going to be your jam.  Does your son’s athletics team want you to buy socks?  Is your teen selling chocolate bars and you’re not eating sugar right now?  You don’t have to say “yes” to every offer that comes your way, especially if it’s another round of fundraising.  Decide what you like and how you want to support your teen and feel comfortable giving strong yesses and just as strong nos, albeit in a slightly more cheerful way. 

Again, depending on the season you’re in personally as a parent, and what you’re focusing your time, energy, and resources on, saying no will help you get to where you want to go and show up as a parent in the way you can have the most impact.  Maybe buying twenty dollars worth of candy bars doesn’t work for you, but you can volunteer in the concession stand for a game.  Either way, this is not about giving reasons.  Saying no is enough.

9) Do what you can

This one works great for teens.  Sometimes as a tool of distraction, teens will act helpless, even if they have the skills to complete a job or task.  Don’t get sucked in!  Sometimes this a ploy to get you to “show them” how to do something, all the while tricking you into doing it yourself. 

Most of the time when you give the response above, the job gets done completely or at least 80-90% done.  If you don’t offer to solve your teen’s problems, they will figure out a way to solve them themselves.  Give it a shot and see what happens.  If you want to ease into it, you can say that statement, then tack on, “you can let me know if you get stuck.”  Just know that if you open to door to helping, then you’re probably going to be asked to help.  Something to be aware of. 

The other important thing to remember here is, the job will get done according to their standards and not yours.  If the job is mostly done, then avoid being critical of how it gets done and praise the effort.  This is a good opportunity for you as the parent to practice acceptance.  

10) Nope (in a light-hearted way)

I really only use this one with my near and dear, but it’s pretty effective.  It keeps things simple while still getting my point across.  It’s usually said with serious eyes and a smirk.  😉


Testing these out initially will not be easy, especially if your teen is used to you saying “yes” a lot.  It may feel unnatural and uncomfortable for you and your teen may have a hard time with it too.  They may try to split you and their other parent, by seeking a yes from the other parent, so it’s critical to communicate with the adults involved and be on the same page.  

Remember, you’ve trained your teen up to this point to expect “yesses” from you and treat you the way they are, maybe not consciously, but by your own behavior and responses.  If your teen isn’t used to hearing “no” from you, then you might have to say it a few times before they actually hear what you’re saying.  That’s okay.  Just stick with it and give it a chance to work.  We usually give up too easily when starting something new. For the next two months, practice these phrases when a request comes in from you teen that you simply can’t approve and notice how you can say no without ruining your relationship.

If your teen really won’t accept “no” for an answer, continues to do what they want, when they want, or escalates to yelling or violence when you’re attempting to set boundaries, it may be time to reach out for help. 

If you’re looking for a therapist who can help support your teen to accept no in a calm way and learn healthy communication skills, then call me at (737) 808-4888 for a FREE 15-minute consult today.  Want to get the conversation going but not ready to talk by phone?  Fill out the secure contact form, and I’ll get in touch with you.  


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