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How to React When Your Teens Do Nothing but Grumble

How to React When Your Teens Do Nothing but Grumble

Life is full of good and bad days, ups and downs. It’s messy, marvelous, and worth it. As a parent, it can be tempting to believe that just because we’ve accumulated some years and wisdom, we have more to teach our teens than they have to teach us.

In my parenting journey, however, I’ve come to believe that God gives us the blessing of children to grow and mature us, not only for us to grow and mature them.

And how we choose to react to the lessons along the way (with defensiveness or compassion), can help give your grumbling teens a glimpse of God’s love.

Sometimes it feels like teens forget how to say anything positive at all, or even how to say a full sentence. So, when you’re struggling with pervasive complaining around your home, here are 3 suggestions for surviving the season, and cultivating a positive perspective.

1. Strive to Understand vs. Reprimand When Teens Are Grumbling

 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.1 Timothy 4:12

Just because you’re reading this, I know you understand: no matter what life hands us, or how we’re able to handle it, hormones will still have their way.

In The Life of a Single Mom, Jennifer Maggio writes that besides all the pressures and expectations our teens are up against, their hormones can cause them to be sad, angry, and a host of other emotions. Hormonal fluctuations can trigger a bad attitude or withdrawal.

Maggio asserts that it’s our job as parents in these ‘triggering’ times to keep the lines of communication open. This means encouraging back and forth talk about their hopes and dreams… without criticism or advice.

When you have the privilege of random, open conversation with your teens (even if they do nothing but grumble in response), don’t use the opportunity to complain about them. Instead, let them know you care how they feel, and what they think, and you’re inspired by their reasoning around situations. 

Most importantly, before you preach, be willing to self-confront. Check for planks in your own eye about the things your teens are grumbling over. This continual self-check can deflate tension that divides. Are you judgmental? I know I can be, about some of my teens’ choices. Are you unwilling to forgive? I know I’ve carried around anger before. Are you critical? Ouch.

So, instead of snapping at them because the plank in your own eye hurts, forgive yourself…and your grumbling teens, too. Choose some small way to compliment instead of complain. Admit that you don’t understand something. Ask them to explain. Listen to their music and ask how the words inspire them. Ask why they feel that way.

Understanding your own planks first will free you to offer grace, and model a safe place. Here’s a practical example to try: Every time you ask your teen to do a chore, instead of saying, “hey, I’ve asked you so many times…,” or “why haven’t you…?” start your requests with, “I would love it so much if you would…” And follow it up with how it helps the family feel great.

2. Check Your Words for Grumbling ‘Tude, Too.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.Ephesians 4:29

Be honest. Are you sometimes grumbling as much or more than your teens? If not, are you expecting that they never grumble, or talk to them like toddlers?

One of the most empowering choices you can make when sharing a home with grumbling teens can be to choose your own words wisely. Speak to them with respect, not like toddlers, because they are becoming adults. Show them how adults interact. Exemplify mutual respect.

Now’s the time to start making the shift away from lecturing to active listening without interrupting.

If someone at work left their papers around, would you walk up and say “what is this mess!” Or would you offer help with their workload, and in the process gently suggest an organization tip or two? To revisit the plank idea…is having all things in perfect order your own hang-up? Are there other areas in which your child is achieving? Are you noticing those?

And, say, for example there’s an issue with performance at school. Maybe teachers are complaining and bringing it to your attention. Here is author John Duffy’s take on addressing your teen who’s sullen.

Duffy suggests that it’s a good idea to transfer power over changing a sour face back to your teen. Duffy suggests saying, “This is important information for you to know. You can either do something to change this or simply accept it and be aware of it.”

In either case, Duffy says, the most important thing to convey is that you are on your teen’s side. Which also means, teens desire reassurance that you trust them. So, instead of lobbing platitudes at them as if they’re small children when they leave the house, like “Be safe!” or “don’t get in trouble!” try saying, “I trust you, and I appreciate that.”

3. Be Thankful Now (Even for Teen Grumbling)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

One of the most powerful words in this 1 Thessalonians verse is “all.” What a great exercise for our spiritual health…to find something to express thanks for, in all things. Remind your teens that God calls us treasure-seek, always. To join the adventure of finding good, no matter how hidden or tiny, in all circumstances. It’s free will at its finest.

Encourage your teens with this verse. You can even lay a simple notepad on your kitchen counter and tell them it’s your family gratitude journal, memory-book, or legacy. Ask them to thank God for something—anything—each day. Or be in the habit of thanking them. Show them what gratitude looks like.

Author Tricia Goyer embarked on a courageous challenge with her family to forgo all grumbling. She offers loads of firsthand insight into overcoming complaints. In her book, The Grumble-Free Year, she recalls her husband, John’s beautiful explanation to their over-half-a-dozen kids when they wanted to know if not grumbling meant they had to always be good.

John replied, “No one’s good all the time. Even Mom and I mess up…a lot. God doesn’t expect any of us to be perfect, but complaining is something he takes seriously. Remember how Moses led the Israelites into the desert according to God’s command?

Well, they had a lot of needs in that desert, and God knew that. But instead of asking God to meet their needs—and trusting he would—the Israelites complained. Complaining is wanting our way without treating others—or God—with respect.”

And that goes for parents, as well as teens. How we react, when teenage grumbling rumbles into our lives, can serve to grow the entire family toward God’s design.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/gpointstudio

authorLia Martin loves to inspire others to lean into the Lord daily. She's a writer, editor, marketer, former Faith Editor, and author of Wisdom at Wit's End: Abandoning Supermom Myths in Search of Supernatural Peace. When she's not cultivating words, she loves walking in nature, reading, exploring the latest health trends, and laughing with her two wonderful kids. She blogs at