8 Rude Things Adults Say to Young People

When adults are talking rude to young people, they show patronizing superiority. Many parents, youth workers, teachers, and others are not aware of how rude they are towards children and youth.

Most adults would be shocked if young people were as rude towards them as they are towards young people. When we’re confronted by a brave youth, we usually deny it (“that’s not what I meant”, or “you’re being too sensitive”).

However, even well-meaning adults can say things to youth with good intentions that come across as rude. Because of their past experiences, social conditioning, peer influence, and other reasons, most youth are really hesitant to share their real feelings with adults. Because of that, most parents, teachers, youth workers, and other adults who work with youth may never know how they talk towards youth.

Here are eight rude things adults often say to youth. Whenever you say them, its going to sound rude.

8 Rude Things Adults Say to Young People
The risk of writing a list like this is that there are almost always exceptions depending on the context. With young people, as with all people, it’s often not what is said, but how you say it–the tone of the message. A simple phase like, “What’s up” can come across as rude if truly someone feels that they are superior to the other person.


Whatever the case, just beware that if you’re working with young people, you probably sound rude today.

1. “I’m not a creative youth, but Lavonia here is, so she should do that stuff!”

I really doubt that Lavonia loves slogging through mundane details any more than you do, but she has to – as a youth council member or youth staff, it’s her job and not yours, so she does it. She takes pride in what she does too, and does it well. So don’t call her out in front of other adults and youth as a “detail” youth, as if that’s her job as a youth, and then congratulate yourself for being an adult who knows the “big picture”. A similar condensing bit of “praise” for youth is something like, “Hey, let me introduce you to Juan – he’s the one who really runs things around here, not me (snicker, wink).” No, he doesn’t really. You’re an adult, and you run things. Juan is just doing his job as a youth council member, stuff he’s supposed to do. Don’t pretend otherwise.

2. “Don’t worry about it,” or “It’s no big deal.”
It may not be a big deal to you, but it must be a big deal to the youth in your program or they would not have brought it up. Adults need to take the time to listen to youth and find out why they are concerned. Then, adults can take the opportunity to coach young people to help them find a solution.

3. “It’s for your own good.”
What makes adults the only people who can decide what is good for young people? Children and youth should be expected to have a serious, meaningful role in determining their “own good”.

4. “Well, that sounds good in theory, but in the real world….”
So what world are you saying the young people your are talking to are from? You might want to take some time to hear young peoples’ “theory” out and check your assumptions at the door – the children and youth around you might be more real than you.

5. “We’ll look into that,” “I’ll think about that,” or “You’ll have to work that out on your own.”
Noncommittal answers dismiss youth and imply they aren’t worth the time, honesty, and effort of adults. Also, again, you’re missing a great opportunity to coach. Ultimately, that’s your job – to coach and guide the young people around you.

6. “I know you’re feeling ______ right now, but you really shouldn’t because…”
Never assume you know what young people are feeling or tell them how they should be feeling. Ask them how they feel, and acknowledge it by responding with empathy.

7. “You’ll understand when you’re older,” or “When I was your age…”
Well, maybe young people do understand you right now, and just don’t agree with you. Try finding out why and you might learn something. Taking this approach creates a line of separation between young people and adults and invalidates what children and youth are experiencing right now.

8. “Kid” or “Homie” or “Sweetie” or “Dude”
Many young people prefer to be called by their first names – but its always a good practice to ask individual people what they’d like to be called.

BONUS RUDE THINGS (thanks to all the folks who contributed on the ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE Facebook page!): “I brought
you into this world, and I can also take you out!” ”You’re so smart for fifteen!” “When are you going to grow up?” “Don’t
touch that, you’ll break it!” “As long as you are in my house, you’ll do it!” “You’re
being childish.” “You’re so stupid (or clumsy, inconsiderate, etc.)!” “Go to
your room!” “Don’t ever yell at your mother like that!” (yelling) “She doesn’t
understand anything.” (about a baby) “You are too old for that!” “You’re not
old enough!” “Oh, it’s only puppy love.” “If you don’t stop crying I’ll give you something to cry about.” “What do you know? You haven’t
experienced anything!” “It’s just a stage. You’ll outgrow it.” “Go to your
room!” “Don’t ever yell at your mother like that!” (yelling) “Act your age.” “Children
should be seen and not heard.” “What do you know, you’re just a kid!” “Do as I
say, not as I do.” “You’ll understand it someday, just you wait.” “It’s my
house and you’ll follow my rules!” ”Calm down,” “You’re just a kid,” “Grow up!” “These kids are a form of birth control!” “You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin!’” “Did you just do what I saw you do?” “Because I said so.” “Someday I hope you have a kid and she’s just like you.” “Don’t get smart with me.” “You’ll do it and you’ll like it.”

Ground Rules to Stop Rude Adult Talk
One way to set the stage for clear and comfortable communication between young people and adults is to set ground rules when working together. Here is an example of some commonly used ground rules:

  • Speak for yourself
  • No put-downs
  • Take responsibility for your words, your action, and your learning
  • Expect unfinished business
  • Listen to others and to what you are saying, too
  • Show respect
  • Have fun
  • You have the right to pass at any time in group discussions or activities

Take Action! 

  1. Create Space – Its important to create environments where young people and adults feel comfortable asking questions and being themselves.
  2. Stop Hesitating – Make sure everyone knows they can stop conversation and ask questions at any point. Make it a norm to inject in the conversation when its appropriate.
  3. Be Diverse – Celebrate the variety between youth and adults, and among youth, and among adults. AND try to always talk in ways that are understood by everyone in the group.
  4. Body Language – Be aware of body language and facial expressions. If you are speaking, pay attention to how other people are reacting and ask questions, if you need to.
  5. Be Comfortable – Use language you are comfortable with. Don’t use jargon or slang just to fit in. Just be sure you’re sensitive to others in the group, no matter what their age.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • How about you? What does rude speech sound like to you?
  • Do you speak in a way that everyone can understand what you’re saying – young people? adults? people who speak English as a second language? others?
  • Are you aware of the views and perspectives of the young people and adults in the room?
  • Do you talk with others respectfully? Do you listen carefully to what they have to say?
  • If somebody is speaking with words or in a way that is confusing to me, what should I do?
  • When is it okay to use slang or jargon?

Want to do more? Check out my latest book, ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE, available now from Amazon.com.

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