Even though teens are learning to be independent and make more of their own choices, they still need guidance and boundaries. And that means sometimes the parents and other adults in their lives will have to say no to their requests.  

Often, teens won’t accept that answer easily. When they push back or pester, frustrated parents may be tempted to snap, “Because I said so!”

But adolescent experts say there are better ways to respond that allow a parent to maintain their authority while also preserving their relationship and helping a teen grow through the disappointment of a “no.” 

Check out this video or the article below for five alternative ways to respond when telling a teen “No.” 

#1: Give an explanation

In the stage of adolescence, one of the things that young people are working on cognitively is critical thinking skills. So what that means is learning to think through all sides of a problem. 

That’s something that you don’t really get to do well until you’re an adolescent. And so by providing them with an explanation as to why they can’t do something, like go to a concert for example, it gives them an opportunity to at least understand another point of view.  


After letting them share their point of view, you want to start off by explaining your reason. You can simply say, "My reason is I'm concerned about safety." "I'm concerned about the curfew." "I'm concerned about driving with teens." That gives a clear, concise answer and true reason without you having to over-explain. 

#2: Look for an alternative 

When you’re in the process of saying no, look for your own opportunities to find an alternative. It works out really well for teens if you say, “You know what? We can’t do that Friday night, but we can do it Saturday night.” Or, “We can’t do that now, but maybe when you turn 16.”  

#3: Say it with confidence 

That rolls into my third piece of advice, which is when you speak with your teen and you are setting a boundary and you are saying no, try to say that with confidence. A teen can spot in a heartbeat if you have any self-doubt. If you’re not totally sure, they will be all over that. 

So you want to think about things like your tone of voice. If you say to them, “Hmm, I don’t know about that. Hmm, I don’t know. I’m just not comfortable,” they will continue to push you. 

You can say, “I’ll think about that. Let me sleep on it.” You don’t have to give them an answer right there in the moment, but you do want to assert your confidence. 

You can say, "I'll think about that. Let me sleep on it." You don't have to give them an answer right there in the moment, but you do want to assert your confidence. 

#4: Say it with empathy

You can also say no with empathy. You can say things like, “I’m so sorry that you’re disappointed. I can see how hard you worked for that. Yes, it’s really disappointing when we don’t get to do the things we want.” 

You can do that in a way that leads with love, that shows them that you truly care, but also holds your boundary.

We don’t have to do things like shut teens down or say things like, “That’s ridiculous. Why are you even asking me? Don’t ask me that again.”  

Parents can get frustrated and get to that point, but you can also set your boundary by saying, “I know you want to continue to talk about this. I’ve given you my answer. My answer is no. I see that you’re disappointed. If you’d like to talk with me about it at a later time, I’m open to that.” 

#5: Take the time to consider it

The other thing is you can truly take the time to consider it, even if you feel like it’s a no. For some parents, it makes them feel better to say, “I really thought about it. I knew my gut said no, but I really did think about it.” 

When you do this with intention, you give you and your child the opportunity to first build trust so that when you say something to them, they trust you.

They know that you’re thoughtful. They know that this can be a conversation, and it’s not a dead end. And that goes a long way with teens.  

Second, it creates respect in a relationship so that they feel like they do have a voice that’s considered and taken seriously. Use the opportunity to provide clarity around why certain rules may exist.  

Third, it opens the opportunity for communication. I’ve spent most of my career working with parents and teens, and I would say communication is the number one issue that I hear from parents — which is often, “I don’t know how to communicate with my teen. My teen no longer talks to me.” 

Creating the opportunity to have some back and forth — you hear their point of view, they hear yours — and this allows for that communication to be healthy.  

Dr. Sheryl Ziegler

Dr. Sheryl Ziegler is the best-selling author of Mommy Burnout™, and the podcast host of Dr. Sheryl's PodCouch, a show all about how parents and adults can reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, and prevent burnout through lives of balance and connectedness. She is also a regular national and local news contributor, a TedX speaker, and the owner of a private group counseling practice in Denver.