My buddy looked sad, angry, and bewildered all at the same time. (Yes, he had teenagers.)

My buddy looked sad, angry, and bewildered all at the same time. (Yes, he had teenagers.)

"I don't know what to do," he said. "My oldest daughter said she hates me."

"How old is she again?" I asked.

"Fourteen," he gulped.

"How often does it happen?"

"At least once a week," he said.

I patted him on the shoulder and said, "It probably means you're doing something right."

That might sound strange coming from a social worker who specializes in family therapy, and it's certainly not our goal as parents to make our kids hate us. But no matter how much we hate those three little words, teens are going to say them no matter what you do. It's just part of parenting a teenager. You do yourself a favor when you expect that it's going to happen occasionally.

So why does it happen? Ironically, it's often your teen's way of making sure that you still care about them. Teenagers' developmental job is to start creating themselves separate from their parents (which explains sooooo much of what they do). But teens also know they're still kids at heart, and they crave rules, boundaries and expectations from parents. Teens see those as proof that you still love them, even though they'd eat fire ants before admitting it to you. So when they hit you with the "H word," it's often a test to see if you still care enough about them to make them do the right thing.

The best way to respond is not to let it get to you. Easier said than done, I know, but your teen doesn't really hate you. If you react when they say it, they discover a button they can push to get your attention, which encourages more of the behavior. My response when my kids said that to me was simply, "I love you anyway. Now I'm going in the other room to give you some space to calm down." And then I'd do exactly that. Avoid getting locked in a power struggle just because your feelings were hurt.

Remember that the attention principle is always involved with parenting. Simply put, attention increases behavior. Ignore or minimize your reaction to a behavior that you don't like, and that behavior should eventually go away. Praise behaviors that you like, and those should eventually increase. So when your teen handles disappointment well, you can say something simple like, "I noticed that you handled that in a positive way. I'm proud of you."

One more thing: sometimes, teens say, "I hate you!" just because they're mad and lashing out. Ignore it then, too. It might make them madder in the short term, but they'll learn that the phrase doesn't have power over you.

- Carl Grody, LISW-S, is a licensed independent social worker who works with families at Grody Family Counseling in Worthington.