Most parents genuinely do their best to provide their children with a happy and healthy upbringing, but even these individuals can accidentally make mistakes that may result in future therapy appointments.
Unfortunately, some parents go beyond the occasional mistake and veer into the toxic category. Regardless of whether or not a parent is purposefully being toxic, there are several behaviors that can cause so much emotional and mental damage to a child that it ends up greatly affecting them even after they have grown up.
If you experienced any of the following situations as a child, the odds are high that one or both of your parents were at least slightly toxic.
1. They Fail To Provide You With Affirmation And Security
Some people believe that showing tough love is an important way to ensure that their children are able to take care of themselves in the future. If you were the recipient of this approach on a regular basis, you might even believe that this has had a positive impact on your life. However, if you practically fall apart now because of any perceived failure or rejection, then this most likely stems from a parent’s toxic refusal to provide you with the right amount of security and affirmation while you were young. Tough love might work sometimes, but it cannot be the only approach a parent takes if they want their child to become a well-rounded adult.
2. They Are Overly Critical
Everyone’s parents criticize from time to time. Without this component, we might never learn how to do numerous things properly, such as everyday chores like washing laundry. A toxic parent takes this to extremes by being overly critical about everything their child does. Parents can make the mistake of believing that they do this to make sure their children avoid making costly mistakes. Unfortunately, what this behavior really does is causing the child to develop a harsh inner critic that can be borderline crippling during adulthood.
3. They Demand Your Attention
Toxic parents often turn their children into their own parental substitutes by demanding their attention at all times. This can be seen as bonding between the parent and child, but it is really a parasitic relationship that requires too much of the child’s time and energy when they should be focused on learning other skills. Although it may be difficult at times, a well-rounded parent will allow their children enough space to grow and be kids without demanding constant interaction to suit their own needs.
4. They Make Toxic “Jokes” About You
All parents occasionally pick on their children, but when the so-called jokes become commonplace, this can be a huge problem. You do not need to accept this type of behavior just because your parent has always joked about something such as your height or weight. Ultimately, this is an undermining tactic that can make you feel very badly about yourself. If a parent has a legitimate concern to address with their child, they should be honest and non-critical, as opposed to making mean jokes.
5. They Cause You To Justify Terrible Behavior
Did you grow up believing that your parent was physically or emotionally abusive to you because you deserved it? If so, you may still be justifying the terrible behavior of others at your own expense. Toxic parents can twist any situation to suit their needs, and this leaves children with two choices: accept that their parent is wrong or internalize all of the blame. In most cases, children, even those who are adults now, choose the latter option.
6. They Do Not Allow You To Express Negative Emotions
Parents who refuse to nurture their child’s emotional needs and make light of their negative emotions are setting up a future where the child will feel unable to express what they need. There is nothing wrong with helping children see the positive side of any situation. However, being completely dismissive of a child’s negative feelings and emotional needs can lead to depression and make it more difficult for them to appropriately handle negativity as adults.
Respect and fear do not need to go hand-in-hand. In fact, children who feel loved, supported, and connected are much more likely to be happy as adults. Although discipline of some sort will inevitably be necessary from time to time, non-toxic parents do not use highly fearful actions and words that are permanently damaging to the human psyche. Children should not need to be afraid to be respectful, and adults should not need to end up feeling anxious each time their parent calls or emails.
8. They Always Put Their Feelings First
Parents may believe that their feelings should come first during family matters, but this is an antiquated way of thinking that is not going to foster positive relationships. Even though parents do need to make the final decision about everything from dinner to vacation plans, it is necessary to consider the feelings of every family member — including the children. Toxic individuals constantly force children to suppress their own feelings in order to appease their parents.
9. They Co-Opt Your Goals
Did one of your parents become interested in everything you were doing to the point where they took over or even duplicated you? This can seem like the actions of someone who is interested in their child’s life, but what it often does is making it harder for the child to actually meet their goals. For example, if you have to sell 50 boxes of cookies at the same time that your mother decides to make cookies and pass them out to the neighbors, it is going to be a lot harder to hit your sales goal. This behavior can derail you throughout your entire life if you allow your parent to keep getting away with it.
10. They Use Guilt And Money To Control You
Every child has experienced a guilt trip from their parents, but toxic individuals resort to this tactic on a regular basis. Even as an adult, your parent might still be controlling you by giving you expensive gifts and then expecting something in return. If you fail to do as they want, they will then try to make you feel guilty about it because of “everything they have done for you.” Healthy parents know that children do not owe them a specific response in exchange for money or gifts, especially when these items were not asked for in the first place.
11. They Give You The Silent Treatment
It can be hard to talk to someone when you are angry, but shutting out a child with the silent treatment is very damaging and immature. Dishing out this passive-aggressive treatment hurts any type of relationship and makes the recipient feel pressured into fixing the situation, even when they didn’t do anything wrong. If a parent is too mad to have a rational conversation, they should excuse themselves for a few minutes instead of blatantly ignoring their child.
12. They Ignore Healthy Boundaries
Parents can justify keeping a close eye on their children and, in certain situations, it may even be necessary to do a bit of snooping to keep them safe. However, everyone needs to be able to set boundaries for themselves, especially teenagers. Parents who are toxic override these boundaries at every turn, and this causes numerous problems. For example, a toxic parent will open their child’s door without knocking first. This sets up a pattern that makes it hard for their children to properly recognize and understand boundaries later in life.
13. They Make You Responsible For Their Happiness
If one of your parents spent a lot of time telling you how much they gave up for you in connection with their unhappiness, then they were placing unrealistic expectations on your role in their life. No child should be held accountable for their parent’s happiness. Also, parents should never demand that children give up things that make them happy in order to even out the score. Being forced into this situation will make it difficult for adult children to understand that we are all responsible for our own happiness.
Removing toxic people from your life may seem impossible, especially if one of them is a parent. Unless you take action, though, it will be much harder to correct the emotional and psychological damage that was done to you during your childhood. On the plus side, any toxic parent who recognizes themselves within the 13 points in this article can turn to a trained counselor for assistance with breaking their negative behavioral patterns.
A few years ago, I watched Brene Brown’s TED Talk on Vulnerability. Her story, her research, her authenticity, and yes, her vulnerability resonated with me deeply. One of the concepts that stood out the most was that in order to live wholeheartedly, we must feel the full range of emotions. The positive: joy, gratitude, happiness. And the not so positive: grief, fear, shame, sadness, disappointment.
This talk moved me, changed me and challenged me to think differently. And that is what TED talks have the power to do. They can make the hairs on the back of our neck stand up, bring us to tears, and most importantly, motivate, inspire and challenge our thinking.
Which is why I’m so excited to share these TED Talks for kids. I’ve always had a passion for working with children; I have three daughters of my own, co-lead two local Girl Scout Troops, spent time in my career working in education and am a member of the Galileo community advisory board (an innovation camp for kids).
I’m involved in all of these because I feel deeply how important it is to help our kids build their confidence, self-esteem, innovation and creativity. I want every kid to realize they are awesome just as they are. That they have the ability to make anything happen if they dream big and work hard. Imagine what that would do for our youth.
If you Google or scour lists of top TED talks, you tend to get similar ones popping up. That’s because they’re awesome. But they’re not all appropriate for kids.
How I shortlisted these TED Talks
I’ve done the hard work for you. Along with my family, kids, their friends and a few others, we vetted over 100 TED Talks and picked out the 17 that I believe send powerful and inspiring messages our kids desperately need.
So, whether your kid is 6 or 16, I hope you find something that inspires, moves, motivates and challenges them.
They’re short enough for young brains to stay engaged. While there is an 18 minute “rule” for TED talks, many of the most popular talks are 20+ minutes. Recently, as I toured middle schools for my daughters, one of the principals shared that a kid’s attention span is the kids age minus one. So, if you have an 11 year old, then 10 minutes is his/her attention span. You can’t expect him/her to listen to 18 minutes and stay focused the whole time. All of the talks highlighted below are under 15 minutes. Some are as short as three.
They all include life lessons I believe are important for today’s youth. For me, this meant searching for talks that would build confidence and self-esteem; help kids be true to themselves. Understand what makes a happy and successful life. How to dream big. To communicate, interact and treat others. Above all, these talks will help kids see that they are awesome and that anything is possible when they dream big and work hard.
They’re kid-friendly. You might think this is obvious, but I found many speakers share political views, curse, or share content or concepts that that could be scary or confusing for young minds. If you ask those around me, I’m probably a little overcautious about what I expose my kids too. I’m ok with that. They have plenty of time to see the darker side of the world as they age. I would be comfortable with my seven-year-old watching all of these.
They’re interesting. Kids need to be engaged, interested and motivated to even sit through a video. While this isn’t always easy to do, I’ve tried to find videos with likeable speakers, compelling topics and inspiring stories. And don’t worry, they’re not just for kids – these are awesome talks for adults as well.
Top 17 Ted Talks for kids
1. A Life Lesson From A Volunteer Firefighter (4:01)
I started with this one because all of my kids absolutely loved it. It’s an easy entry point for kids – short and sweet with a powerful message. (And what kid doesn’t like a firefighter?!)
Volunteer Firefighter and Activist Mark Bezos shares his story about how small things can make a big difference.
My 11-year-old’s key takeway? “It shows we don’t have to do something big to make a difference”.
Here’s a key piece of his message:
“In both my vocation at Robin Hood and my avocation as a volunteer firefighter, I am witness to acts of generosity and kindness on a monumental scale, but I’m also witness to acts of grace and courage on an individual basis. And you know what I’ve learned? They all matter.”
2. What Adults Can Learn From Kids (8:06)
One of my 11-year-olds was riveted by this one. In fact, at one point, I tried to increase the volume on the iPad while she kept pushing me out of the way so she didn’t miss anything.
Twelve-year-old Adora Svitak is incredible. This talk is inspiring not only because of what she says, but because of how incredible and confident this young girl is as she presents.
Here are some of my favorite excerpts from her talk:
“Kids don’t think about limitations…they just think about good ideas.” “Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal.” “When expectations are low, trust me, we (kids) will sink to them.”
3. Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection (8:50)
Recommended by several people when I was asking around, I found myself choking up in the first two minutes as Reshma shares her personal story about bravery in the face of failure.
“This is not a story about failure or resilience…it’s about bravery.”
She talks about our “bravery deficit”.
“When we teach girls to be brave, and we have a supportive network cheering them on, they will build incredible things.”
She shares one of my favorite philosophies: Progress, not perfection.
This is a great one for those who need a little more confidence to raise their hand, try out for that team, or face an upcoming challenge.
4. 10 Ways To Have a Better Conversation (11:30)
This is one of my all-time favorites. I’m becoming increasingly concerned about our kids’ ability to have a face-to-face conversation. Just look around at a restaurant and see how many kids have their faces in phones. One recent survey of managers said 46% of recent grads need to hone their communication skills.
As someone who spent many years earning a living helping people communicate better, I think this is necessary for every kid. It’s a lost art. A skill that is becoming extinct with the world of technology.
Radio Host Celeste Headlee provides great tips for how to have a better conversation, and, more importantly, how to listen.
At one point, she shares this thought written in the Atlantic by a high school teacher named Paul Barnewell.
“I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens, but rarely do they have an opportunity to hone their interpersonal communications skills. It might sound like a funny question, but we have to ask ourselves: Is there any 21st Century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?”
My older daughters both really enjoyed this talk. They learned “how important it is to listen and to think about other people, not just yourself”.
My favorite line of all time: “There’s no reason to show you’re paying attention, if in fact, you are actually paying attention.”
This is a great one to share with your teenagers – even if you need to text them the link?
5. A Promising Test for Pancreatic Cancer… From A Teenager (10:46)
I just love this one. Jack shares his story, how as a teenager he searched for and found a promising cure for pancreatic cancer. Motivated by the death of a close family friend, Jack shows some of my favorite attributes: thinking, process, initiative, perseverance, determination, courage…and humor. He’s a fantastic speaker and will keep your kids interested and engaged.
One of my favorite quotes:
“You don’t have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your ideas valued…Just imagine what you could do.”
“He did that all by himself?” One of my daughters asked at the end. Yep, he did. And you can, too.
6. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (6:09)
With three kids, I’m always driving a car full of kids somewhere. As I was researching for this article, during each of my rides, I took the opportunity to ask whoever was in the car about their recommendations. This talk was recommended by a 16-year-old high school student. (Thank you, Bella!) I had seen it before and was so glad she liked it as much as I did.
Angela Lee Duckworth left her consulting career and became a 7th grade math teacher in the New York public school system. She was fascinated by what helped students succeed. This talk is the story of what she found.
Here’s a quick preview:
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. “
Need another reason to share this with your kid? Angela highlights that kids with grit are more likely to graduate…and be successful in their chosen careers.
We all know how important grit and perseverance are; let’s help our children see that.
7. Dare To Dream Big (8:49)
With just over 22,000 views, this video hasn’t hit “mainstream” TED world yet, but Isabella Rose Taylor, a freshman in college and a working fashion designer, tells a fantastic story.
“Today I want to talk to you about dreams and stories.”
She shares one of my favorite stories about the 4-minute mile and how belief is such an important part of success.
“They didn’t all the sudden get faster or stronger, they just believed it was possible.”
The rest of her talk is filled with lessons on dreaming big, believing in yourself, courage, authenticity, and the importance of relationships.
“We should aim as high as possible and dream big.”
Yes. We. Should.
8. Yup, I built a nuclear fusion reactor (3:26)
Even the title shows the confidence that 17-year-old Nuclear Physicist Taylor Wilson has. As he says…and proves,
“Kids can really change the world.”
I love his passion and confidence. He started out with a dream and ended up meeting the President.
While this may not have any explicit life lessons, it’s incredibly interesting and fun to watch with kids. Approved by my 7-year-old, who said, “It was very interesting and I liked the pictures. I didn’t know an octopus could do that.”
The underlying lesson? For me, it shows how everything is incredible. When we look for beauty and awe, we will find it.
I also think it’s fascinating as Geologist David Gallow shares:
“And in a place where we thought no life at all, we find more life…there’s still 97 percent, and either that 97 percent is empty or just full of surprises.”
This teaches kids that there is so much in life and in their world to discover.
10. What Makes A Good Life? Lessons From the Longest Study on Happiness (12:40)
I’d say this talk is better for older kids. Robert Waldinger shares what makes a good life, from the longest study in history on happiness.
If your kids are having a hard time getting into it, head to 5:51 for the highlights:
“So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
I love the focus on the importance of relationships and friendships.
11. The Happy Secret To Better Work (12:14)
Positive Psychologist Shawn Achor is funny, fast and witty. He begins his talk with an incredibly funny story about his sister and him when they were little.
He shares that:
“90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change the way that we can then affect reality.”
If you want to get to the essence, head to 9:09 for his suggestions.
This is another one that’s probably best for older kids and teenagers.
12. Weird, or Just Different? (2:35)
The shortest talk on this list, Derek Sivers talks about the power of perspective. It teaches kids that we all have a different lens through which we see the world and we need to be aware of our assumptions and bias.
One of Derek’s thoughts:
There’s a saying that whatever true thing you can say about India, the opposite is also true. So, let’s never forget…that whatever brilliant ideas you have or hear, that the opposite may also be true.
My daughter’s thoughts: “It shows we can both be right.” YES.
13. Living Beyond Limits (9:44)
When I said earlier that I would let my 7-year-old watch all of these talks, this might be my one exception. Amy Purdy’s message is incredible but with an illness and near-death experience, it could be scary for little ones.
When she was just 19, Amy got bacterial meningitis and after a long fight for her life, she survived, but lost both legs below the knee. Now, a pro-snowboarder, she shows how “It’s believing in those dreams and facing our fears head-on that allows us to live our lives beyond our limits.”
“If your life was a book, and you were the author, how would you want your story to go?”
As my daughter and her friend watched this video, they loved Amy, were completely engaged by her story and got this lesson – “Don’t give up on our dreams just because something bad happens.”
14. 8 Secrets of Success (3:26)
In this short video, Analyst Richard St. John condenses a decade of research on success into three minutes. It’s a two-hour presentation he gives to high school students on what’s needed to be successful. Quick. Fast. Interesting with lots of great life lessons including serving, persisting, hard work and passion.
15. Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. (9:47)
The title says it all.
Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg’s beautiful cinematic time lapse imagery is paired with words of perspective from a little girl and an elderly man about what makes life so beautiful.
It may feel slow for some kids, but contains a compelling and valuable message.
I loved when the little girl shared her perspective about why we should be exploring nature and not watching TV and when the elderly gentlemen shared these thoughts:
“You think this is just another day in your life? It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”
Kids might also find it interesting why we say OMG. I did.
16. Why Some Of Us Don’t Have One True Calling (12:26)
This is a great talk, especially for high school students who are trying to figure out what to do with their life! In my coaching practice, this question still evokes a sense of stress, whether someone is going into high school, graduating from college, or in a mid-life career change.
Emilie’s powerful message:
If you have multiple dreams, goals and interests, “There’s nothing wrong with you. What you are, is a multipotentialite. Someone with many interests and creative pursuits.”
The statistics back up this concept. Studies have shown that only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major; the average person changes jobs 10-15 times during his or her career; and people change careers anywhere from 3-7 times over the course of their lifetime.
Emilie then goes on to share the skills and benefits of being a multipotentialite, complete with examples of successful individuals who have created a life that works for them.
My absolute favorite message from this talk is one that I’m deeply aligned with in my coaching practice:
“We should all be designing lives and careers that are aligned with how we’re wired… Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life.”
17. How I Harnessed the Wind (5:52)
Incredible and inspiring. At the age of 14, William Kamkwamba, with very little education or resources, motivated by poverty and famine, created a windmill to power his family’s home. As he looked at his life, he felt that what he was living was a fate he couldn’t accept. So rather than live the life he was “destined” to live, he decided to change it.
Not only is this story about courage, drive and innovation, it will also help kids gain perspective about what others in the world are facing on a daily basis.
He closes with these words of wisdom:
“I would like to say something to all the people out there like me, to the Africans, and the poor who are struggling with your dreams. God bless. Maybe one day you will watch this on the Internet. I say to you, trust yourself and believe. Whatever happens, don’t give up.”
BONUS: I Think We All Need a Pep Talk (3:28)
Ok, so it’s not officially a TED Talk, but it was on their site and I just had to include it! Many of you have probably seen this Soul Pancake video before. I don’t need to say much. Just watch it.
Here are three of my favorite lines from 9-year old “Kid President”:
“We’re all on the same team.” “We were made to be awesome.” “Give the world a reason to dance, so get to it.”
Now What? Watch these with your kids!
Now that you’ve read through these options, it’s time to pick a few and watch them with your kid(s). I recommend you choose three that are relevant to your family, a situation your kid is in, a life lesson you feel is important for them to learn, or something that you’re just excited to share.
That’s the easy part. Now you have to get them to watch it!
Here are a few recommendations for sharing these with your kids:
1.Share your thoughts and a few W’s
Who is this talk about, why you think it’s important for them to watch and what you think they’ll find interesting. Get them hooked before they watch it. Giving them high-level context will not only get them interested, but get their minds primed for learning.
2. After you watch the video, have a discussion.
Not sure what to ask? Here are some ideas:
What did you think of the video?
What did you enjoy?
What do you think motivated this speaker to speak on this topic?
What did you learn?
What do you think you’ll do differently as a result of watching this?
3. Ask them to stick with it and be patient.
When I started testing these with my daughters, I could see in the first minute they were wondering if they really wanted to do this. I asked them to be patient, keep an open mind and stick with it. Once they got through the initial, “Ugh, Mom!”…. they enjoyed watching.
Lucky for you, the ones they couldn’t get through didn’t make this cut! Watch one (maybe two) at time. Stick with the age minus one rule.
I loved researching these talks, watching them with my kids and their friends, and hearing their thoughts and reactions. I hope they provide a great discussion for you and your family, some inspiration for your kids and something that moves, motivates and challenges you both.
I’d love to hear which of these resonated with you and your kids – and if you have other favorite TED talks you think would be great for kids, please let me know!