You will be surprised to hear that most adolescents actually DO NOT like to argue with their moms and dads. It makes your adolescent feel unimportant and misunderstood. Some adolescents will walk away from an argument throwing "You just don't understand!" your way, while others stubbornly keep trying to get you to hear what they are saying – thus parent and adolescent wind up in a heated argument. Arguments drive family members apart, and you and your adolescent are no exception.
Why is it so easy to argue with an adolescent?
- Curiosity - Adolescents are starting to get interested in life and what goes on around them. In their awkward way, they are attempting to get at the reason for our actions. They form opinions and wonder if our way is the only way.
- Desire to be independent - Adolescents want to be independent and have some input and control over their lives. They want to be able to make small decisions on their own, without the parent telling them how and when.
- Lack of expression - Due to the adolescent's lack of communication skills, their questions are easily perceived as criticism by moms and dads - and we get defensive.
- Single-minded - If your adolescent feels he is being controlled or pressured, he will either resort to stubbornly ignoring you and what you are saying, or he will argue.
Your adolescent could get so focused on getting his way or to have his opinion heard, that nothing else will matter to him. For example, repeatedly asking your adolescent to do his homework could result in him not doing his homework at all – and your adolescent will not consider how this will affect his grades.
What are moms and dads supposed to do? Here are some tips in dealing with stubborn, argumentative adolescents:
1. Allow your adolescent to make decisions on matters you know he can handle. At the same time, let him know that you are ready and available if he needs help. Involving your adolescent in decisions about him does not take away a parent's power, but it shows your adolescent that you accept him as an individual and are ready to give him a chance.
2. Assign tasks, but step back and let your adolescent handle the details. There is a very good chance your adolescent will do the task differently than you would. For some moms and dads, it will not be easy at all to let the adolescent try it a different way when you know what works, but allow your adolescent to experiment. Either you and your adolescent will find that there is another way to come to the same result, or your adolescent will have to admit, after several wasted hours, that your way is the right way after all.
3. Control your emotions. What your adolescent is saying might make absolutely no sense, lack any logic, or may be impossible. Don't let your emotions take over; stay calm, focused, and discuss facts.
4. Don't allow your adolescent to get loud. Your adolescent needs to learn that not everybody has to think alike and that it is possible to discuss matters peacefully even if you don't share the same opinion.
5. Give your adolescent responsibility. Instead of arguing with your adolescent about homework, monitor her grades. Your adolescent may do surprisingly well. If not, you have a basis to sit down with your adolescent and discuss a plan on how to improve her grades.
6. Inform your adolescent, and stay informed yourself. The teenage years often are a time of experimentation, and sometimes that experimentation includes risky behaviors. Don't avoid the subjects of sex, or drug, alcohol, and tobacco use; discussing these things openly with children before they're exposed to them increases the chance that they'll act responsibly when the time comes. Share your family values with your adolescent and talk about what you believe is right and wrong. Know your youngster's friends — and know their friends' moms and dads. Regular communication between parents can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for all adolescents in a peer group. Mothers/fathers can help each other keep track of the children' activities without making the children feel that they're being watched.
7. Listen and ask questions. Restate what your adolescent is saying or asking to make sure you both are still on the same page. Find out where his or her opinion is coming from. Once your adolescent feels that you are paying attention to what he or she is saying, whether you are validating it or not, they will no longer feel the need to argue in order to get their point across. It also teaches your adolescent that he or she can indeed work with you through important life decisions. You will be surprised how quickly you will see a difference in the way you and your adolescent interact.
8. Make appropriate rules. Bedtime for an adolescent should be age appropriate, just as it was when your youngster was a baby. Adolescents still need about 8-9 hours of sleep. Reward your adolescent for being trustworthy. Does your youngster keep to a 10 PM curfew on weekends? Move it to 10:30 PM. And does an adolescent always have to go along on family outings? Encourage a reasonable amount of family time together. Decide what your expectations are, and don't be insulted when your growing youngster doesn't always want to be with you. Think back: You probably felt the same way about your mom and dad.
9. Monitor what children see and read. TV shows, magazines and books, the Internet — children have access to tons of information. Be aware of what yours watch and read. Don't be afraid to set limits on the amount of time spent in front of the computer or the TV. Know what they're learning from the media and who they may be communicating with online. Adolescents shouldn't have unlimited access to TV or the Internet in private — these should be public activities. Access to technology should also be limited after certain hours (say 10 PM or so) to encourage adequate sleep. It's not unreasonable to have cell phones and computers off limits after a certain time.
10. Pick your battles carefully. If adolescents want to dye their hair, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think twice before you object. Adolescents want to shock their moms and dads and it's a lot better to let them do something temporary and harmless; leave the objections to things that really matter, like tobacco, drugs and alcohol, or permanent changes to their appearance. Ask why your adolescent wants to dress or look a certain way and try to understand how your adolescent is feeling. You might also want to discuss how others might perceive them if they look different — help your adolescent understand how he or she might be viewed.
11. Practice empathy by helping your youngster understand that it's normal to be a bit concerned or self-conscious, and that it's OK to feel grown-up one minute and like a kid the next.
12. Read books about adolescents. Think back on your own teenage years. Remember your struggles with acne or your embarrassment at developing early — or late. Expect some mood changes in your typically sunny youngster, and be prepared for more conflict as he or she matures as an individual. Moms and dads who know what's coming can cope with it better. And the more you know, the better you can prepare.
13. Respect children' privacy. Some moms and dads, understandably, have a very hard time with this one. They may feel that anything their children do is their business. But to help your adolescent become a young adult, you'll need to grant some privacy. If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your youngster's privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it's a good idea to back off. In other words, your adolescent's room, texts, e-mails, and phone calls should be private. You also shouldn't expect your adolescent to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where adolescents are going, when they'll be returning, what they're doing, and with whom, but you don't need to know every detail. And you definitely shouldn't expect to be invited along! Start with trust. Let your adolescent know that you trust him or her. But, if the trust gets broken he or she may enjoy fewer freedoms until the trust is rebuilt.
14. Set expectations. Adolescents will likely act unhappy with expectations their moms and dads place on them. However, they usually understand and need to know that their parents care enough about them to expect certain things such as good grades, acceptable behavior, and adherence to the rules of the house. If moms and dads have appropriate expectations, adolescents will likely try to meet them. Without reasonable expectations, your adolescent may feel you don't care about him or her.
15. Know the warning signs. A certain amount of change may be normal during the teenage years, but too drastic or long-lasting a switch in personality or behavior may signal real trouble — the kind that needs professional help. Watch for one or more of these warning signs:
- extreme weight gain or loss
- falling grades
- rapid, drastic changes in personality
- run-ins with the law
- signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use
- skipping school continually
- sleep problems
- sudden change in friends
- talk or even jokes about suicide
Any other inappropriate behavior that lasts for more than 6 weeks can be a sign of underlying trouble, too. You may expect a glitch or two in your adolescent's behavior or grades during this time, but your A/B student shouldn't suddenly be failing, and your normally outgoing kid shouldn't suddenly become constantly withdrawn. Your doctor or a local counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can help you find proper counseling.
As children progress through the teenage years, you'll notice a slowing of the highs and lows of adolescence. And, eventually, they'll become independent, responsible, communicative young adults. So remember the motto of many moms and dads with adolescents: “We're going through this together, and we'll come out of it — together!”
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents