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Defusing Heated Arguments with Defiant Teenagers

At some point, you as a parent have probably been involved in a knock-down, drag-out argument with your defiant teenager. Each of you is convinced the other is wrong. Neither of you will back down.

You've tried everything to get through to your son or daughter (e.g., ironclad logic, negotiating, yelling louder and longer), but neither side will budge. So, what can parents do when they find themselves in frequent verbal fights with their out-of-control teenagers?

Here are 15 parenting tips to help resolve heated arguments with defiant teens:

1. Ask your teen if she would be willing to summarize your position. If she can't, or she hasn't heard it yet, ask if she would be willing to listen to what you have to say now.

2. Don't try to force your teen into admitting they he is wrong. That's the kind of tactic that keeps the argument burning. Genuine agreement will come, when and if it comes. It can't be forced.

3. Enlist the help of a mediator (e.g., a family therapist, a wise grandparent). Consider bringing in a neutral third party to help resolve angry feelings and to help everyone feel heard.

4. Even if you are right, keep your cool. Never debate on what you think is right and your teen thinks is wrong. Recognize there is a gap between your reality and her perception of things.

5. Find out what your teen wants you to hear. You don't have to agree with it. A lot or arguments go on painfully and without progress because each side is trying to be heard – but neither side is listening. By listening, you break that deadlock.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

6. Identify points where you and your teen already agree. After listening and confirming understanding, some arguments dissolve right then, because there was no actual disagreement.

7. If parts of what your teen has said have moved you to change your mind, now is a good time to say so. If he has enlightened you or corrected an error of yours, thank him!

8. If at any time during an argument you feel as if your safety is being threatened in any way, or that there is no way a resolution will be found, simply remove yourself from the situation. It is better to stay safe than to win an argument or try to calm a violent, irrational teenager down.

9. If you feel as though you are not getting anywhere, saying something such as, "I really feel we should both calm down and approach this when we have had time to think" …or, "I care about this issue, but I don't want to speak out of anger, so I think it is best that I go to the other room" is a good way to leave things for now.

10. Teen’s higher reasoning abilities shut down when they're angry. If either you or your teen is hot with anger, take an hour of quiet to cool-off.

11. Phrase your requests in a way that avoids blaming or shaming your teen for misunderstanding you. You can do this by wording it so you are the one responsible for communicating your point, rather than making your teen responsible for understanding you (e.g., "I'd like to make sure that I've gotten my point across" …rather than, "I'd like to make sure you haven't misunderstood").

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

12. Be sure to put the point where you disagree into words. Many disputes go on unproductively because neither side even knows what the squabble is about! When you put the disagreement into words, either you will both agree very quickly on what the disagreement is, or you won't. If the latter, you open up an opportunity to hear something important that you haven't heard yet.

13. State your needs and boundaries clearly. Avoid insulting your teen or telling her how unreasonable she is being. Instead, stick to statements where you are clearly defining your comfort level and boundaries (e.g., "I understand you are angry, but I need you to speak to me respectfully" …or, "I know we have a disagreement here, but it is difficult for me to talk to someone who is screaming").

14. Summarize your understanding of your teen's position by stating it in your own words, and ask if your understanding is accurate (e.g., "Let's see if I understand you correctly. Are you saying ...?"). By moving from establishing which side is right to accurately understanding the other side, you neutralize the struggle to "force a verdict" and create an opportunity to correct misunderstanding. If you do understand correctly, your teen now sees this.

15. Validate your teen’s concerns and empathize with how he feels. Teens often become aggravated when they feel they are not being heard. Statements like, "I understand you are feeling annoyed" …or, "I know we both want to resolve this problem" …can go a long way to help avoid heated arguments.

On a final note, if all else fails, ask yourself these questions: “What’s more important – winning this argument, or keeping the peace?” “What are we really arguing about?” “Will it even matter tomorrow?” This is called "self-checking." As parents who may be on the verge of over-reacting, sometimes we have to get inside ourselves to keep a level head.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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