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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

Parental Frustration in Raising Defiant Teens

"I get so frustrated with my rebellious 13-year-old son - and often lose my temper! You can’t leave him alone for a minute without problems of some sort (won’t go into all that here though). Am I a bad mother? How can I avoid over-reacting like this? I know I'm throwing gas on the fire!!"

Most moms lose their temper with their teens from time to time. It's OK to feel angry …just don’t take it out on your son. If you feel angry with your son almost every day or have trouble controlling your temper, get some help. There's no shame in that! Start by talking to your family doctor. Also, there are groups that can help moms, too. You can join our support group here:

==> Parenting Defiant Children and Teens - Support Group

When you get frustrated and upset, give yourself a break (rather than getting angry, and then feeling guilty for getting angry). Everyone needs a break from being a parent once in a while. If you have another adult in your family, take turns getting away. For example, have your partner stay with your son so you can visit friends. Take turns sleeping late on the weekends. If you're a single parent, ask friends and relatives to help by running some errands for you. Maybe they could stay with your son while you go out.

Know that frustration is normal. All moms get frustrated. Teens take a lot of time and energy. Parenting is even harder when you have problems in your life (e.g., worries about your job, your bills, your relationships, problems with alcohol or drugs, etc.). To be a good mother, you have to take care of yourself!!! That means getting help for YOUR issues first ...then you can work on your son.

No mom or dad is perfect. They all make mistakes. Even very passive parents sometimes say and do things they don't mean to do (e.g., yell at their child or call him/her a "bad" name). But if you think you're having trouble controlling yourself, get help so a pattern of emotional abuse doesn't start.


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

How to Foster Self-Reliance in Overindulged Teens

Do you happen to use an “overindulgent” parenting style? If so, then you are probably experiencing a lot of behavioral problems with your teenager! What’s the connection between overindulgence and behavior problems you ask? In this post, we will answer this question in great detail…

First of all, do you notice any of the following characteristics in your teen?
  • Asks for help on a task she should be able to do on her own
  • Can be obnoxious and temperamental
  • Constantly engages in whining and complaining
  • Demands things all the time
  • Exhibits extreme clinginess or the inability to be alone
  • Fails to bounce back from normal adolescent disappointments
  • Has little concern for the welfare of others
  • Ignores or negotiates every request you make
  • Is self-centered
  • Is verbally and/or physically aggressive
  • Is very manipulative
  • Lacks motivation
  • Repeatedly asks for rewards or money for basic chores 
  • Shows little gratitude for what she has
  • Wants to control the decisions of other family members

If this sounds like your teen, then it’s safe to say that he or she is overindulged, which is a nice term for “spoiled rotten!”

What happens when you have an overindulged teenager? The result of overindulgent parenting includes the following. The teenager:
  • begins to underestimate his abilities
  • believes the rules do not apply to him
  • depends on the parent to give him what he wants, but at the same time resents being dependent, and this resentment comes out as anger and ungratefulness – and a strong desire for more material stuff and privileges
  • does not get along well with authority figures (e.g., teachers)
  • feels entitled to privileges, but not responsible for his actions
  • finds school boring
  • gets labeled ADHD by school officials and mental health professionals
  • is the one in charge rather than the parent (i.e., the tail is wagging the dog)
  • is used to not having to be responsible for anything
  • learns how to avoid unpleasant tasks or challenges instead of facing them
  • learns to manipulate others instead of how to take responsibility

Even if your teen is already well on his way to becoming overindulged, all is not lost. Your goal as a mother or father is to teach him to weather the natural frustration of not getting what he wants without feeling like his world is ending or taking it as a sign you don’t love him.

Here are 25 ways to move from overindulgence to fostering self-reliance in your teen:

1. Allow your teen to make mistakes when safety is not an issue. It’s natural to want to step in and solve problems (which you’ve been doing for years). But now is his chance to make some minor mistakes and learn from them while the stakes are lower. He will also learn valuable problem-solving skills, and develop self-resilience and self-control.

2. Announce your limits, and stick to them. Let it be known what you will and won’t shell-out money for. Even if this leads to more arguments, make your teen respect your authority by refusing to budge.

3. Don’t FORCE your opinion on your teenager. Parents sometimes don’t trust what they have taught their teens. Did you ever plant some tulips? What happens if you yank the bulbs out every day to see if they’re growing? No tulips! Give the truths that you have poured into your teen’s heart and mind some time and space to take root and grow.

4. Don’t lose your temper. Staying calm helps you and your teen. Plus, it models the behavior you expect from him.

5. Encourage your teen to fully express himself. He is trying to discover who he is and is not (an important undertaking during adolescence) Accept that he may not like the things you do or have the same opinions, and get to know him as a person in his own right.

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

6. Establish ground rules for safety. As your teen tries out new behaviors and methods of self-expression, and gains new skills (e.g., driving, cooking, dating, etc.), she will still need limits to keep her safe. Negotiate rules when you can to give her a sense of ownership, but make sure she knows safety is a priority and is not negotiable.

7. Follow through with consequences consistently so that your teenager learns to accept responsibility for his own actions.

8. Foster a good work ethic. Even preteens can wash a car or help mix pancake batter.

9. Have your teen participate regularly in household chores (e.g., vacuuming, dusting, washing dishes, etc.). Also, teach him how to do his own laundry and care for his clothes.

10. Have your teen participate in making meals regularly.

11. Help your teen to discover his world. As he tries to figure out where he fits in, give him opportunities to try new activities and sports and to meet new people. He may end up discovering a lifelong career path in the process.

12. Hold your teen accountable. For example, if he continually oversleeps and misses the bus, charge him gas money to drive him to school. Now is the time for him to learn that his actions matter in the bigger world and affect others as well as himself.

13. Intentionally teach your teen how to work through conflicts with her peers. Simply preparing your teen with some practical conflict-resolution skills will help foster self-reliance and confidence.

14. Let natural consequences be your friend. For example, instead of nagging your teen to get a summer job so she can afford all the activities she wants to do – don’t. If she doesn’t follow through, she’ll just have to skip some of those activities.

15. Remind your teen you will always be there for him. As he spreads his wings, make sure you let him know you will be nearby whenever he needs you. This safety net will make it possible for him to have the confidence he needs to fly into his future.

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

16. Set shopping parameters. For example, if you’re out to a store with your teen and she wants a new pair of jeans, tell her she can have it—if she pays for it with her allowance money.

17. Talk openly and honestly about sex.

18. Teach your adolescents about Internet safety.

19. Teach your teen how to use an assignment pad to keep track of homework.

20. Teach your teen life skills. Your teen should be starting to learn how to manage money and drive safely in various situations. Increase her responsibilities as she gets closer to college age so she is ready to fully take care of herself when it’s time to move out and be fully independent.

21. Teach your teen to check the tire pressure and oil in the car he drives.

22. Teach your teen to think independently about commercials and advertisements aimed at teens.

23. Teaching your teen to monitor his own TV time and video game time.

24. Understand that making decisions for your teen can be destructive to his independence. Decision-making is a skill that only comes with practice. It isn’t something that’s magically conferred on a teenager when he turns 18. Letting him make choices means that he will probably do some things wrong and make poor choices, but he will learn from those, too.

25. Use praise. When you notice your teen is making a real effort to act differently, let him know that you notice.


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

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