Let’s face it. Teens tend to be unreasonable.
Their raging hormones, egocentric world view and developing brains put them on a collision course with adults.
What’s a parent to do? Go with it.
But fight fair.
“Not only is fighting normal, but in fact you want your teens to practice arguing with you so you can model how to act,” said Brittany Barber Garcia, PhD, a pediatric psychologist at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “Kids who learn to fight fair can use that skill in future relationships.”
Dr. Barber Garcia offers these 10 tips for parents:
- Keep your cool. As a parent, how you act is even more important than what you say. Instead of throwing fuel on the fire by getting angry, try to stay calm as much as possible. Take a breath. Think before you speak. Don’t let your emotions get the upper hand.
- Zip it. “It’s really important to think about your own reactions in the moment,” Dr. Barber Garcia said. Stick to the facts, provide rationale for your position and avoid name-calling or accusations such as, “You’re so lazy.” Said Dr. Barber Garcia: “We don’t mean to do it, but it happens.”
- Listen. Sure, some things aren’t up for negotiation—but your teens want the chance to be heard. So show respect for their opinions. Demonstrate that you are listening by reflecting back what they said. For example, say, “I’m hearing you say …” or, “It sounds to me like …”
- Ignore your buttons. Oh yeah. Your kids know exactly how to get you riled up and push your buttons. Remember, you’re the adult. Try to let things slide instead of letting old irritations get under your skin.
- Don’t get personal. “Teens will be very quick to hear something accusatory—’You made this mistake,’ ‘You did this wrong,’” Dr. Barber Garcia said. Get in the habit of focusing on your own experience by using “I” statements instead of “you” statements. “I feel hurt when I cook a nice meal and my family won’t eat it.”
- Be real about emotions. Sarcasm is a big “no,” says Dr. Barber Garcia, because it undermines true emotions. Even a nervous laugh or smile can be unintentionally hurtful.
- Meet in the middle. Sometimes you need to compromise so everyone can win. Think in advance about where you’re willing to give up some ground so you and your teen can both feel good about a decision.
- Table the discussion. When emotions are running high and the argument is going nowhere, don’t be afraid to end the conversation temporarily with a promise to come back to it another time—maybe after dinner, or on Saturday morning. This will show your teen it’s preferable to calm down and come back to the conversation with a fresh perspective, but …
- Check in. Don’t let angry feelings fester, and don’t withhold love after an argument. Dr. Barber Garcia recommends giving teens time to figure out how they feel, and then checking in with them to see if they’re ready to reconnect. If they’re still hurt or confused and it seems they’re not yet ready to reconnect, respect that. But after some time has gone by—maybe a day or two—circle back and work with them to repair the relationship.
- Don’t over-apologize. If you really lost control or said things you shouldn’t have, you may need to say you’re sorry, and it’s good to model for your children when it’s appropriate to apologize. But you don’t need to apologize for disagreeing or having a fight.
Fortunately, teenage angst is temporary. Eventually your kids will grow up.
“There is hope, even when arguing with your teen,” Dr. Barber Garcia said. “There are ways to get through this that will ultimately help them successfully navigate difficult conversations in the future.”