Parenting the argumentative teenager can be challenging and frustrating. As a parent you may feel that your teen never listens to you. Most likely your teen also feels that you’re not listening to him or her either. To help understand what type of impact arguing can have on your relationship with your teen and how you can deal with your argumentative teenager, I have interviewed therapist Amy Powell, LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a Marriage Family Therapist, and I love working with teenagers and their families. Being a teenager is not easy and being a parent of a teenager can even be more difficult. My goal is to get parents and teenagers talking again and working together as a family. I teach families tools to improve relationships. My private practice is in Los Gatos, California, and I have been working with families for 10 years. I have a Masters in Counseling Psychology from John F. Kennedy University. I teach parenting classes where parents learn how to have more fun with parenting. Not only do I help parents get their kids to listen to them, but I also help parents begin feeling respected again by their kids.”
Why is it when a child reaches their teen years they start to become more argumentative with their parent(s)?
“The developmental task of adolescence is the search for a personal identity. The teenager’s focus is figuring out the answer to the question, “Who am I?” In order to do this, teenagers begin looking at who they are as separate individuals from their parents. They begin to question and challenge their parents on their beliefs, values, and rules. This phase of individuation is a normal phase in adolescent development. However, it can be a difficult stage for parents to weather, because most teenagers become more vocal in voicing what they want and how they think things should be.”
What can the arguments do to the parent and teen relationship?
“Arguing can be detrimental to the relationship between the parent and teen. I begin working with many families who are at the point where they are unable to discuss almost any topic without it ending in an argument. Once the pattern of daily arguing begins, both the parent and teen stop listening to one another and become focused on only getting their point heard by the other. The communication then decreases or stops completely between the parent and teen because the teen feels that the parent is not going to understand, get upset, yell, and tell the teen “no” in the end. This is when the teen begins hiding things from and lying to the parent, which begins the cycle of mistrust, angry blowups, and punishments. The more negative interactions between a child and a parent, the more distance that begins to grow in the relationship. I tell families that for every negative or hurtful interaction, we need to create 5 positive interactions to counter balance the affect.”
How can a parent deal with their argumentative teenager?
“I encourage parents to try and negotiate or compromise whenever possible. I encourage parents that instead of saying “No” to their teenager, to say, “That option does not work for me. Do you want to come up with something else or should we think of another option together?” Much of my work is helping families brainstorm possible compromises where both sides may have to give up something but both sides can also feel like they have won too. As human beings, we all need to feel a sense of control in our lives. When a teenager hears “No” he feels left without choices, options, and a sense of control. When this happens, it can end in one of two ways:
1) The teenager accepts the “No” and feels hopeless, powerless, apathetic, and alienates himself from his parents.”
2) “The teenager decides to act defiantly and because his parents always tell him “No” anyway, he might as well lie and do what he wants (hoping that he gets away with it without being caught).”
“The goal is to have happy teenagers and happy parents. That is why compromise and negotiation are essential to making the relationship work.”
“I also teach parents to use empathy with their teenagers. When using empathy, it does not mean we give in to what the teen wants, but rather we show that we hear them and can relate to their upset and/or angry feelings. Some of my favorite empathetic responses are: “I hear how upset you are about this right now.” “I know this feels unfair.” “If I were you, I would want to be at that party too.” Many times after a parent can validate the teenager’s experience, the teenager calms down and feels heard by the parent.”
What last advice would you like to leave for a parent who is dealing with an argumentative teenager?
“The most important step parents can do is stay calm themselves. It takes two people to argue. So if the parent is calm and choosing not to engage in the argument, the teenager will not have anyone to argue with. Not only does staying calm model to the teenager, the healthy way to communicate, it is also more beneficial to the relationship. I encourage parents to model taking time outs for themselves by saying, “I am feeling too angry to discuss this right now. I am going to take 15 minutes to calm myself down and then we can resume the discussion.” When coming back to the discussion, if either the teen or the parent is still feeling reactive and angry, I recommend that they take another time out. In family therapy sessions, I teach family members various methods of working through their angry feelings that they can use during the time out. The other benefit of not engaging when angry is that we do not say hurtful comments out of anger that we later regret.”
Thank you Amy for the interview on parenting the argumentative teenager. If you would like more information about Amy Powell you can check out her website on www.myfamilyharmony.com.
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