Arguing Vs. Problem-Solving with Your Teen

If you have a teen, you know that innocuous discussions can turn into blowout arguments in no time at all. Your teen is in a developmental phase that is similar to what you went through when he or she was a toddler: Your adolescent is needing to move away from you in an effort to become an adult. This can lead to boundary-pushing, quick tempers, and frequent arguments. If daily life with your teen has begun to include arguing and fighting over a variety of topics, it’s time to switch to a problem-solving communication style. Here are some tips on finding common ground with your teen and problem-solving without resorting to arguing.

Wait Until You Both Are Calm

Many arguments happen because one party is feeling angry or otherwise emotional. This is very common when it comes to parents and teenagers. For example, if your teen comes in an hour past curfew and hadn’t been answering texts or calls, you might be rightfully worried. Once he or she enters the door, your worry might switch to frustration, anger, or rage. This is not the time to have a problem-solving discussion.

If you find that you or your teenager are having a heightened emotional response, don’t be afraid to put off the discussion until you both have had a chance to cool down. Sometimes it will be your teen who is approaching you with frustration or anger. Remember that it takes two to argue; if your teen won’t let it rest, tell him or her that you will be able to talk later, then excuse yourself from the room or leave the house, if necessary. If you don’t respond to your teen’s angry words, there is no one for him or her to argue with, so the fight will come to a halt.

Assume the Best Intentions

Consider a situation where a friend runs late and does not call. Since your friend is not usually inconsiderate, you probably assume that there was a traffic problem or that something came up at the last minute. You might ask calmly what happened. When your teen commits the same offense, however, you might jump to conclusions and assume that he or she has been up to no good or, at the very least, that they were acting inconsiderately.

Try to give your teen the benefit of the doubt. Most teenagers do not try to annoy their parents. It could be that they legitimately did not know about one of your expectations. Or it could be that they did know and chose to ignore it. While the second possibility is frustrating and might warrant a consequence, try not to assume that your teen meant to cause trouble. Often, immaturity and a lack of the awareness of others is to blame for these misunderstandings.

Ask the Right Questions

Often, parents ask questions that they already know the answers to or that there is no answer to. Asking, “what were you doing last night?” when you already know that they were somewhere they were not supposed to be is not helpful. Similarly, shouting, “what were you thinking?” is not going to get you a clear or relevant response in most cases. Instead, try asking, “how did it happen that you ended up at that party after you had planned to go to the movies?” One possibility is that your teen lied about the movie. Another is that the friend he or she was with drove to the party instead of the movies. You won’t know if you don’t ask in a non-judgmental, cool-headed way.

Another part of teaching your teen appropriate behavior is to ask them what they could have done differently. This is something that your teen might not consider if you jump right to an argument and a punishment. Could he or she have called you to let you know of the change in plans? Could they have asked another friend to pick them up and go to the movies instead? Maybe they could have told you that they wanted to attend the party in the first place. See what your child comes up with and add your own ideas, too.

Don’t Take Arguments Personally

Remember that it is your teen’s job to break away from his or her parents. It’s developmentally appropriate for them to insist on more freedom, and it’s also developmentally appropriate for them to sometimes act in ways that are inconsiderate or rude. Your teen’s brain is still growing and changing; this is not how things will be when he or she is an adult.

Try not to take it personally when your adolescent does frustrating, annoying, or rude things. You can certainly impose consequences on rude or disrespectful behavior, but remember that they’re not doing it to make you angry. The path to adulthood is difficult to navigate, and your teen will not always make the right decisions.

Restate Your Teen’s Point of View

Perhaps one of the best ways to turn an argument into a problem-solving conversation is to restate what your teen says to you and ask follow-up questions. If your teen says, “you never let me have any freedom,” you could say, “so you think that you do not have enough freedom. What is a privilege that you wish you had?” You might not be able to provide whatever it is your teen is looking for, but it’s a starting point. He or she might simply want an extra 30 minutes tacked onto their curfew, which may be doable. Or they might want you to not expect them to check in all weekend, which is not realistic. Either way, you can consider that a starting point in an effort to take his or her opinion seriously.

Getting through a problem-solving conversation with your teen can take some work and practice on both of your parts. Remember that the goal is to raise your teenagers into an adult who can solve his or her own problems and relate to others appropriately. These discussions that you’re having now are paving the way and teaching necessary skills that your teen will use for decades to come.

Further Reading