How to Make It Out Alive Arguing With Your Teen
When we’re caught in a power struggle with a teenager, it can feel like we’re trapped on a roller coaster from hell.
As I’ve ridden all the emotional ups and downs I’ve held on for dear life, tried to catch my breath and not throw up. I remember thinking if only I knew how to unbuckle the seat belt, I’d risk my life and jump off.
At times, I’ve felt like I’m wrestling a grizzly bear; slowly being gnawed to death. The fighting and biting comments have made me so weary that I’ve surrendered and played dead.
And I could’ve sworn I’ve had a teenager with superpowers living in my house – I’ve felt their stink eye burning a hole in my shirt when my back was turned.
Power struggles lead me to entertain the notion that I’d be better off spending a weekend at the dentist than staying home with my grounded teen.
Then there’s been the desperate measures I’ve gone to, like the time I bought a shih tzu puppy to win a battle in hopes that my teenager might actually like me again (the puppy peed and pooped all over the house and bit a neighbor).
Or maybe like me, you’ve become a skilled sumo wrestler, taking your child to the mat as you’ve attempted to grab their cell phone.
I’ve made numerous visits to a neighbor’s house to apologize for the yelling coming from our open windows. Gratefully she also had a teenager and we’d exchange apologizes over coffee.
I’ve made “my way or the highway threats,” and grounded more than one of my teens for a month only to take it back later.
I’ve had pity parties, retreated to my bedroom to cry, and felt guilty for not liking my kids.
And, I reached the point where I was disgusted with myself and how I was reacting. I’d lay awake at night wondering what the hell I was doing wrong.
Finally I woke up and realized these approaches weren’t working, in fact the more I tried to control my kids, the more they rebelled. It was exhausting and damaging my relationship with them. My home was full of strife and struggle.
If you’re experiencing a revolt in your home fear not!
We can do it differently.
Here are 10 ways I’ve learned to stop the power struggles and cultivate connection, mutual respect and understanding:
Understand your adolescents battle is necessary.
Even though we hate when our teenagers become grizzly bears and life feels like an emotional roller coaster ride, arguing and pushing the boundaries is a necessary developmental process they must go through as they inch toward adulthood.
Rather than enduring a ride from hell, envision providing a playground. Be a place for them to learn the relational skills they need to thrive in the real world.
Remember they’re new at this.
They need to learn the art of compromise, expressing what they want, how they feel, and how to respectfully handle conflict.
We can pick our battles and give them permission to try on these new behaviors.
Be okay with them not liking you.
Rather than resisting the ride, buckle up and get comfortable with the fact that our teens are going to have negative feelings towards us during their there individuation process.
They will fight to get their way and act entitled. They’ll be moody and ungrateful sometimes.
Rather than fight against them, fight for them. They’re not bad kids. They’re human, hormonal teenagers with underdeveloped brains.
If we’re dependent on our teenager liking us we will feel like a victim most of the time.
If we’re dependent on our teenager liking us we will feel like a victim most of the time.Click To Tweet
Cultivate a (mostly) positive relationship.
Remember the 5:1 principle.
It takes five positive comments to make up for one negative.
If we want our homes to be a place where our kids want to be, we have to create an environment where they don’t feel beat down all the time. If they don’t get positive attention from us, they’ll go looking for it somewhere else.
Let’s look for every opportunity to encourage and affirm them. Let’s focus on all the good we see in them.
Be honest with yourself about who has the power.
When we wrestle or fight with our kids, it’s always about who has the power.
Who has the power if your teenager decides to have sex, drink alcohol, skip school, or talk back?
They do. We can’t control what they do unless we tie them up and hold them prisoner (which might land us 20 years in prison!).
When we realize that ultimately we can’t control the choices they make, we can relax a little and focus our energy on getting clear about what we do have control over and how we will deal with that.
Understand what you have control over.
What we do control is how we respond to our kids. Yep, this is the hardest part!
We can control how we show up as a mom.
Who do you want to be? How do you want to respond? What kind of behavior do you want to model for your kids?
We can control –
How much money we decide to give our kids.
If we hand over the car keys.
If we’ll allow them to keep a door on their bedroom.
What our expectations, boundaries and consequences will be.
After the age of 18, we get to decide if we’ll allow them to live with us if they keep disrespecting our boundaries.
We have control over getting feedback and help when things aren’t working and figuring out what we need to do to move forward.
Don’t engage in who’s right or wrong.
I’m not sure who said it first but there’s a saying,
“The moment you engage in an argument about who’s right, a war has begun.”
Maybe we should just resort to banging our heads on the wall when we wind up in this back and forth.
This never ends well – usually we’ll end up resorting to guilt trips, lecturing and shaming our kids.
When you notice yourself trying to argue your point, catch yourself and resist the urge.
Don’t take the bait.
Just like a fish in water our kids can hook us with the things they say.
You know how it goes – they throw out some juicy bait and before you know it we’re hooked.
It’s easy to recognize when we take the bait because we get a little nutty. We feel out of control and in a panic grasp to control anything.
I know it’s hard to resist the juicy bait they throw out, after all they’re so good at it! I think this is one of the hardest things to avoid doing as a parent.
So the next time your adolescent tries to hook you into a power struggle, this is when you review your notes on expectations and boundaries.
Give choices and freedom.
A good way to avoid power struggles is to give our kids choices when we can.
We can ask questions and offer options rather than being punitive.
Say yes as much as you possibly can. Let them know that freedom is given until trust is broken and when they make good choices they earn more freedom.
There’s no reason to argue with our kids when they’re fully aware of the expectations and consequences. They get to decide what they’ll choose – freedom or consequences.
If they’re grounded be clear that you’re not the one to blame. They knew the expectations and they made the choice to have the consequences.
This is how the world works. The sooner they learn this life lesson, the better.
Sit down and talk about it.
Our kids need to know that they can talk reasonably with us. Our teens need to know that we’ll listen to them and hear what they have to say.
This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them and say, “Sure, John it’s fine. Go out and drink alcohol and smoke pot.”
I’ve found that inviting them to talk when things are calm and having a conversation like the one below can make a difference.
“Listen, I know we haven’t been seeing eye to eye lately. I want to change that. How are you feeling about your relationship with me?”
Chances are they’ll say something critical about the way you parent. Take the bullet and understand it will reap huge benefits in your relationship down the road. Resist defending even though it’s hard not to.
Say things like, “I realize that ultimately I can’t make your decisions for you. You’re old enough to decide how you want to live your life. Of course, as your parent, I love you and want what’s best for you. But there are expectations, boundaries and consequences.”
Discuss expectations, boundaries and consequences. Allow them to have some input and share their opinion. Have them come up with their own consequences and compromise if needed.
As parents, we’re the most effective when:
We provide a learning playground to practice communication skills that will help them thrive in the real world.
We’re clear about what we can control and what we can’t.
We pick our battles wisely, give freedom and provide choices
Above all else, cultivate a positive relationship with your teen, seek to understand and listen to what they need.
When we take this approach, I guarantee we’ll survive the ride and be closer to our teen and like ourselves a whole lot better.