The Case for Arguing More with Your Teen

Posted on May 31st, 2012, 0 Comments

The last post discussed why teens lie and the importance of teaching our teens about the worth of honesty. But research documenting both the pervasiveness of teen lying as well as the reality that teens lie even though they believe that it is morally wrong makes me think that our teens might need something more from us.

Researcher Nancy Darling found that 98% of teens lie to their parents about some things – things such as:
– What they spent their allowance on
– Whether they had started dating
– What clothes they put on away from home
– What movie they went to and with whom
– Their alcohol and drug use
– Hanging out with friends that their parents disapprove of
– Whether chaperones were at a party
– Whether they were in cars driven by drunk teens

While some of these lies are certainly more serious than others, they share one thing in common: They all have to do with teens deceiving their parents so they can do what they want to do.

The other option open to teens as they battle for independence is, of course, arguing. But the research shows that the average teen is much more likely to lie rather than argue about a rule – 244% more likely. Researchers, however, have also found that there is significantly less lying in homes where there is more protesting and arguing.

So you just might need to argue more with your teen.

Now, I have to admit that I did not like arguing with my kids when they were teens. It often left me feeling disconnected from them and inadequate as a mom (not to mention as a debater). Apparently I’m not alone. Researcher Tabitha Holmes, who did extensive interviews with mothers and their teens, found that nearly half of mothers feel that arguments damage their relationship with their teen.

Yet, Holmes found that the vast majority of teens think that fighting can make the relationship with their mother stronger. Teens said they see arguing as a way to get their views heard and as a chance to hear their parents’ perspective. For teens, it’s not how big the fight is or even how many fights that is important. Instead, what matters most to teens is the quality of the disputes and how they are resolved.

I never learned to like arguing with my teens, but I did find that when I changed how I thought about our arguments – when I began thinking of them as a chance to model how to communicate when you disagree – things went much better. And when I took a couple minutes to think about what I wanted most – for myself, for my teen, and for our relationship – before jumping into the fray, sometimes these disputes even left me feeling more connected to my teens.

Arguments can strengthen your relationship with your teen if:

– You calmly listen to them, acknowledging when they make a good point.

– You take their interests and perspectives into account before making a decision, and you sometimes budge a bit, letting them use responsibility to negotiate to “yes.”

For example, a teen asking for a later curfew might get to “yes” with “If you let me stay out 30 minutes later, I’ll text you at my regular curfew time just to check-in. How about if we try that for a month before you make a final decision?”

– When saying “no,” you have good reasons for denying their requests and take the time to explain your decision.

Battling for independence is at the top of the teen agenda. By giving our teens an appropriate avenue for disagreeing and a model for how to do it, we are giving them an acceptable way to stay true to their mission to extend away from us. Doing so can also help us stay true to our mission as parents to stay connected to them so that we can guide them to wiser decisions and safer actions.



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