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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Why Teens Lie and What You Can Do to Curb It

Posted on May 10th, 2012, 0 Comments

The parents I work with (as well as those who’ve completed research surveys for nearly two decades) rank “honesty” as the trait they most want to see in their children. For parents, no other trait even comes close.

For the average teen, however, truth (or lack of it) is often simply a way to get to do what they want to do. In fact, according to researcher Nancy Darling, teens are much more likely to lie than to protest a rule.

So once our kids become teens, the dialogues around their requests – regardless of the closeness of our relationships with them – get a whole lot more complicated. And they use a variety of strategies to make the conversations complicated. For example …

Them: Ben is having some kids over Saturday night. Can I go?

Us: You know the rules. Will his parents be home during the party?

Them (evading the question): I’m sure he wouldn’t be allowed to have kids over if his parents weren’t going to be home.


Them: For sure. Both his mom and dad will be there (omitting the fact that they’ll be there for only part of the evening).


Them (distorting the facts): Who said it’s a party? He’s just having a few kids over to hang out.


Them (totally fabricating the facts): Yes! Of course, his parents will be there the whole time.

Most teens – in the spirit of growing up and making their own decisions as well as to protect us from what they feel is needless worry – feel compelled to withhold information and put certain things in the “none of your business” category.

Some parents respond by laying down the law with lots of lectures and warnings and way too many rules to adequately enforce. Other parents envision a tradeoff between strictness and staying informed. They think that the best way to encourage their kids to keep them in the loop (so they can help if needed) is to not set rules.

In reality, the parents who are most in the loop have strategies in place that teach their teens about the worth of honesty. These parents:

– Are clear about their values and have a few, unambiguous rules that are based on their values

– Are consistent about explaining, monitoring, and enforcing these rules

– Give their teens quite a bit of freedom to make their own decisions in other areas and gradually let their teens earn more freedom by being responsible and trustworthy.

This kind of parenting takes a lot of work. But the extra effort pays off. After all, the cornerstone of our relationship with our teens is trust. Trust is what keeps us from becoming nervous wrecks when they’re out of our sight. And when teens feel our trust, they are much less likely to do anything to jeopardize it.

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