Parenting tips to deal with your argumentative teen without loosing your cool


Dear Adele,

We are embarrassed to tell you and the world that our sweet 14-year-old daughter has become so argumentive, causing discord, friction, and disharmony in our family. We thought we were the perfect parents with an ideal child. We never expected a disagreeable teenager to emerge almost without warning. Any advice on dealing with her constant attempt to create conflict in our household at every opportunity?

Tamers of an Argumentive Teenager


Dear Tamers of an Argumentive Teenager,

Dealing with teenagers is a complex assignment that most of us are ill-prepared for. Their natural developmental stage results not only in bigger and more mature bodies but is accompanied by brain development that allows them an increased capacity for logical, reasoned, abstract thinking. Alongside this are hormonal changes which often cause emotions of all kinds to run amok. Throw in nature’s drive for independence and autonomy, and many teenage girls turn into difficult young people, hell-bent it seems to be disagreeable termagants.

Conflict is unavoidable in this phase of raising children. Some consider it the common cold of illnesses that affects social relationships and human contact in families. Teenagers pass through this stage as a matter of course. They may throw tantrums, sulk or ignore parents and regularly argue the other side of almost any parental value or decision. Disputes over homework, room cleanliness, time on devices, drugs, sexual activity, and going out with friends are common topics for parents and teenagers to clash on.

Conflict can be latent, fuelled by the drive for autonomy, divergence of goals, role conflict, or competition for scarce resources. It can also be perceived when there is a lack of communication, and the teenager is frustrated in achieving their goals. Felt conflict happens when it becomes personalized. Manifest conflict aftermath occurs when issues are suppressed rather than resolved.

So how to tame your teenager, you are asking?

R.G. Lewis in ‘Parent-Teen Conflicts’ has some suggestions which follow:

1: Empathize and remember your teen is emotionally distressed. Understand that she is not choosing to be obnoxious but that she feels intense anger, out of control, and desperate to regain it. It is helpful to remember your own youth and that her feelings may seem overwhelming to her.

2: Stay calm and give everyone some space. Stay around rather than leaving the house. She just may decide to hurt herself.

3: Think about your timing. Do not try to teach, reason or problem solve when she is mad.

4: Activate other parts of her brain by distancing or distracting your teen.

5: Be clear about boundaries. Move away from your upset teen and do not hesitate to call police if the situation escalates and you feel endangered.

6: Later, find time to talk and listen in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Be flexible and let the little things go, so your daughter will be more ready to compromise on the big issues between you.

7: Learn skills of negotiation, compromise and problem solving and teach them both directly and indirectly by modelling.

8: Be open about your own feelings and encourage your teen to express hers.

9: Keep explanations simple, brief, and positive. Focus your expectations on your concern for her wellbeing.

10: Seek your own counsellor to provide yourself a chance to vent, as well as get ideas about how to tame your teenager.

Chandigarh Chakravarty in ‘Ten Important Conflict Resolution Skills’ adds to these ideas. She says that there is no escaping conflict and that hiding it is not helpful. Bottling eelings up inside doesn’t make the problems go away.

She says it is important to address the problem, not the person. As well, parents should deal with the present single problem not many issues from previous times. They should not be defensive and should avoid the ‘Silent Treatment’. The adult should be assertive. Finally, they should repair the relationship by kindly apologizing.

Five further suggestions from my experience come to my mind in addition to those already mentioned. They are all important.

1: Ensure both parents are on the same page when you are dealing with your daughter. Talk out the issue as partners before engaging her in conflict resolution. Your position will be much stronger and she will not put holes in the bond between the adults. You want your marriage to survive your teenager’s adolescence.

2: Be sure to define the problem correctly and consider everyone’s position. You will need to develop mediation skills around communication, active listening, stress management, problem solving, and emotional agility. Try to emphasize shared goals, defining roles and steering clear of those power disputes which engender defensiveness and mistrust.

3: Never make threats you will regret, such as saying ‘My way or the highway’,’ or ‘ If you don”t like it here, get out,’ or ‘As long as you are living under my roof, it will be done my way.’

I caution you on this because if your teenager actually packs up and leaves, what is waiting outside the safety of your home could be infinitely worse than a messy room, a failed test, a joint of marijuana or a rude angry screeched outburst.

4: Educate yourself with parenting books, articles, research, and courses. Also never be shy to seek out a psychologist or social worker who specializes in family work or to talk to your health care professional. Knowledge is not hard to carry and you can never know too much.

5: If your situation gets beyond your ability to manage physically, intellectually or emotionally, some parents have gotten relief by consulting with a professional, engaging a family councillor, sending their teen to reside with a relative for a short period of time, or overnight summer camp. One of these strategies might be useful in order to get relief and still keep everyone safe during extremely tough times.

They say when times get tough, the tough get going. My experience is that toughness is mandatory and parenting most teenagers is not for the faint of heart. I will share a superlative humorous quote with you from to conclude: ‘I thought raising teenagers would be like those goofy old Brady Bunch episodes about curfews, acne and dating. It’s not. It’s more like Survivor meets Dateline — hang in there and don’t murder anyone.’

Best wishes Tamers of an Argumentive Teenager!

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