8 tips for parents: Get along better with your argumentative teen

Do you have an argumentative teen? Adolescence is a time of immense change, not just in your teenager, but also within your relationship with your teen.

The shift from child to adult is a time where teenagers are faced with many complex decisions, they are learning to physically and psychologically separate from their parents, and yet they still require a warm protective bond and are dependent on their parents for their basic physical needs; shelter, safety, food and finance.

As children mature, they undergo many physical changes like puberty, but also many psychological changes and more sophisticated thinking processes. With these sophisticated thinking processes comes more advanced skills in reasoning, problem-solving and analysing. This means teenagers are questioning everything in the world around them, including rules, what they believe is fair and unfair, and trying to figure out where they fit in the world.

It’s no wonder this is such a challenging time in the parent-teenager relationship! We’ll explore why teenagers argue and more importantly, share some tips on how you can get along better with your teen.

Why do teens argue?

Many studies point to a rise in parent-child conflict during puberty. Aside from hormonal changes, it is believed that new mental processes in abstract thought and reasoning may contribute to your teen being more argumentative.

Conflict between parent and teenager is often focussed on daily matters such as dating, driving, study and curfews. Beneath these mundane disagreements are parent’s serious concerns for the welfare of their teenagers and desire to protect them from substance abuse, car accidents, dropping out of school and unplanned pregnancies. The less confidence you have in your child (regarding how ready they are to take on these new responsibilities), the more conflict will arise.

Adolescence is a time when the capacity for abstract thinking develops and strengthens. This means teenagers start to manipulate, question and analyse ideas in their head which leads to dramatic ways in which they see themselves, others and the world in general. It is a critical skill required in adulthood, but in adolescence, it is still evolving.

It’s a process that may lead to argumentativeness, sensitivity and conflict in the relationship. It is useful for parents to know that this is a normal part of development, and to be patient as your teen tests out their ideas on the world.

8 tips for parents to get along with your argumentative teen

1. Stay calm.

During disagreements with your teen, try to remain calm and rational. It’s easy for emotions to spiral out of control and to lose sight of the main issue. Express your point of view clearly and the reasons behind it. You must also allow your teen to do the same.

Tip: Listen to their opinions and be curious about their reactions to your viewpoint. You may both disagree, but if your teen feels heard and understood, then your relationship will remain intact.

2. Focus on the positives.

While your teen undergoes puberty and their thought processes mature, they may become more sensitive to criticism. They may feel that they are the focus of everyone’s attention.

Tip: Try to hold back on finding fault in your teen, particularly in front of others. If it’s important to bring up with your teen, then do it when you can speak to them alone.

3. Acceptance.

Even if they don’t show it, your acceptance and approval are important to your teen. In fact, research shows that parental approval is key to the development of self-esteem. It’s okay to have different views on things, but if your child feels you understand them and accept them for who they are, then this will make the world of difference.

Tip: Take an interest in what your teen is interested in. It will mean a lot to them if you attend their netball grand finale, turn up to a school awards night or spend quality time with them doing something they enjoy.

4. Foster responsibility.

There will be times when you will have the final say, because it’s a matter of safety, adhering to family or cultural values, or simply because of your circumstances. But, your teen must learn the skills to make decisions for themselves and the only way they can do this is to practice.

Tip: Offer patient reminders, and gentle suggestions where needed, but where possible let your adolescent make decisions on their own.

5. Model healthy communication.

Your teenager learns about relationships and how to communicate from you. If you yell at your partner or your teenager, then they too will learn this is the way to deal with anger or frustration. Your teenager is learning how to view their world critically and if you don’t practice what you preach- they will call you out on it! Lead by example.

Tip: Talk to your teen about your day, invite them into your world (without offloading all of your grown-up problems). It’s okay to say, “actually, I’ve had a stressful day at work today and I’m feeling a bit irritable.” Talk about your emotions and invite them (if they’re ready) to do the same.

6. Choose your battles.

On the one hand, it’s important to provide guidance to your teens, but it’s also important to know when to let them have some independence and make mistakes.

Tip: Choose your battles. If another instruction or nagging comment is on the tip of your tongue, simply count to ten and then decide whether it is really worth saying it. Does it matter in the long run? Only challenge on the things that really matter.

7. Ask open questions.

Give them a chance to open up. Don’t ask closed off questions that invite yes or no answers. Also, don’t ask too many questions, or your teenager might shut down altogether. They will feel like you’re interrogating them.

Tip: Try using statements instead of questions to minimise the chance of defensiveness. For example, instead of “why are you always angry?” say, “you seem angry.”

8. Don’t be too hard on yourself!

Parenting is tough and you don’t have to get it right 100% of the time!

Tip:Look after yourself and remember to take time out, eat healthily, exercise and get a good night’s sleep.

Need extra help dealing with your argumentative teen?

Remember, your teen is undergoing an immense transformation. While they are becoming more able to reason, plan and make decisions, they are still practicing. Adolescents are faced with many complex choices and sometimes they can feel overwhelmed. They may break down, act on impulse, or make no decision at all. With your support, your adolescent will gain more experience to make choices with greater confidence.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious about parenting or your relationship with your teen, it may help to speak to a professional. At Ahead Psychology, we have experienced professionals who work with parents, teenagers and families to improve communication skills, emotional well being and relationships. Call Ahead Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3352 3577 or use our Request a Booking form.