Teach Your Teenager How to Argue

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 049 · Duration: 00:13:22

Teach Your Teenager How to Argue

Some teenagers can be pretty hostile when they argue for what they want and parents can have a hard time knowing how to deal with it.

Teach Your Teenager How to Argue

Miranda of Fort Wayne, Indiana writes:

My 14 yr old daughter seems to argue every limit and request. When I try to explain things, we just have an argument. I don’t like to use, “because I’m the parent.” How can I be reasonable and still not end up in an argument?

Excellent question Miranda.

On the one hand you don’t want to get into an unproductive argument. On the other, you don’t want to be autocratic or inflexible. So let’s look at what’s going on and where we want to go.

Healthy & Unhealthy Arguing

Believe it or not, we want to teach our children and teenagers to be good arguers. Now don’t get upset with me here. I said good arguers and I mean that there is a healthy and unhealthy way to argue. We all know the unhealthy way right? I ignore your thoughts and fight back with mine, perhaps louder and more emotionally, and who ever uses the most emotion or has the most power wins. That’s what we don’t want. Unfortunately, we think of that as arguing, not bad arguing or fighting.

There is such a thing as good arguing. That’s when we actually use reasonable arguments to present different sides of an issue. It’s an important part of learning, being open to hearing different ways of thinking about things, and being able to explain our position in a thoughtful and reasoned manner.

When we disagree and present our arguments, we want our communication to be calm and respectful of the other person. That’s the way that allows each person to consider what the other is saying, for the parties to be able to be open and hear each other. That opens things up to compromise, collaboration, and accommodation. Even if parties can’t find a point of agreement, at least the relationship isn’t injured.

When we disagree & present arguments, we want to be calm & respectful of the other person.Click To Tweet

In the current political climate, we don’t see much of that. Reason seems to be out the window and whoever has the most power wins. It’s not healthy in our democracy and it’s not healthy in our families.

Time To Start Teaching

Miranda, you’re struggling with your teenager who is fighting with words or not arguing in a healthy way, and you don’t want to shut her down. Excellent.

What’s our goal? Our goal is to raise our teenagers to be well functioning, thoughtful, and reasonable adults. We want them to be able to think things through, articulate their thoughts and beliefs well, and be open to other well-reasoned thoughts and beliefs.

Our goal is to raise our teenagers to be well functioning, thoughtful, and reasonable adults. Click To Tweet

This is vital in this age of information overload with tons of misinformation coming at them at all time.

Well, how are we going to do that? It’s best to start early. When we listen to our children and validate their thoughts, they learn that they can talk reasonably and that adults, including their parents, will listen. When parents explain their reasoning to their children, children learn that there are reasons for things and even when they don’t like the outcome, they learn about reasoning and they feel respected.

Encourage discussion about books and movies: what do they think about a character, what was it about? That way they will feel relevant, like their thoughts and feelings are respected and they work at and develop their thinking. This is the path to raising empowered kids, teens, and eventually, empowered adults.

Put It Into Action

Okay, so here you are with a 14 year old teen who isn’t willing to listen only to fight for what she wants. Let’s say your daughter is temperamentally challenging, sensitive, and reactive. Let’s look back see how this developed.

Here’s one possible scenario:

She was always challenging and she and her parents built a control battle.

There was too much on her parent’s plate to teach and encourage discussion, so she developed a victim mentality: “I don’t get enough, you’re mean to me, no one listens or cares about what I want.

Now she doesn’t have the right attitude, skill, or willingness to have a reasoned discussion, so she just fights.

Another common example would be if parents were on the indulgent side and if daughter wanted something, parents made sure she got it. Particularly if she was upset that she wasn’t getting something, and parents gave her what she wanted so she wouldn’t be upset.

Miranda, your current situation could be an extension of one of those scenarios, a combination of them, or something entirely different.

In any case, a healthy response is going to look pretty much the same.

First and foremost, let’s stop any of our control battle behaviors. Let’s stay positive, supportive, and let our 14 year old know we want to support her in getting what she wants and that we’re ready to hear her.

Here is a way to change the pattern and start to teach healthy discussing, healthy arguing:

When your daughter is talking in her hostile fighting way, don’t react. Take out a pad of paper and write down her arguments and her reasons. When she asks you what you’re doing, tell her that you want to make sure you understand her, so you’re taking notes. When she’s done ask her if she’s ready to continue the discussion.

Summarize what you think her points are and ask her if you have them right. If she agrees you do, let her know that you would like to express your point of view and ask if is she willing to listen. Then express your specific concerns in a clear, concise, non-emotional manner.

If there is a way to compromise so that parental concerns are addressed, see if you can develop that. If not, at least acknowledge her disappointment and express optimism that other things or activities that she’s going to want will be more appropriate & attainable and under what circumstances they will be attainable.

Here’s what you’ll want to do going forward:

  • Have discussions about less loaded issues, why is that movie popular, etc.
  • Talk directly about the need to be able to talk and work together, that getting things and getting privileges happen when you’re talking with a reasonable person, not a hostile emotional person.
  • Talk about the difference between arguing and discussing and negotiating. Negotiating includes listening skills, showing respect towards the other person and their needs & concerns. It includes the ability to compromise, and look for win/win outcomes.

This is a lot to expect from a 14 year old, so take it slow and look for small improvements to build on.

Negotiating includes listening and showing respect towards the other person's needs & concerns.Click To Tweet

Now, as soon as your daughter offers up some reasonableness, if you can, make a conditional compromise.

For instance, if she wants to be out later than usual, you could make a conditional agreement, such as, “Okay, let’s try the later time, and let’s see if you have the energy and focus tomorrow to be able to get your homework done and not be so tired that you’re in a bad mood all day.”

That way, you’re telling her that you’re not trying to hold her back or control her. You’re teaching her how to make high quality decisions, decisions that include the cost and long-term impact.

Take the Challenge

Let’s raise children and teenagers who are good arguers, who can present their thoughts & feelings and know that adults respect what they are saying, and are willing to listen and respect adult thoughts and feelings. Rather than be incensed by hostile teen communication, let’s teach them to argue with respect and reason. If we want them to listen to us, we need to listen to them.

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to Miranda from Fort Wayne, Indiana for her question.

I still have a few spots left in my new 6-week online Empowered Teen Parenting Workshop so come on over to my website and signup today! Registration ends this Friday, so act now!

And while you’re there, sign up for my weekly email where you will receive my weekly blog or podcast. I’d also love to have a chance to answer your questions! You can submit those on the website as well.

Do you know someone who might benefit from reading my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle? It’s readily available, inexpensive, and could make a big difference in their life.

And please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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  1. Talk about the difference between arguing and discussing and negotiating. That’s a great point. Nice post!
    Having a growing up kids is really a challenge. Specially teenagers. We need to be prepared for some mood shifts, need for more privacy, and a huge appetite! I should know, coz I have three. What really helped me a lot is finding them a mentor. It made all the difference. This site is like a virtual mentor: http://www.preparemykid.com

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