Stop Fighting With Your Teen
Slammed doors and screeching arguments can be facts of life with a teen in your household. Here, how to defuse the fireworks.
In this corner, weighing in at 142 pounds and five feet three inches tall, we have Deb, the frustrated, conflict-averse yet relatively enlightened mother of two from Bloomington, IN. And in the other corner, her 17-year-old daughter, Annelise, who is convinced she's old enough to stay out until two in the morning because she's going to college next year and you might as well get used to it already....
I don't know how it happened, but somehow my happy home has turned into a verbal boxing ring. I won't pull any punches: I hate fighting. I'll do anything to avoid confrontation, even if that includes pretending I don't notice the half-eaten bagel with cream cheese that has been sitting on my daughter's nightstand for two weeks. But it turns out I'm not doing my kids any favors. Fighting - done fairly - delivers a huge payoff: a stronger relationship with your child, and the confidence that comes from knowing you've equipped her with emotional survival skills that will last a lifetime.
Fighting fair helps your kid build backbone while learning how to manage his emotions. "Conflict is part of life, and our kids need to know how to handle it with their friends, employers, and partners, and their own kids someday," says Joanne Stern, Ph.D., author of Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life. "This is your time to prepare them for the day they leave home and don't have you to help them."
Fighting is also your chance to say, "I want you to have your own thoughts and feelings, even if they clash with mine. And when that fight is over, I'm still going to love you."
Gone are the days when you could resolve conflicts with a withering glare, the all-purpose "Because I'm the mom, that's why," or the famous countdown to doom ("You have five seconds to remove your feet from your sister's head. Five...four...three..."). Teens and tweens are sophisticated thinkers, and they're notoriously moody - which means they'll find even more reasons to challenge your authority, says Stern. So you might as well learn how to make every fight count.
Rule 1: Establish Some Boundaries
One day when you're not mid-argument, start a conversation about the inevitability, as well as the benefits, of conflict, suggests Stern. You might say something like, "You're getting to the age where you're going to have your own ideas and we're going to disagree on some things, and that's normal. You can talk to me about anything, but you also need to know that I'm the parent, so the buck stops with me. Things may get heated, and that's normal, too. Let's set some rules now, before we fight." Explains Stern: "You want them to know that it's normal to feel angry sometimes. If you try to deny anger, it turns into resentment, bitterness, and revenge. We want to encourage our kids to experience conflict and get past it." Then it's up to you both to decide what's off-limits - behavior like cursing, name-calling, damaging your home. Stepping out of bounds will carry the consequences you, as the parent, have determined.