Talking to Teens: 5 Skills for Success
How to argue constructively with your adolescent.
Imagine this: Your next-door neighbor calls to say she just saw your
16-year-old daughter and two friends hitchhiking near the high school. Worried
sick, you jump into your car and, luckily, find her. When you tell her to get
in the car, she rolls her eyes and s-l-o-w-l-y crawls into the front seat. As
you pull away, she complains you embarrassed her in front of her friends and
insists that hitchhiking is safe because she'd never take a ride with "some
Logical? No. Developmentally appropriate? Absolutely.
Teens and parents are notorious for locking horns over issues of safety,
dress, and speech. Arguments can become so vicious that they damage the
parent-child relationship for years to come.
But experts say parents can argue, constructively, with a teen -- and that
it's an important skill to learn. First, parents need to realize that teenage
brains aren't nearly as developed as their bodies. In fact, MRI studies have
shown that teens' frontal lobes -- which are responsible for a number of
"mature" thinking processes -- don't fully mature until the early
Given that your teen isn't operating with a full deck, how do you
Because the voice-of-reason frontal lobes are not yet matured, passionate
outbursts are developmentally appropriate in teens, whether you're talking
about instant messaging or the risks of oral sex.
Even if your teen is dramatically protesting every word that comes out of
your mouth, remain calm and model mature ways of handling emotion. Use
"I" statements to express your fear or outrage.
A 1997 study of 12,000 teens found that one of the single greatest
protections against high-risk behavior was the perception of a strong emotional
link to a parent. Maddening though a teen can be, blame, shame, and shouting
will shut him down. Instead, elicit information with phrases like "What
will result from your actions?" or "How will you handle that
problem?" Then respect his answers.
Give Plenty of Space
Teens need time alone and time with friends so they can fully hatch from
family life. That can be hard for parents, but letting fledgling teens explore
the world is just as important as hovering over accident-prone toddlers. Is it
nerve-racking? Yes. Is it necessary? Absolutely. Set limits and step back.
Say It Again -- and Again
Don't be afraid to follow up -- repeatedly, if necessary. If you pick up
your daughter hitchhiking, calmly explain the risks of abduction, rape, and
murder. Come back to the topic again the next day to be sure she understands.
Then brainstorm solutions for her transportation woes. That way she'll know you
care and that you respect her opinion.
Published November 2006.