Skip to main content

Oregon Family Magazine

Making Sense of Teen Arguments

08/06/2012 ● By Anonymous
Any parent of a teen knows that the adolescent years can be bumpy, to say the least. They are filled with mood swings, hormone changes and oftentimes a lot of arguing. But don't be discouraged; it's not all bad. The good thing about arguing is that it provides teachable moments. And that's what the teen years are all about. Parents have multiple opportunities to teach, shape and mold their teen. New research suggests that having wholesome arguments with your teen may actually help them say "NO" to peer pressure. As parents, we all know that that can be a good thing.

According to a new study from the University of Virginia, teens who back down quickly during an argument with their mother had more difficulty resisting peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol than teens who were able to calmly, persuasively, and persistently argue their point with Mom. But wait a minute, this doesn't mean that you let your teen win all the arguments. What it does mean is that parents are instrumental in teaching their teens to be confident, secure and able to stand their ground.

The study, which was published in the journal Child Development, included an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse group of 157 adolescents. Researchers followed 13-year-olds and their moms for three years.

When the kids were 13, researchers observed the teen in two conversations with their mother. During the first conversation, the mother and teen discussed a topic that they had previously argued about (such as grades or rules). The researchers noted how often the teen backed down and gave in easily.

In the second conversation, the teen asked their mother for advice on something that they needed help with. The objective of the second conversation was to assess whether the moms illustrated warmth, positivity, and support. When the teens turned 15, they filled out drug and alcohol use questionnaires. A year later, they returned and filled out the questionnaires again.

What did they find? Researchers found at ages 15 and 16, the teens were more likely to be influenced by the drug and alcohol use of their friends if they'd received less support from their mother and backed down more easily in the arguments. Teens who argued with their mothers less effectively were also found to be more susceptible to peer pressure in hypothetical situations posed by the researchers.

So, how do you encourage your teen to argue the right way? Here are some tips that might help you...

  1. Stay calm and allow your teen to make their point.
  2. Be an example. Model to your teen how to argue, not fight. Your teen will follow your lead without even knowing it. So remember, you still have the upper hand.
  3. Respond, don't react. Talk to them and don't yell or shout. Do you listen well when someone's yelling at you? Your teen probably won't either.
  4. Listen, Listen, Listen. As a parent, I know how hard this can be sometimes, but just listen. Whether you agree with your teen's stance or not, give them the floor to express themselves; they deserve that.
  5. Keep reminding yourself that during every argument your teen is learning. Make sure they're getting the message you want them to.
  6. Know when to call it quits. If you find that you're getting too irritated with your teen to effectively argue, then stop. Pay attention to your body signals, heartbeat, breathing rate, muscle tension, etc. It's okay to continue the discussion later.
  7. Don't be a control freak; you don't have to win all the time.
  8. End the argument the right way. For instance, if you've modeled listening, calmness and acceptance during the argument, but there's no way you're giving in to what they want; then let them know the reason, even though they might not agree. On the other hand, if your teen has made their point and you agree then give them credit.
So, the next time you get into an argument with your teen, remember the tips above and give them a shot. You may be doing your teen a whole lot of good down the road.  Here's to healthy arguing!

While this particular study focused on mothers because they spent the most time with the child the results would probably hold true to arguments between fathers and teens as well. It isn't who the argument is with; it is how it's handled that's important.

Quick Fact: The tongue is one of the most powerful muscles in the body. Tongue lashing in an argument can destroy relationships. Our tongue holds the power to uplift or destroy, choose your words wisely.

Fair Fight Rules:

  1. Don't use "You" in an argument. A "You" statement is a way to place all of the blame on the other person as well as put them on the defensive. For example, if you walk into your teens room and it looks like a tornado hit it, you may be tempted to say, "You never clean up after yourself!" Well, your teen may have just cleaned up after breakfast and may come back with "You never appreciate anything that I do!" As you can see, this conversation is not leading to a productive outcome. So, when angry don't use "You."
  2. Don't use Absolutes, such as, "never", "always", or "must". In the example above, "never" was used. In an argument absolutes are usually accompanied with a "You" statement. Want a recipe for disaster? Then couple some "You" statements with an absolute.
  3. Don't name call; it only adds fuel to the fire.
  4. Don't cross your arms, finger point, or ball up your fists. These gestures are defensive and imply being closed off. When people feel shut out they cease to listen and begin to retaliate.
  5. Don't YELL! If you're in close proximity to someone, there is no need to raise your voice. Either they've made a choice to listen or not. Truth is when you're angry and yelling; you're increasing your heart rate, blood pressure and straining your voice. On top of that, your teen stopped listening once you started yelling.
  6. Don't Hit - anyone. Easily put no need to strike anyone out of anger. Instead, use that pent up energy on a heavy bag or hit the asphalt for a good run. But never, ever, ever hit your teen out of anger no matter how many buttons they push.
  7. Don't bring up the past. The past needs to remain in the past. If you're throwing out things that happened a year ago, then you're the one with the problem, not your teen. Dredging up the past shows that you haven't dealt with what happened appropriately. It's time to forgive and move in a forward motion.
  8. Don't interrupt. Let your teen express herself in a conflict. Then you can share your side. This approach will teach your teen mutual respect and proper conflict resolution.
  9. Don't assume you're right. If you listen, you may be able to understand where your teen's coming from. Who knows, you may be wrong.
  10. Don't hold a grudge. When it's over, it's over. Forgive and move on after you've resolved an argument. Let bygones be bygones.
Quick Fact: Research suggests that approximately 90% of our communication is done non-verbally. What is your body saying when you're angry?

When we're angry and start arguing, our intent is to be heard. However, we have funny ways of expressing ourselves and oftentimes hurt those we care most about with our words and actions. By applying these basic "Fair Fight" rules, you can express yourself and your feelings without damaging relationships.

by Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, MS, LPC