How Do I Get My Teenager to Stop Arguing About the Rules?



good communication with my teenager

It’s a trick- they won’t stop!

In fact, teenagers get a buzz from arguing with you. The good news is that teenage brains are wired to challenge authority, so if your teenager is arguing with you, you know their brain is working and developing just like it is supposed to do.

But what about how exhausting it is for parents? Adult brains are not wired to argue with their teenagers, and chances are you are already pretty exhausted from life in general, when along comes your teenager with an attitude and an argument. Here are some techniques and strategies you can learn to save your sanity and your relationship with your teenager!

What can you do to stop the arguing?

It is important to remember that an argument takes two people. If your teenager is argumentative, you can decline to argue back. This is as difficult as it sounds, but not impossible. Here are some specific ways to do it:

1. If it is something that you have already decided, for example a curfew for a party, you can calmly remind your teenager that they need to stick to the rule. If there is no new information, for example a friend’s parent who is picking them up isn’t available until half an hour after curfew, then there is no need to re-negotiate.

2. If your teenager is arguing about the rule itself, for example the curfew hour, then you can agree to have a discussion about that rule at a later time when you are both calm. Be sure to set a specific time in the near future, and stick to that so your teenager knows their wishes are important to you.

3. If you employ the first two strategies, your teenager will probably come to you saying that the situation has changed, there is new information, or this situation is special/different/more important and should be an exception to the rule. In this case, it is especially important to listen to their feelings (not their argument).

This is where the parenting job is tricky, but most rewarding– and by this I mean “eventually rewarding”; If you are a parent of a teen you already know that the gratitude will probably not appear on any regular basis before they are 20!

How do I show my teenager I am listening to their feelings?

Teens wanting to fit in with their friends

Teenagers are often hijacked by their emotions. They want to look cool to their friends. They are afraid of not seeming as grown-up as they wish they actually felt. Their fear of not “fitting in” is very strong, and they believe you are the only thing standing in the way. Arguing with you helps distract them from their own very deep fear that they are actually not cool.

When your teenager is arguing with you, they are focusing on their anger, and not the fear and frustration underneath. You can help them understand their feelings better by naming these emotions for them, “Yeah, I know it’s hard to follow rules that some kids don’t have to follow. You are worried they will think you are weird and different, and you just want to fit in with everyone else. It’s frustrating to have to stick to rules, especially when something is important to you.”

Give them the vocabulary to recognize other emotions besides anger.

Teenagers often experience worry, frustration, fear, sadness, and disappointment, and label them all as anger, which is more comfortable for them. It is important that they learn to name and accept a range of emotions as part of the experience of being human.

Teenagers who don’t learn to distinguish and accept the emotion “disappointment” have a very tough time as young adults. The Millennial Generation is realizing this now– all those ribbons for 10th place! There is a reason why “adulting” is the new catchphrase!

You can help your teenager immeasurably by teaching them the skill of naming and accepting their emotions. Once they have learned this, they will begin to see how all emotions are transitory, and it won’t be so scary.

You can model this by naming your own emotions for your children. When you feel angry, think about the emotion underneath, and name it for them to see. “I am so frustrated with this slow bank line!”,  “I am so disappointed I didn’t get that order today”, “I am so sad that my friend is sick. Life can seem so unfair sometimes; even though I know that people do get sick, I wish it wasn’t my friend”.

What about decisions on the fly?

Mom driving kids to school

Finally, a helpful hint for parents who get asked by their kids to make important decisions when they are very busy and/or distracted, such as when they are driving or at work. You can make a rule with your teens that if they ask you during these busy times, they have two choices-

–defer a discussion and decision until you are home, or

–accept “no” as the answer.

Your teenager may not know when they call you that you are extremely busy or driving, so you will have to try not to be frustrated with the interruption. You can just invoke the rule. “Honey, I am extremely busy and can’t make a decision right now. Can we talk about this tonight when I get home (or in an hour, or whatever) so I don’t have to just say no right now when I can’t think it through?”

Be Consistent!

The key to all of the above is consistency. If you aren’t consistent in your behavior around rules, your teenager will be forever trying to wheedle you into saying “yes” against your better judgment. If you haven’t been consistent in the past, it may take them a while to realize that things have changed. Be patient.

And above all, remember that parental mantra, “This too shall pass…”

What if I need more help?

 Parenting teenagers is exhausting and difficult. It can be isolating and frustrating. There’s no manual and there’s often conflicting advice. If you feel like you might need some more help understanding and communicating with your teenager– not to mention figuring out your own life now that things have changed so much– please call or email me for a free 20 minute phone consultation. I have years of experience helping parents just like you find their voice, improve their relationships, and live their best life!