Do you struggle with a teen who frequently challenges your authority? Most parents of teens experience this problem. "It just comes with the territory" many parents would say. Today I want us to look at a parent's question about his teen and one effective strategy that any parent can use to help a teen "get with the program."
Question: My 13-year-old son loves to argue with me about everything. I mean everything. This includes doing his homework, completing chores, and even the proper pronunciation of words. I get so frustrated and fed up that I sometimes end up yelling. I know that the teen years are difficult, and I don’t want to come across as being the mean crazy father who screams at his kid, but I’m not sure what else there is to do.
Who doesn’t love a crazy screaming father? Well, just about everyone. Good idea to avoid that parenting trap. Now the question is how to untangle yourself from this mess. There is good news in this regard: it is simple! Do not argue with your son. Note, I did not say it was easy, just simple.
“Then he won’t do what I’ve told him to do” you respond. Perhaps true, but so what? As the parent you hold all the power. You determine what school activities he may participate in, what weekend activities he can enjoy, the money he receives, the clothes he has to wear, the food he eats, whether he has a cell phone, and so forth.
If you ask that he sweep the back porch and he argues with you, walk away. If it is not swept in 30 minutes go and do the task yourself. Without complaint. Better yet, make sure to smile and hum a tune while you sweep (Pro Tip: “Staying Alive” is a classic sweeper’s tune. Very “Old School” but upbeat).
When you are done with your work step back and admire that spanking clean porch… and refrain from telling your son that he should have been the one sweeping, or getting angry with him, etc.
Now comes the life lesson.
Within a few days your son will come to you with a request. “Hey Dad, could I have ten dollars to go to the movies with my friends this Saturday?” This is when you respond, without malice (in fact, a sad tone works well in these situations) “Gosh son, I would love to give you a Hamilton, but I can’t do that… You see, I asked you to sweep the back porch the other day and you ignored me. If you’ll ignore what I tell you to do when I’m standing in front of you why would I expect you to follow my rules when you are out with friends?”
At this point it is a good idea to shake your head sadly, barely holding back those tears of sympathy that are welling up in your eyes. “I really wish I could give you the green light on this one, I really do, but it just doesn’t make any sense. You’ll need to stay home.”
Will your son argue? Yes, and you’ll calmly respond “I’m sure I would feel like that too if I were in your spot. Even so, my decision stands and the conversation is closed.” You then walk away and savor this small victory.
Why savor the victory? Because the entire goal of all of this is to help your son learn to take responsibility, and for him to express respect for authority… even when he would rather not. These are key lessons he needs to learn in order to succeed as an adult!
It will not take too many exchanges like this to get your son to stop arguing. He will come to understand that it gains him nothing. But keep in mind, your son will not stop arguing with you until you start calmly and consistently asserting your authority. The best part is that your relationship with him will grow closer and much stronger.
FOUR TAKE AWAY POINTS
1. You hold tremendous power as a parent (even if you don’t feel that way at times). Use this power wisely.
2. It is difficult to effectively parent your teen when you are angry, or otherwise emotionally overwrought. Don’t make decisions based on your emotions. It only leads to bad decisions, and causes your teen to believe that he/she can get the better of you.
3. Your goal in making decisions about your teen should always include the consideration “How can I help my child be better prepared for adulthood?”
4. Do not argue with your teen. Discussions are fine. In fact calm discussions about areas of disagreement are great (your teen will feel that he/she is “heard”, it gives you insight into how your teen thinks, it can even draw you closer). But even with discussions you need to learn when to end the conversation. This is usually when: your teen has become rude; other things need to be taken care of and time is running out; the subject has been adequately discussed. Unless you are ending the discussion because your teen has become rude, let him or her have the last word (“OK, I think we’ve pretty thoroughly talked this over and clearly we disagree. But you go ahead and have the last word if you like.”).