Family arguments

Unhappy teenager screaming and yelling to father

Unhappy teenager screaming and yelling to father

Families are a wonderfully chaotic mix some days – love and delight one moment, all-out war the next. If there are teenagers in your home, or possibly a more grown-up ‘kid’ with a quick temper, you may need to learn to pick your battles.

Teenagers are a species all of their own – while they look like adults, their neural pathways are still developing, which can lead to a ‘0-100’ reaction when their beliefs are tested, or they are challenged with parental wisdom.

It may help to think of it this way – if you need to go outside, and there is a sudden downpour of rain, an absolute tropical cloudburst, you may choose to wait a moment, however inconvenient, to avoid getting soaked to the skin. The same can be true of trying to make a point to someone who is extremely angry or upset. During such emotions, the part of the brain which governs rational and logical thought switches off, and the ‘fight or flight’ response is triggered, which means the angry person feels like they are fighting for their life, rather than explaining why they wish to go to a party.

Some people prefer to have a row and ‘get it all out,’ and in some cases, it’s best to let teenagers feel like they express themselves. There need to be clear family rules, however – personal attacks and generalised statements don’t achieve anything and actually damage relationships at times – argue about an issue, and stick to it.

Your own fears have an impact on your reactions. It is entirely normal for families to be concerned for each other’s welfare and want to minimise any risks. However, as families grow and change, certain risks are necessary to create an environment for people to change and grow. While you may want to ‘bonsai’ your kids and never let them out of your sight (or into a car), they cannot learn independence and judgement if they are always being supervised.

Look at the real risks (not just those you fear) and at how your child usually handles similar situations. If they are normally responsible you can afford to give them a bit more freedom, if not you can feel confident in saying no.

Every generation of kids believes their parents don’t understand them and their particular issues. Instead of saying you do, ask them to help you understand. This may take several discussions but explain to them that part of adult rights is the mature responsibility of clear communication. You may also learn something from their point of view. Ask them why they are so passionate about the party/computer game/trip away and listen closely – are they feeling disconnected from friends or bullied/pressured somewhere?

Ask for practical information – where, what time, with whom, how much – these questions elicit factual responses, which can help de-escalate conflict, rather than just emotionally-driven to-ing and fro-ing.

Nobody is ever 100% right, 100% of the time. It’s a good idea to let go of the need to ‘win’ arguments. For kids to grow up with good critical-thinking skills, they need to learn that they are listened to and, at times, may be right. If something keeps coming up, it’s obviously important.

Given that you won’t resolve anything in the heat of the moment, you may need several chats to come to a conclusion that everyone can live with. Model reasonable behaviour so that your child can learn it – so instead of “I said so, that’s why,” try “this obviously really matters to both of us, I’d like to give this some thought, and I suggest you do to, so let’s talk about it again after dinner.” Some decisions do take careful thought and striking when the iron is cold, not red hot, is often the best solution.

Never let an argument end on an ultimatum. A little irony and humour can sometimes add levity to a stressful situation, as can asking for a timeout. Remember, when anyone is angry, they are not able to process logic well, or hear other points of view. Always wrap up an argument calmly, even if it takes a bit of time out to achieve that.