Teens who are able to hold their own during family discussions/arguments, are better able to resist negative peer influences. In a recent segment on KTVI-TV in St. Louis, Dr. Russell Hyken discusses how to argue productively.
According to a recent study from the University of Virginia, parents who encourage their children to have their own opinions and who make a point of discussing/debating tough issues have children who are less likely to succumb to peer pressure.
When we discuss arguing/debating in this context, I am not referring to emotionally dis-regulated outbursts. And it is never acceptable to participate in over-the-top name-calling, or knock-down, drag-out arguments. Heated discussions of appropriate intensity and length are, however, growth-promoting opportunities.
Children benefit from having the opportunity to articulate and defend their own opinion on home turf and hear what their parents think. In fact, it is a safe way for kids to practice standing up for oneself. If teens don’t have a place to discuss tough issues related to sexual relationships, drug/alcohol use, curfews, and other teen concerns, then they may resort to experimenting or acting out without the benefit of parental guidance.
Furthermore, if teens are going to embrace the values and opinions of their family more than those of their peers, they need to feel that mom and dad understand them and will listen to them. Additionally, kids that are secure in their ability to turn to their parents when they are under stress are less likely to feel overly dependent on their friends and are thus, less likely, to be influenced by peer behaviors.
To encourage these conversations, let’s start with how you shouldn’t argue. Going through the motions of listening is not enough, drive by empathy doesn’t work. So, don’t cut your kids off, minimize, or be sarcastic. If you do then they are going to ignore or cut you off because they do not feel safe expressing themselves.
Parents need to learn to understand how their kids are thinking and to see things from their point of view. If you can do this, your kids will be more open.
Here are a few tips that will set the tone for productive discussions.
- Model appropriate communication strategies and resolution skills. Keep voices low as yelling escalates the situation.
- Demonstrate listening by engaging in appropriate turn taking exchanges and respond with clarifying statements that convey understanding.
- End your arguments properly. Keep discussions short and resolve the conflict. Sometimes this will mean agreeing to disagree.
- Lastly, remember you are the parent. In matters of health and safety, it is okay to lay down the law.
The ultimate goal of listening/arguing is to foster your teen’s autonomy while maintaining a positive relationship with them. Listen, respond, and respect what they have to say even if you disagree. If you can do this, your kids will ultimately make good decisions. And if they don’t they will at least be open to discussing the situation with you.