Stop Arguing, Start Negotiating (With Your Teenager)

 Mother Nature is wise.
She gives us twelve years to develop a love
for our children before turning them into teenagers.
~William Galvin

One morning during a trip to Phoenix visiting my brother and his family, I heard some commotion coming from the back room. I checked it out and found my brother and his 16 year-old daughter arguing nose-to-nose over something.  Since my niece is from the same stubborn genetic pool as my brother, a stand off was inevitable.  I thought, unless a different approached is broached, the arguing would continue and end with some regretful words and hurt feelings. We only want the best for our children.  How we go about achieving that desire is ever so tricky during the teen years.

“You’re always trying to control me!  I’m sick and tired of you telling me what to do. I’ll do what I want– so leave me alone!”  “I’m your parent and you will listen to me and you will respect me!” Sound familiar?

Occasionally our frustration gets the best of us in how we exert our parental status. Sometimes it works. Sometimes we create more anger and defiance than we want.  Is there another approach?  Yes. Drawing upon the skills of mediation and negotiation can help reconnect in a new way.

It's difficult to decide whether growing pains are
something teenagers have - or are.
~Author Unknown

How?  One primary skill is to listen more perceptively. Listen for the real meaning behind what your teen is saying. Each of us is trying to satisfy a deeper need or value than what is often expressed.  It is within that deeper level we find more truth and honesty, and from where unseen solutions lie that transcends argument to satisfy both parties needs. 

Assume your teen is demanding to stay out late, or go places with friends that feel uncomfortable.  Instead of following that first instinct to deny permission, listen for the real meaning behind what is being said. Perhaps what they really are asking for is more independence and freedom – the deeper need.  Or, to do what their friends are allowed to do (fairness). As a parent, we really want to insure the safety and well being for our child.  We are still responsible until they are 18, if not longer.

To extend the example, if it is important to know your teen will be safe, and your teen asks for greater independence (within negotiable limits) or wants more fairness, then the making of a negotiation is at hand.  Begin by framing a question to include what both really want:  “How can I feel assured of your safety while you stay out late with your friends?”  Instead of arguing over who can do what, when and where, we problem solve together based on a question that brings forth the real issues. The goal is to seek a solution to satisfy both you and your teen’s needs.  The question moves most discussion away from you against me into how can we work together to find a solution.

The discussion may lead to a solution as simple as a phone call, or text message every half hour after a designated time, a parental chaperone, or a conversation with the friend’s parents.  Whatever the agreement, include the consequences if the agreement is not honored.  This will help instill the lesson of being more accountable for their choices.  If the agreement is not honored the consequences are known in advance, dismissing a later debate.

Adolescence is a period of rapid changes.
Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example,
a parent ages as much as 20 years.
~Author Unknown

One wise parent shared with me how he negotiates with his 16 year- old son staying out late.  “Jason does not have a car yet – so we let him use ours on weekends.  He often asks to stay out later than is comfortable for us.  He wants to stay out until 1 AM.  I tell him he can stay out until 1 AM, except the car has a curfew of 10 PM.   If he does not bring the car back at curfew, he knows he risks losing car privileges.  Rarely does he go back out after returning the car.  Once in a while I will extend the car curfew until 11pm or even midnight on special occasions. I‘ve found this to be an effective way to negotiate with my son.  He realizes there is a consequence to his actions and agreements.  A lesson I feel is important and want to instill as he enters adulthood.”

People often reflect back what we give them.  As we begin to treat our teens as the adults they are becoming, the sooner they may embrace the responsibilities of adulthood.  Begin negotiating, instead of arguing with your teen, and discover just how creative problem solving can be. 

The average teenager still has all the faults his parents outgrew.
~Author Unknown

Copyright © 2014 Mark Ortman