Your kid is arguing with you about going over to a friend’s house on a school night or about getting that new hoodie (that they clearly don’t need) or about why you should allow them access to TikTok. It’s extremely frustrating, especially when they won’t let it go and just pester you over and over. Perhaps it’s carry-over trauma from the argumentative toddler years that causes parents to give up and go into shutdown mode just to get the arguing to stop.
Parenting expert and psychologist Dr. Lucie Hemmen recently explained why we should see arguments with our older kids as opportunities to teach them important life skills and not simply an act of defiance. “The reality about human interaction is that our teens need to learn how to argue,” shares Dr. Hemmen. “They need to learn how to get in people’s faces, hopefully skillfully, so that they don’t get walked on [and] so that they have a voice in their adult lives. And so where did they learn how to do that? They’re learning it from you.”
If your child resorts to bugging you over and over until you give in against your will, they are being rewarded. You are reinforcing this disrespectful arguing technique and setting them up for failure in the future. “What would be better… would be for that teen to have learned way before the teen years that that technique was going to get her nowhere,” Dr. Hemmen says.
Take the opportunity to show your kid that this arguing technique is causing you to shut down and that the answer is still “no” when this happens. Dr. Hemmen explained how this worked when her teen daughter wanted to go to a large concert: “[W]hat I would do is I would say, ‘Okay, I want you to anticipate all of my concerns and all my questions and I want you to write something up.'” Once her daughter did that, Dr. Hemmen would be able to address the concerns and make an informed decision that wasn’t under the pressure of an argument. “That way she [her daugher] was actually learning a technique that would be really helpful to her in other parts of her life and through adulthood.”
In another TikTok, Dr. Hemmen shares three reasons that teens argue with you:
- Brain Development: The part of their brain that governs logic and reasoning has had a growth spurt, which spurs them to practice their new skill.
- Autonomy: Your teen becomes an individual by differentiating themselves from you. Little kids want to be just like you; teens want/need to become their own people.
- Empowerment: Teens have their own ideas and opinions. To grow into functioning adults, they feel a need to take more control.
The crux of the message is this: Don’t wait until your kids are teens to start developing these positive argument skills. Start addressing them with your elementary school-aged kids when they arise so that they’ll be one step ahead when the teen years roll around.