If your adolescent is prone to disagreeing, arguing and otherwise verbally wrangling with you, remember that it’s perfectly normal. Depending upon your perspective, that’s either good news or bad news or both.
According to psychologist, Jack Hinman, argumentativeness is an important developmental pattern for adolescents. The good news? You’re not alone…every other parent of adolescents is experiencing some form of the same aggravation. The bad news? You can’t entirely control your teen’s arguing. Teens need to push boundaries and experiment with self-assertion in order to move from the compliant dependence of childhood to a more independent adult identity. It’s a messy process at times, but without some level of self-assertion, aka argumentativeness, your teen is likely to get a bit stuck on her journey toward young adulthood.
The best tool a parent has for managing this pubescent phenomenon, says Hinman, is relationship. Parents should view their relationship with their child as a bank account,” he says, “and they should make deposits at every opportunity so that the account is full when it comes time to make a withdrawal.” According to Hinman, who specializes in working with teens and family systems, deposits should take the form of positive attempts to connect, encourage and communicate. Attempts to deposit are most effective when the teen is open and relaxed. Withdrawals occur whenever there is a negative interaction such as a disagreement, the assignment of a consequence or the delivery of critical feedback.
Having a full bank account (i.e. a strong, positive relationship) maximizes a parent’s influence during difficult interactions. “Many parents experience a credibility crisis with their teens,” says Hinman. “Their assumption is that, “my child should listen to me because I’m a parent.” That approach simply won’t fly once that child reaches adolescence. Parents must work constantly to maintain a positive relationship with their children (especially during adolescence) if they hope to have influence when it counts the most.”
When parents reach a point where occasional arguing morphs into chronic defiance, they may not have any opportunities to make relational deposits. A chronically defiant teen will simply not allow positive interactions. It’s at this point, when lost ground cannot be recovered, that outside help from a therapist, clergy person or other trusted adult may be necessary for a parent to regain positive access to the relational account.
Jack Hinman, PhD, is the clinical director for Sunrise RTC, a residential treatment program for adolescent girls with emotional and behavioral problems. Sunrise is a member of the InnerChange family of adolescent treatment facilities.