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Short and Sweet Summary: It’s easy to get sucked into never-ending battles with your teenager when you mistakenly try to reason with an unreasonable adolescent. Stop future arguments in their tracks with theses brilliant parenting hacks instead.
Do you have teenagers who like to argue?
I do. Grrr….
My oldest is like the Energizer Bunny of arguing. All-time champion, willing to die on the hill, and refuses to concede defeat.
It’s irritating as hell, not to mention exhausting. I admit this quality will serve him well later in life but getting through these episodes as a solo parent is madness. I escape arguments feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck.
Something had to change because I was headed precariously close to a nervous breakdown. My arguing adolescent sucked the stamina right out of me.
I started seeing a therapist to discuss how my challenging teen could send me into a flustered frenzy so quickly. My normal, coherent and reasonable discussions turned into screamfests of epic proportions and I needed someone to help me start seeing clearly and speaking with conviction again.
I struck therapist gold, people. Seriously.
If I had it to do all over again I would’ve started seeing my therapist MUCH sooner. He cracked the parenting code within our first meeting and I’ve reaped the benefits of his brilliant parenting hacks ever since.
For all of you solo parents out there with challenging teenagers, I feel your pain. In my bones.
Read on, mama warriors, as I share with you the things you can do to deflate your teenager’s fiery arguments and regain your rightful parental control. I’ve tried this. It works.
Keep Your Worrying in Check
The very first parenting hack my therapist shared with me was this gem of wondrous wisdom:
Wait a friggin’ minute.
I was doing ALL of the worrying. And I didn’t even know it.
You see, I’m a worst-case-scenario thinker. I also have an irrational fear of dying. I also have an irrational fear of my children dying.
Which means I’m pretty much scared of everything all the time. Let me tell you this is no way to live. It’s also no way to raise children. Especially when said children become teenagers and are biologically programmed to make push boundaries and make stupid decisions. And do the exact opposite of whatever you say.
Or is it just mine?
Anyway, teenagers literally don’t have the capacity to think ahead because their brains aren’t fully developed. So, the consequences (aka worry) aren’t anticipated as much as we adults like to think they are. Read this if you’re interested in learning more about why teenage brains are hard to understand.
But, back to the worrying…my therapist was essentially the first person to give me permission to stop worrying about EVERYTHING. I tried too hard to protect my kids from any harm because our family had been through so much already. I wasn’t prepared to let anything good or bad happen to my kids, but my hypervigilance wasn’t good for them either.
Grief clouds your vision sometimes, doesn’t it?
My therapist was very clear that I only needed to worry about two things:
Everything else is on them.
My teenagers need to worry about their own grades, navigate their own friendships, deal with authority and sometimes fail. Letting my kids experience the consequences of their actions without stepping in at a moment’s notice to fit it prepares them for adulthood and becoming functional members of society.
I knew that intellectually, but emotionally it was a whole different story.
With my trying so hard to keep everything on an even keel, I wasn’t letting them solve their own problems or make their own mistakes. I mean, in my own mind I kinda-sorta talked myself into believing that I let them make their own mistakes. But, realistically, I didn’t.
Since my a-ha moment I keep asking myself the question “does this affect their health?” or “does this affect their safety?” when deciding whether or not to get overly involved in my kids’ decisions. As soon as I realized I don’t have to (and shouldn’t) worry about (and circumvent) everything to be a good parent, I started seeing things clearer. And breathing easier.
It was a huge weight off my shoulders to realize my kids can learn to fend for themselves and face their own consequences. Actually, they MUST make their own mistakes. It’s the only way they’ll learn.
Even though they’re grieving.
OK, Parenting Hack message received loud and clear!
Choose Your Battles and Enforce Those Rules
No one wins a battle of wills. So, it was up to me to decide which battles are worth fighting for in the first place.
I fought ALL the battles until I realized I needed to pick and choose. For my sanity.
My therapist threw this zinger at me in one of our sessions:
Now, some parents don’t care if their kid’s room is a mess, if he wears wrinkled clothes or if he swears in front of them. I personally don’t like any of scenarios.
My kids have to pick up their rooms at least once a week. Just so you know, it’s not like they dutifully obey and clean their rooms weekly without any additional prodding. Quite the opposite, actually. I still have to remind them because they would completely ignore the rule if I didn’t enforce it.
But that’s a battle I choose.
Surprisingly, my son decided one day to iron his work pants because they were wrinkled. I didn’t have to ask him to iron the pants this time, he did it on his own. I would’ve fought that battle, but it turns out I didn’t have to.
Hmmnnn...maybe they do listen once in a while.
Maybe you don’t like it when your kid takes too long to do chores. Or doesn’t fill the gas up in your car after driving back and forth to work for a week. Those rules should be enforced for both your benefit and your kids’.
Whatever battles you choose, make sure they’re rules you’re willing to enforce. There’s no sense in setting a boundary only to keep moving the boundary lines.
That doesn’t work. Like, ever.
Your Parental Power is in Cause and Effect
This is what my kids hear when the lecturing starts:
BLAH, BLAH, BLAH…MEHH…BLAH, BLAH…MEHH, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.
My kids tune out the minute they hear something even remotely related to a “You need to think about X…” or “I’ve asked you a million times to do Y!”
My therapist’s third parenting hack is ingenious. It makes perfect sense:
I’m an explainer. A rationalizer. I have good reasons for my decisions and I go on and on arguing my reasons ad nauseum. It’s like I’m determined to get my kids to see my way of thinking. But my kids are determined to get me to see their way of thinking. And we go around in circles until I forget what my point was in the first place.
My therapist reminds me at practically every session that I can’t lecture my way into my kids’ head, but I can suggest the results of specific decisions. My parenting power is in showing them cause and effect and letting them figure out how they’re going to use it.
It goes something like this:
Instead of saying, “you have to pass your math class or you’ll never get your diploma!” Or threatening an unachievable consequence like, “you have to pass your math class or you’ll be grounded for the entire summer!”
You could say:
“Your counselor reminded you that if you don’t pass your math class, you’ll have to retake it this summer. That means you might miss our summer vacation, but I know you’ll do what’s best for you.”
I’ve used this one.
The thing is, I can’t make my son pass his class. He has to want to pass his class. I’ve gotten tutors, mandated after-school peer sessions, taken away privileges, and the list goes on. If he doesn’t want to pass his class, there isn’t a whole lot I can do about it.
But another natural consequence of not passing and/or not retaking his math class is 1) going to school an extra semester after everyone else graduated 2) not receiving a diploma.
Natural consequences are so much better than my mom-mandated consequences. I made things more difficult than they had to be by forcing my opinions and trying to reason with an unreasonable teenager.
My therapist’s suggestion to stop lecturing and simply point out the consequence of a specific decision has helped tremendously.
Another example goes like this:
Instead of saying, “Your behavior is unacceptable! You can’t punch holes in walls or wreck things in my house and expect to get away with it. How would you feel if I destroyed your things?”
You say: “If you damage any of my property you will be required to pay for its repair.” Or, “If you damage any of my property you won’t be able to take driver’s training for another year.”
I’ve used this one, too.
Teenagers want to make their own decisions. Instead of telling my son what he has to, or should, do for every scenario, I simply make sure he understands the consequences of whatever decision he chooses.
BTW, my son paid for a $500 repair when he kicked a dent in my van.
No arguments. Just a reminder of the effect of his decisions.
I Don’t Expect You to Understand My Logic
The flip side of Parenting Hack #3 is when your kids get mad at you for making the necessary parental decisions.
Like, limiting screen time or calling your kid’s friend’s parents for verification of plans.
My kids really hate those.
So, my therapist suggested a great way to stop the hatred in its tracks using a very simple method:
I can’t expect my kids to understand why I do what I do as a parent because they aren’t parents. Let alone adults.
When I put time limits on my 14-year-old’s iPhone he was livid. His grades aren’t where they need to be right now, so I took away access (or put a limit on) everything on his phone except calling/texting and Google classroom (for assignments). He should be doing homework and/or studying and not playing games or checking social media on his phone.
Does he understand my logic?
Does he have to?
So I can agree that my decision frustrates him. I can agree that he doesn’t understand my decision-making process. As long as I follow up with the very candid, reasonable response of, “I don’t expect you to understand my logic.”
That doesn’t leave much room for arguing, does it? Not everything requires justification.
This is similar to “because I said so” but far less annoying!
I’m Not Feeling Very Generous/Charitable
When I’m treated poorly or disrespectfully, I don’t feel very generous. It’s amazing how my kids can act like monsters and then turn around and expect me to do something nice for them.
My therapist’s next parenting hack is a great one. This goes along with cause and effect, but, basically, when I don’t feel like complying with my teenager’s request when I’ve been ignored or talked back to I simply let him know I’m not feeling very generous.
I’m sorry to say that I’ve used this one many times.
Teenager: “Mom, will get me some Reese’s Pieces when you stop at the store?”
Me: “No. I’m not feeling very generous after you yelled at me that my rules are stupid and I’m annoying.”
Teenager: “Mom, I need a ride to Aidan’s house.”
Me: “No. You can walk. I’m not feeling very generous after you refused to empty the dishwasher because you didn’t think it was your turn.”
The thing is, it works!
Instead of just saying, “no” the addition of “I’m not feeling very generous” relays the message that I’m not willing to do nice things if I don’t get nice behavior in return. I don’t have to justify, rationalize or explain.
It actually works so well that sometimes my son will begin his request with, “are you feeling generous enough to drive me to Aidan’s house today?”
Ahhhh…I love it when they take stock of the situation and act accordingly.
It gives me much needed hope that I’m doing the right thing even though I’m challenged on a daily basis.
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way
When I described my son’s callous attitude toward me, my therapist suggested a bit of psychological intervention. Instead of dictating how my son should act/talk, he offered up this insightful nugget:
When my son yells, “I hate you!” I instinctually yell back, “You can’t talk to me that way!” or “You hurt my feelings!” As if stating the obvious was a sure-fire way to correct the problem.
Spoiler alert: It isn’t.
It didn’t seem to matter when I told my son he hurt my feelings or his words were unacceptable. I’ve had so many “I hate you” confrontations with my teen, I sought my therapist’s advice about how to handle these blow-ups. What I did clearly wasn’t working.
He recommended an emotional, not combative or dictatorial, response.
By letting my son know I’m aware I can’t change his mind (while heaving a deep sigh and shrugging my shoulders) I’m sending the message that I’m unhappy, but not willing to fight about it. First, I validate that I heard him by saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” And then I lob the zinger, “And, it makes me sad that there’s nothing I can do to change your mind.”
Instead of telling him his words are hurtful (obvious), I concede that I’m distressed, without the accompanying lecture. The simple words and body language are enough to get my emotional point across.
This stopped my kid in his tracks.
After an “I hate you!” episode, I calmly used this effect parenting hack. Complete with a sad face and deep sighs.
He looked at me funny, you know, head tilted to the side. And then he asked me if I was mocking him. I confused him.
Our typical tyrannical episode turned into me saying my peace and walking away – calmly and with clarity.
He apologized later.
I don’t think so.
Widow Wrap Up
Solo parenting is HARD WORK. If it weren’t for my therapist’s parenting hacks I might have succumbed to a nervous breakdown. Seriously. I was precariously close.
I needed an objective viewpoint to help me sift through all of the anger, resentment, and grief layers that accompanied our family’s interactions.
We are all grieving and sad. We’re also angry. And confused. When you add in the turbulent teenage years, it’s a recipe for disaster.
By using these parenting hacks you give yourself a chance to step back and get a clearer perspective. If you worry too much, don’t pick and choose your battles or try to reason with an unreasonable teenager, I urge you to give these ideas a try.
You might just find some peace in your house, too.
- Confessions of a Solo Parent – What Widows Wish People Knew
- The Biggest, Most Epic Parenting Fail I’m Still Recovering From
- A Parent’s Death Teaches Kids About Life’s Greatest Lessons