How To Argue With Your Emotional Teenager

I have, for some time now, been working with high risk and aberrant behaviour youth as a youth and family counselor. Few things in this world are harder to deal with than a teenager with a sense of entitlement, immature emotional development, poor discipline, and a bad attitude. Those of you who have gone toe to toe with a teenager can verify what I am saying.

It simply doesn’t work.

It’s all about energy. Yelling at a belligerent who is yelling back at you rarely, if ever, leads to a group hug. It’s Einstein’s definition of insanity all over again – doing the same thing and expecting different results. Unfortunately, however, most of us continue to yell. Yelling feels familiar, and it releases pent-up emotion and frustration. The majority of us learned it from our parents who learned it from their parents. We swore we wouldn’t be that kind of parent when we grew up but sometimes, well sometimes that kid frustrates us so much we have no choice.

One more time. It doesn’t work.

If you want to win the argument, salvage the situation, or whatever it is you want to accomplish, you need to change the energy if you want to change the result. You need to change the rules of the argument if you want any hope of a positive outcome. Here’s a good guideline – Do not emotionally engage a screaming teenager unless you want to have a fight.

Stop arguing. Stop emoting. Stop gushing. Smile.

There is an old maxim: Love me, hate me, just don’t ignore me.

Why is that? Perhaps the reason has something to do with the fact that the vast majority of us hate to be ignored. We feel disrespected. Something inside of us rebels against apathy.  When it comes to an argument with an irrational person a second factor comes into play as well. It is very hard to argue with someone who will not argue back.

When your out-of-control teenager is looking for a fight, seeking to make a point, and prepared to bully you to get their way, nothing will disarm and frustrate them more than a parent or person who simply smiles and says nothing. It works, I have used this methodology and taught it to dozens of parents. At first it drives them insane, later it shuts down the yelling effectively and with dignity.

There must be a more effective way to engage angry teens, while at the same time helping them to understand that emotional bullying is not just wrong, it’s ineffective. Those of us who were taught to yell by our parents inherently understand how ineffective their yelling was.

So why did we decide to use this dysfunctional method ourselves?

9 thoughts on “How To Argue With Your Emotional Teenager

  1. I am definitely going to try this, I hate getting sucked into the screaming match… and I always, always, always feel shitty after the fact… Emotional bullying sucks… the other one I really hate is emotional manipulation I would love to hear any advice you may have regarding this… I have one child who is a master … I say No and lay it out, and later I am wondering what the hell happened and why is she doing the thing I had said no to, and doing it practically with my blessing (I feel like I have been duped, and have a tattoo on my forehead that reads ‘sucker’) this is definitely a cycle I want to break… (the other kids take no at face value – this one takes is a maybe just ask later, try harder, IDK?)

    1. Ya, give yourself a couple of opportunities. It’s very confusing to the kids at first because you aren’t engaging as they assume is “normal”. The longer you do it, the more it works. I will actually smile and if the kid continues will turn away and go about my day. I’ve been followed around by someone yelling. Eventually they just quit.
      It reminds me of the Dog Whisper. You could become the Teenage Whisperer!

  2. My father used to do that to my mom. She would yell and scream..and he would just walk away. From the way I recall it, my dad never got mad. I suppose it really pissed my mom off. 🙂

  3. My mother has always been a proponent of this technique. While my father preferred corporal punishment, which just made me angrier, my mom would just send me to my room and tell me to think about it, which worked much better as we could both calm down.

    I always thought that was a smart approach on her part. I would use it myself if I had any children, but since I don’t, I just settle for putting the parrot back in his cage when he gets too loud. It still works. 🙂

  4. Oh so familiar Scott. I wonder if we are still hooked in to our ‘primitive’ mechanisms – meet dinosaur with axe, meet enemy with club, meet aggression with aggression.
    The trouble is that our ‘physical’ responses don’t work in the emotional world. If you fight emotion, no matter what with, it gets stronger. Fighting inner anxiety makes that anxiety worse. Fighting others feelings makes them more fierce. As you say, the only way to ‘win’ is to yield. Shouting back is like trying to douse a fire with petrol!
    We had hell with our teenager until we learned this lesson. Not shouting feels like letting them get away with it – but our job is to teach, not to control. When we stopped shouting (but set some absolute boundaries) it brought a huge transformation incredibly quickly. Our teen is much happier, and the house is peaceful!

  5. So true and rational but so hard to do when emotionally involved. It’s the same rules as for dealing with toddlers, except you can pick them up and put them in their rooms! Or send them to time out……

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