“When my daughter was 14, she started to talk back to me. If I told her, ‘It’s time to eat dinner,’ she would reply, ‘I’ll eat when I feel like it.’ If I asked her if she had finished her chores, she would say, ‘Stop bugging me!’ Many times, she and I would raise our voices and shout at each other.”—MAKI, JAPAN.*
If you are the parent of a teenager, conflict may test every bit of your parenting skills—and your patience. “When my daughter challenges my authority, it makes my blood boil,” says Maria, the mother of a 14-year-old in Brazil. “We get so frustrated that we yell at each other.” Carmela, in Italy, faces a similar challenge. “Arguments with my son are always heated,” she says, “and they end with him shutting himself up in his room.”
Why do some teenagers seem so contentious? Are their peers to blame? Perhaps. The Bible says that a person’s associates can be a powerful influence, either for good or for bad. (Proverbs 13:20; 1 Corinthians 15:33) Then, too, much of today’s youth-oriented entertainment fosters the stereotype of teenage defiance.
But there are other factors to consider—factors that are not too difficult to deal with once you understand how they might affect your teenager. Consider some examples.
DEVELOPING THE “POWER OF REASON”
The apostle Paul wrote: “When I was a babe, I used to speak as a babe, to think as a babe, to reason as a babe; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a babe.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) As Paul’s words indicate, children and adults think differently. In what way?
Children tend to think in concrete, black-and-white terms. In contrast, adults are often better able to grasp abstract concepts and think on a deeper level when reaching conclusions or making decisions. For example, adults are more likely to consider the ethical issues behind a matter and think about how their actions will affect others. They may be used to thinking that way. Teenagers, by comparison, are new to the process.
The Bible encourages young people to cultivate their “thinking ability.” (Proverbs 1:4) In fact, the Bible urges all Christians to use their “power of reason.” (Romans 12:1, 2; Hebrews 5:14) At times, though, your teenager’s reasoning skills might cause him to argue with you, even over a seemingly trivial matter.* Or he may express a view to you that clearly shows a lack of good judgment. (Proverbs 14:12) In such a situation, how can you reason with him instead of arguing?
TRY THIS: Consider that your teenager may simply be trying out his newly discovered reasoning skills, and he may not be that committed to his viewpoint at all. To test him out, first commend your teenager for his thinking ability. (“I like the way your mind works, even if I don’t agree with all the conclusions you reach.”) Then, help him to examine his thinking. (“Do you think that what you just said applies in every situation?”) You might be surprised at how your teenager reexamines his own ideas and refines them.
A word of caution: When reasoning with your teenager, do not think that you have to have the last word. Even if what you say seems to fall on deaf ears, your teenager will probably take away more from the discussion than you expect—or than he will admit. Do not be surprised if in a few days, your teenager has swung around to your viewpoint—perhaps even claiming it as his own.
“Sometimes my son and I would argue about little things—for example, about not being wasteful or about teasing his sister. But in most cases he seemed to want me to ask what he was thinking and to show some understanding and say, ‘Oh, so that is the situation’ or ‘So that is what you think.’ Looking back, I see that if I had just said something like that, we probably could have avoided many of our arguments.”—Kenji, Japan.
A major part of raising an adolescent is preparing him for the day when he will be able to leave home and live as a responsible adult. (Genesis 2:24) Part of that process involves forming an identity—a set of traits, beliefs, and values that define who he is. When confronted with pressure to do wrong, a teenager with a strong sense of identity will do more than think about the consequences. He will also ask himself: ‘What sort of person am I? What values do I hold? What would a person with those values do in this situation?’—2 Peter 3:11.
The Bible tells us about Joseph, a young man who had a strong sense of identity. For example, when Potiphar’s wife urged him to have sex with her, Joseph replied: “How could I commit this great badness and actually sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) Even though a law forbidding adultery had not yet been given to the Israelites, Joseph perceived God’s view of the matter. More than that, the words “how could I” indicate that he had made God’s view his own—a part of his very identity.—Ephesians 5:1.
Your teenager too is in the process of forming an identity. This is good, for his convictions will help him to cope with pressure from his peers and stand up to them. (Proverbs 1:10-15) On the other hand, that same sense of identity might compel him to stand up to you. If that happens, what can you do?
TRY THIS: Instead of getting embroiled in an argument, simply restate his position. (“Let me make sure I understand. You’re saying that . . .”) Then, ask questions. (“What makes you feel that way?” or “What led you to that conclusion?”) Draw out your teenager. Let him express his convictions. If the difference of opinion is just a matter of preference and not an issue of right and wrong, show your teenager that you can respect his viewpoint—even if you do not fully agree with it.
Developing an identity—and the convictions that come along with it—is not only normal but also beneficial. After all, the Bible says that Christians should not be like young children who are “tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching.” (Ephesians 4:14) So allow and even encourage your teenager to develop an identity along with firm convictions.
“When I show my daughters that I’m willing to listen to them, they’re more inclined to consider my viewpoint, even if it differs from theirs. I’m careful not to force them into my thinking but to let them form their own convictions.”—Ivana, Czech Republic.
FIRM, YET FLEXIBLE
Like younger children, some teenagers have learned the art of bringing up a matter repeatedly in an effort to wear their parents down. If that happens frequently in your household, be careful. Although giving in might bring momentary relief, it teaches your teenager that arguing is a way to get what he wants. The remedy? Follow Jesus’ advice: “Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No.” (Matthew 5:37) Teenagers are less likely to argue with you when they know that you are consistent.
At the same time, be reasonable. Let your teenager explain, for example, why he feels that his curfew should be adjusted in a particular instance. In such a case, you are not caving in to pressure but simply following the Bible’s advice: “Let your reasonableness become known.”—Philippians 4:5.
TRY THIS: Hold a family meeting in which you discuss curfews and other house rules. Show that you are willing to listen and weigh all factors involved before making a decision. “Teenagers should see that their parents are willing to say yes to a request if a Bible principle isn’t violated,” recommends Roberto, a father in Brazil.
Of course, no parent is perfect. The Bible says: “We all stumble many times.” (James 3:2) If you find that you are at least partly responsible for an argument, do not hesitate to apologize to your teenager. Admitting your error sets an example in humility and will pave the way for your teenager to act in a similar manner.
“After one argument, when my feelings had calmed down, I apologized to my son for my emotional outburst. That helped calm him down too and made it easier for him to listen to me.”—Kenji, Japan.
Names in this article have been changed.
Although in this article we refer to the teenager as a male, the principles discussed apply to both genders.
In what ways might I be contributing to arguments with my teenager?
How could I use the material in this article to understand my teenager better?
What can I do to communicate with my teenager—without arguing?