A while back, Patti Neighmond, in her blog titled “Why a Teen Who Talks Back May Have A Bright Future,” cited research headed up by psychologist Joseph P. Allen at the University of Virginia. Dr. Allen stated simply that when a teenager argues with his or her parent, it might not signify disrespect or disobedience … but rather it may be positive training toward becoming an independent thinker.
Allen contends that it’s the quality of the argument between parent and teen that makes all the difference.
Preparing for Life
Allen is quoted as follows: “We tell parents to think of those arguments not as nuisance but as a critical training ground. Such arguments are actually mini life lessons in how to disagree—a necessary skill later on in life with partners, friends and colleagues on the job.”
We parents prepared to read our kids the riot act when they refute or disagree with us. Heaven forbid they would question our authority. Our ego screams “Ouch!” However, rather than fire oral bullets back at mom or dad, if the teenager disagrees in a calm, non-combative tone, it just may be that he or she has put some thought into the response. Perhaps mom and dad ought to listen.
Children model their parents. If we hold our tongue and listen, rather than immediately return fire to maintain control and establish our authority, our teenager just may mirror that behavior and listen back.
Disagreeing Can Lead to Better Understanding
Allen says his study indicates that teens who listen and are listened to—who express their disagreement in a calm, rational manner—actually carry that mature behavior into their peer relationships. And their ability to disagree and discuss an issue in a cordial manner is good practice for resisting negative peer pressure.
The desired outcome in an argument isn’t so much agreement. It is understanding— a civil exchange of thoughts and ideas. If your son or daughter agrees with everything you say, then perhaps your child has become accustomed to yielding to your wishes or demands. This can result in a teenager who just bends to the will of the loudest or strongest person in the group, or an individual who masks disagreement which can turn to resentment or anger.
Disagreeing Does Not Mean Being Disagreeable
Parents, we need to sit back and listen to our teenager when he or she calmly and thoughtfully disagrees with something we have said. If we don’t encourage independent thinking and good listening skills, who will? If we elevate the discussion into a shouting match and end the war of words with “Because I said so!” … we are stifling both the act of thinking and the art of putting those thoughts into well-chosen words.
Please don’t let your child learn civility from TV and radio talk shows. Let’s be adults … and allow our teenagers to argue with us … calmly and respectfully.