Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
How to survive arguing teens
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the May 18, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
With a 15- and an almost-13-year-old in the house, a storm of arguing rolled in to replace normal conversation. It caught me by surprise because my son and daughter have been each other’s best pals for most of their lives. Now they can’t seem to be in the same room without pouncing on each other’s words and trading insults.
It’s driving me crazy just hearing it, but even worse, they keep trying to drag me into the middle of it. No issue is too small to argue about.
“You gave me a dirty look.”
“No, I didn’t. You bumped my arm.”
At first I responded by saying, “Stop. Stop it right now.” This strategy worked for about 15 seconds. But I continued trying it for several weeks. By then the decibel level was so high I couldn’t hear my own thoughts. My frustration grew until one morning, when breakfast consisted of them snatching the comics back and forth until they knocked over a vase of flowers, I finally realized I needed a new course of action.
In the heat of the moment – I was making sandwiches for their lunches – I laid down the new policy.
“If you two argue and fight at breakfast, I won’t make your lunches.”
Nothing stops their bickering like a common enemy. They turned on me.
“That’s not fair.”
“It’s his fault. Why should I be punished?”
“That won’t make us stop arguing. I’ll just go hungry at school.”
That last one was a zinger, meant to arouse my motherly concern for their health. But I held fast. I couldn’t stand much more of this arguing.
Often it seems faith has to do with prayer and church, not with fights breaking out at breakfast. But that day God spoke to me. God said, “Use the brains I gave you. Figure out how to help your children treat each other with dignity and respect.”
Later I listened when my husband reminded me that arguing is a normal, healthy function of adolescence. I read up on child development and remembered it is the job of teenagers to assert their independence and work to establish their own identity. One of the ways they do this is by voicing their ideas and defending them. Through sibling debate, teens learn to give, take, share and stand up for themselves, all skills they will need to succeed in adult relationships. While in this stage, teens’ sense of self is fragile, and sensitivity to real or imagined insults is at an all-time high. They find it almost impossible to laugh at themselves, so every conversation can feel like a minefield.
How is a parent to survive this stage and guide their children? I did some research and found a few simple groundrules.
• No hitting, name-calling or damage to property. Allow them to face serious consequences for these behaviors.
• Stay out of the middle of their disagreements. Don’t play favorites or assess blame.
• If they’re too loud, ask them to take their debate elsewhere. Or ask them to take a time out until they can speak in calm respectful tones.
• Allow them to resolve their own arguments. If they don’t have the skills, you will need to help them learn to stop interrupting and listen, and to state their feelings and issues clearly.
At our next family meeting, my husband and I explained to the kids that arguing was normal at their age, but they needed to manage it better. This seemed to lessen the tension for all of us. I told them I wouldn’t punish them by not making their school lunches. We brought up one of the issues they had been fighting about and helped them take turns stating their thoughts and feelings until they resolved it.
It would have been so much easier to punish or ignore the kids for arguing, rather than taking time to take time to learn better communication skills and practice them. This, I thought, is faith in action.
© 2006, Mary Cronk Farrell
(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and
children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been
published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at www.marycronkfarrell.com)
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