I was thinking about this question as I drove to pick my 14-year-old up from football practice. Without any context, when he got in the car, I asked, “Do we ever fight?” He said no, and I followed up with, “Why not?” [His insights surprised me and definitely made me look like a better parent than I am. More on that later.] Here’s what he said:
“You’re understanding. You don’t yell or instigate. And you don’t nag. You listen. A lot of it is personality—We’re both pretty chill. We don’t press each other.” [He’s not wrong. We’re both laid back. Also, I don’t know what “press” means.] “Like, yesterday, I guess you can call that a ‘fight.’ You wanted me to mow the lawn right after football practice and I didn’t want to. You listened to my reasons why and said why it needed to be done. I still asked a couple more times, and you said, ‘Sorry, dude. Do it now.'”
For the record, he is the youngest of five children. I’m 50. What he calls “chill” might just be parental fatigue. I have most definitely fought with my other kids. But he has also benefited from what I’ve learned from parenting his four much-older siblings.
He did touch on some things that might be labeled, “New School Parenting.” Listening to where your teen is coming from. Trying to understand their perspective. Letting them feel “heard.” Explaining your reasons. Not yelling or escalating. This was definitely not “Old School Parenting.” My father didn’t say, “Sorry, dude.” He just went straight to, “Do it now.” and probably threw in a “Because I said so!”
Here are some probing questions to ask yourself that could answer, “How do I stop fighting with my teen?”
Bear with me, I’m gonna start at the foundation…
1. Does your teen know that you love them?
Don’t be quick to say, “Of course!” I talk to a lot of teens who don’t think their parents even like them. How well do you know your teen’s heart? Do you know what speaks love to them? Do you show interest in the things that interest them? How much time do you spend time with them? Do you know their friends? Do you take a little time to welcome them into your home and get to know them a bit? When is the last time you told your teen that you love them? How about: I’m proud of you. I believe in you. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me?
2. Do you have clear boundaries, routines, and structure in place?
At any age, boundaries and routines provide clarity and predictability and security. But they also provide freedom and communicate, “I care about your well-being.” They are just another way to say, “I love you.” ★ Have you made these boundaries clear to your teen and the benefits and consequences that are associated with them? ★
Both of these things form a relationship foundation that can stop a lot of fights before they start. An environment of love and good communication, as well as clear expectations and consistent consequences, will help you avoid many fights.
If you include your teen in making a cellphone contract or family technology plan or car-use contract, (or at least have a conversation that covers boundaries, expectations, and consequences) everything is all laid out. You don’t have to think of a punishment on the spot or get angry, and you don’t have to raise your voice. You can just say, “Look, we talked about this. If you came in past curfew, you lost social driving privileges for ___.” (If you choose to go the contract route, remember, they aren’t carved in stone. They get adjusted as your child matures and builds trust. Plus, sometimes stuff happens—flat tires, extenuating circumstances, and sometimes some grace is in order.)
Stop fights before they start. There’s no “negotiating” which often escalates into a full-blown fight.
3. Still, no matter what, you are gonna have some fights with your teenager.
- Remember you are engaged with a teen whose brain is not fully developed. It won’t be until they are in their 20s. Just understand that the parts of the brain that regulate emotions, predict consequences for actions, and do other “higher-order” things like logic aren’t fully formed. If they are upset, it’s even worse. Don’t be shocked by an “I hate you!” or something similar.
- Speaking of brains, when we (you and your teen) have hot and heavy emotions, our prefrontal cortex gets “flooded” with “fight or flight” chemicals that can make us say and do things that we will regret later. Learn to recognize when this is happening in you and your teen. This is when you need to call a “time-out.” Nothing productive is going to happen if one or both of you is flooded.
- It takes two to tango. It takes two to fight. You are the adult—you can do things like de-escalating, not letting your emotions push you around, choosing the best time to address an issue, recognizing “flooding,” and knowing when you are out of line and need to apologize or calmly hold your ground.
- If you recognize there are specific issues or areas that tend to be the catalyst for fighting, take time (NOT in the middle of a fight) to have a conversation about them. Note: I said, “conversation,” that’s a two-way street that involves speaking and listening. I’ve found that even if a boundary didn’t change, but I took the time to explain the rationale behind it and listened to my teen’s point of view and made them feel “heard,” they had a completely different posture toward it. Sometimes even a tiny bit of “give and take” goes a long way.
Fighting with your teen is no fun at all, but it is part of parenting.
Do your best to stop fights before they start. Sometimes we expect our teens to act and respond like adults, and biologically they literally are not there yet. We have to be the adults in the situation. Remember: You are fighting FOR your teen, not WITH them. They will see the difference.