Arguing with your teenager can be exhausting there is no doubt, but it turns out that those battles may be just the thing your teen needs to develop their self confidence. Psychologist Joseph P. Allen, from the University of Virginia, headed up a study that looked at 157- 13 year olds and asked them to describe their biggest disagreement with their parents. Most of the kids said they argued about things such as chores, money, and their friends. The kids were videotaped while they discussed these things with the researchers and the tapes were later shown to their parents with the teens present.
Upon seeing the videotapes, some of the parents laughed and looked embarrassed, others rolled their eyes, but some jumped right in to talk about the issues at hand and opened the door for a civilized discussion. It was the children of these parents who later displayed skills of conflict resolution and the ability to stand up for themselves. When the teens who had engaged in productive arguments with their parents were interviewed again a few years later, they were the ones who were able to say “no” with confidence when peer pressure presented itself. It was the kids who did not argue with their parents, some who said they felt it was useless, who had more difficulty standing up to their peers. When they felt they had no voice at home they often transferred that passivity into their peer groups.
Dr. Allen determined from this study that while arguing in and of itself is a normal part of the growth process, it is the quality of those arguments that ultimately affects a teen’s sense of self. He came away from the study with the notion that effective arguing at home can help train kids to stand up to peer pressure. It would seem also that learning to resolve problems through discussion, even sometimes heated debates, is a home based conflict resolution course. Learning to resolve conflicts effectively is a skill that can benefit us all.
This doesn’t mean that all arguments will end in perfect agreement but it does mean that each side will leave feeling heard. Allen urges parents to simply learn to listen to their teens, even when they don’t agree with them. Cutting them off or silencing them all together teaches them that their opinion has no value. When kids feel they are being listened to they are more likely to listen back. From my work with couples, I can say that this is also the case with adults. We all feel more valued when we are truly heard.