How often have we parents chastised our children for talking back? It makes us angry, challenges our parental role, even punctures our ego. We’re the adults in the room and know what’s best. We’re right. We have years of experience. How dare our 14-year-old be so disrespectful? Some experts in the field of parent-child relationships contend that it is the quality of the argument that makes all the difference.
Could it be that 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 are prepared to read our kids the riot act when they refute or disagree with us. Heaven forbid they would question our authority. Our sense of authority 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.
Good listening fosters better behavior
Psychologist Joseph P. Allen at the University of Virginia says his research 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
Dads, 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 may be 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.
Tom Tozer and Bill Black are authors of “Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers.” Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @dads2dadsllc. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.