Q: In a recent column, you advised parents not to argue with teenagers. That’s fine and dandy advice, but you failed to tell how to stay out of these arguments. My argumentative 14-year-old daughter argues with me about nearly every decision I make. I am going slowly insane. How do I make her stop?
A: Your thinking is a big part of the problem.
You think your daughter is “argumentative.” You believe, therefore, that there’s something you can do that will stop these arguments. But there is no such thing as an argumentative child; there are only parents who open the door to argument and then step through onto the battlefield. The parents mistakenly think that some combination of words, some logic, some intelligent explanation will cause an argumentative child to pause, reflect and then say, “Mom, when you put it like that, I can’t help but agree with you.”
No child has ever said those words, and no child ever will.
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You are the cause of these arguments. Therefore, the person who needs to change is you. First, train yourself to engage your brain before you engage your mouth. When your daughter asks for permission to do something, don’t pop off a decision (unless circumstances demand one). Bring out your smartphone, set the timer for 10 minutes, and say, “Check me out when the alarm goes off.”
Making impulsive decisions often leads to self-doubt, and self-doubt leads to capitulation, and the more a parent capitulates, the more convinced a child becomes that she can get her way if she makes enough noise. Sound familiar? Preventing this downward spiral will prevent you from feeling guilty, and few things lead to worse decisions than guilt.
When the timer’s alarm goes off, tell your decision to your daughter. If she asks “Why?” or “Why not?” go to the second step: Simply say, “Because that’s what I have decided.” If she persists in asking questions, become what I call a Bad Mommy Robot — persist in giving that answer, as in:
“But why?” daughter demands.
“Because that’s what I’ve decided,” Bad Mommy Robot answers.
“That’s not a reason!” she complains.
“That’s the only reason I can think of,” says Bad Mommy Robot.
“I hate you!”
“If I was 15, I’d hate me too right now. You have my permission to hate me.”
Just keep that up. At some point, she will stomp her foot, scream something incoherent, and storm off. Your robotic responses will drive her temporarily insane. That’s much preferred to you going insane. You can’t afford to go insane. You have too many parenting responsibilities. She’s young. She’ll bounce back.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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