As many parents can attest, enraging a teenager is quite easy to do. Saying no or infringing upon his or her freedom and independence are surefire ways to anger a teen. Often, parents find themselves in a seemingly endless cycle of frustration as they work hard to carefully temper a teen’s growing desire for freedom by setting limits and consequences and then having to manage the outburst of emotion that is sure to follow. This can become a never-ending battle that feels more like an “us against them” relationship than the one of togetherness parents often dream of during their child’s infancy.

There are ways, however, to create positive dialogue with teenagers in the midst of it all. It is important to recognize that a teenager’s desire for freedom is a normal, healthy part of development. Teenagers are programmed to make their own choices and do their “own thing.” The way parents approach their teens is essential to helping them make good choices. Parents can either take a condescending and demeaning tone or one that is encouraging and empowering.

Notice the difference between these two ways of saying “no” or enforcing a limit.

  1. “No way! You’re nowhere near ready for that kind of freedom. Why would you even ask me that? Remember what you did last time?”
  2. “I’m so glad you’re thinking this way. It shows that you are ready to work toward having more freedom, independence and responsibility around here. Here is what I would like to see from you in order to gain this type of freedom.”

Which statement is more likely to stir up frustration, anger and likely the desire to do whatever he or she wants out of spite? And which type of response is more likely to communicate respect and validation for his or her natural desire for freedom and set the stage for a parent’s expectations to earn more freedom?

Here are some other things to keep in mind when having conversations with your teen to create positive dialogue even when enforcing limits:

  • Validate your teen’s desire for increased freedom.
  • Keep your tone respectful rather than condescending.
  • Be clear about what you need from your teen in order to earn greater independence.
  • Be careful about reminding teenagers of past mistakes. Only do this when you can maintain a positive tone and when it provides value as a learning experience. Otherwise you are the voice of doubt, and this type of “nagging” can actually move your teen in the opposite direction.
  • Look for the positive, and give affirmation.
  • Take the time to relate to your teen instead of only instructing.

For additional information about what you can do to create positive dialogue with your teen or to speak with a licensed mental health counselor about your family’s situation, please contact us.