3 Rules for having an Argument with a Teenager

Rules for a healthy argument: how to fight for — not against — your teenager.

Dear Teenage Son/Daughter,

It’s difficult for us to communicate these days. We stumble into an argument, get angry or frustrated. We say things we regret. We bruise each other with our words.

Being a parent of a teenager is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Even when I’m confident in my decisions, there is an aching doubt that wakes me in the night, flooding my mind with worry or regret.

I read books, talk to other parents, I determine to do better. And still, somehow, I say the wrong thing. I hurt you and you turn away.

Not long ago, we held hands. If we have an argument, it resolved quickly. We laughed as you shared adventures from school or the silly games from a birthday party. Life was a goody bag, full of surprises.

We walk in silence now, awkwardness wedged between us. Instead of laughing, we battle. We plot to defeat each other. But there are no winners in our war of words, only scars that ache with loneliness.

You feel like a prisoner in our family. You want more freedom. I get it. I understand that you’re upset. But I can’t allow all the freedoms you want. I am your parent, not your friend. (See “Three Signs Your Teenagers Needs Therapy“)

You hate me. You say this with flaming, resentful eyes, and for a second—just a second—I don’t recognize you. Suddenly an old bridge washes away and we stand on separate shores, a raging bitterness between us.

I reach out to you now, to find a way back. As your parent, I have to make unpopular decisions. (I don’t expect you to understand this.) But maybe with kinder words, we can build a new bridge that we both can cross.

One day soon, your independence will arrive and you’ll spread your wings, wide and full, and break free. And I will cheer with delight as you lift off into the glowing sky.

Until then, let me put away angry words, cast aside my arrogance, and lead us in a better direction. I promise to try harder when we disagree. I will follow these simple rules:

  1. No more judging
  2. No more blaming
  3. No more wanting to win

I pledge to listen more and talk less. I pledge to put my frustration aside and work to understand you. I pledge to be more sensitive and less reactive. I pledge to act out of respect instead of defensiveness.

This will take time. I will stumble and fall back into old habits. But I’ll keep trying—I won’t give up on us.

And in the future, when harsh moments fade, and silence echoes in the emptiness of your room like the strings of your unplayed guitar, I’ll take this letter out and, with an open heart, give thanks.

I will be thankful that we learned to fight for each other, instead of against each other. And that together we found the strength, on our journey as parent and child, to step away from stubbornness and lead with love.


Your Parent

(See “The Negative Voices in Your Teenager’s Head’)