How to argue with teenagers? Know when to stop!

Anthony E. Wolf

I’ve had occasion in the past to favourably cite psychologist Anthony E. Wolf, the parenting columnist at The Globe and Mail.  In this morning’s paper, he discusses what he calls the No. 1 day-to-day mistake parents of teens make: not withdrawing from the argument.

The problem is simple. With the great majority of teens, if they are not getting their way, anything that their mother or father says – anything – just pours fuel on the fire. They will argue and cajole and complain forever. (And I do mean, forever.) That is, unless the parent says, “I give up. You win. I’ve changed my mind.”
The greater wisdom is that once you take an unpopular stance, and if after a brief discussion, you haven’t changed your mind, it’s best to say what you have to say – and then nothing further.

He then sets out a few reasons why parents fail to heed this good sense and stop arguing.

1.  The compulsion to make the teen change her mind and see things the way the parent sees them.

That is not going to happen.

The obvious fallacy is that it is what you do – not what you say – that matters. They learn their persistent arguing bears fruit, or that it does not. That is the only lesson.

2.  Parents feel they can’t let their teens get away with backtalk.

The point of backtalk – the reason they [teenagers] do it – is that they’re mad they’re not getting their way, and they want to bully you into changing your mind. If you respond, their backtalk will have succeeded in keeping the argument going – and you will get more backtalk. Conversely, if there is no response, it renders the backtalk pointless.

3.  Seeing the world in terms of win/lose contests.

“I can’t let her get in the last word. I just can’t. She’ll win. That’s not right. I’m the parent.”


But when you disengage and they keep going, it does feel as though you’re the winner. At least it feels like you’re the parent.