Your Teen Isn’t Pushing Your Buttons

As a parent, you might feel like your teen is constantly leaving messes for you to clean up – dishes on the kitchen table, dirty laundry in the bedroom, towels on the bathroom floor. And maybe this “bad” behavior extends beyond household chores. Sometimes it can feel like your teen is looking for ways to upset you, and “push your buttons.” However, changing your perspective will change the way you address your teen and can impact your overall relationship with them. Dr. Alexandra Solomon, Northwestern University professor and clinical psychologist, shared these tips with The New York Times to help parents shape their response to their teens’ behavior and, as a result, improve communication with their teens.

  1. Change your point of view
    Avoid projecting fears and memories from your teenage years onto your teen, thinking you’ve made mistakes that lead to this behavior or assuming current behavior will lend itself to future behavior. This mindset promotes strict rules and a relationship rooted in control. Have a conversation with your teen and tell them your “rules” come from a place of love. Parenting guided by love is healthier for both your teen’s developmental needs and your relationship with them.
  2. Practice mindful parenting
    Remain calm and avoid overreacting. Your teen will likely play off your initial reaction. If you get angry and start yelling, chances are your teen will yell back. Take a breath and think through what you want to say. Research has proven this tactic improves the quality of parent-child relationships.
  3. Remember whose side you’re on
    You and your teen are a team and, ultimately, you want the same thing: a happy and healthy relationship with each other. Talk through problems with your teen and find a solution together that works for both of you. Maybe the hamper should be in the bathroom instead of the bedroom. Maybe you’re fine with doing the dishes, so long as they make it to the sink. Figure out what’s not working and consider meeting your teen halfway.
  4. Gauge the situation
    Start by asking a question rather than assuming you have all the facts. Maybe your teen has reasons for the behavior, or maybe they don’t and it’s more productive for them to realize their own mistake before you say anything.

If you end up yelling, consider apologizing. Dr. Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker and author of parenting books, notes, “Getting mad at your child isn’t going to change the behavior. When you get angry, your attention is on the conflict instead of figuring out a solution to the problem. Some parents worry that apologizing will undermine their authority, but that isn’t true. It’s a respectful way to be in a relationship and it’s modeling a behavior that we want our kids to do — take responsibility for their actions.”

As you navigate conflict, remember that your response directly effects communication with your teen and has the potential to influence their behavior moving forward. Arguments are bound to happen but it’s important to establish a relationship that is built on the foundation of trust and respect. Keeping these tips in mind will not only help you address minor issues like a messy room, but also deal with more complicated issues as your teen gets older—like dealing with peer pressure that could lead to more destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse.

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