Teens disagree with us. It's the natural process. If they don't, it means they are subduing their natural tendency, not paying attention or being suppressed. But what is the difference between disagreement and disrespect?
Is it possible when your teen argues with you that, rather than showing his or her disrespect or disobedience, it reflects training toward becoming an independent thinker?
How often have you chastised your children for talking back? We recall lots of cases when we felt angry, our parental role challenged. We were tempted to state, forcefully, "I'm your father!" The inference was "You must agree with me."
But we can't expect our teens to always agree with us. Sure, we're the adult in the room. Sure we have years of experience. Surely we're right. How dare our 15-year-old be so disrespectful? Some experts in the field of parent-child relationships contend that it is the quality of the argument that makes all the difference.
Learning how to disagree
Could it be that such arguments are actually mini-life lessons in how to disagree — a necessary skill later on in life with partners, friends and colleagues on the job?
We parents can too often be prepared to read our kids the riot act when they disagree with us. Heaven forbid they would question our authority. Our sense of authority screams "Ouch!" But if we hold our tongue and listen, rather than immediately return fire to maintain control and establish our authority, our teen just may mirror that behavior and listen back. A conversation may ensue.
Good listening fosters better behavior
The desired outcome in an argument isn't so much agreement. It is understanding — a civil exchange of thoughts and ideas. If your son or daughter agrees with everything you say, then perhaps your child has become accustomed to yielding to your wishes or demands. This can result in a teen who just bends to the will of the loudest or strongest person in the group or an individual who masks disagreement, which can turn to resentment or anger. This is not a trait we want in our children.
Disagreeing does not mean being disagreeable
Teens need to learn to express their opinions in a logical, thoughtful, respectful way. And we parents need to sit back and listen to our teenager when he or she calmly disagrees with something we have said.
To keep the conversation respectful, you and your teen should refrain from personal insults, putdowns, accusations or monopolizing the discussion. You and your teen should each focus on your opinion, explaining why you think the way you do and listening to what the other has to say.
Are you still in charge? Of course. But if you don't encourage independent thinking and good listening skills, who will? If we elevate the discussion into a shouting match and end the war of words with "Because I said so!" we may be stifling both the act of thinking and the art of putting those thoughts into well-chosen words.
Please don't let your child learn civility from TV and radio talk shows. Let's be adults and allow our teenagers to argue with us calmly and respectfully.
Tom Tozer and Bill Black are authors of "Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers." Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter at Dads2Dadsllc. Email them at tomandbill@Dads2Dadsllc.com.