Your teenager walks in the room and drops a random comment and you’re pretty sure it’s bait.
Unsure if you should bite, or what to say, you feel yourself going into defensive/offensive mode as your brain engages its fight or flight response.
No matter what option you chose, you’re down a rabbit hole in an argument so fast you don’t even know what hit you. You’re in a negative cycle of power struggles and you can’t find the emergency stop button.
For the first 8-10 years of your teen’s life, they wanted to share more, bounce more stuff off you, and you have more input in their life. As a parent, you liked having a friendship, connection, influence over and input in their life. Sure, you argued, but they weren’t so defensive.
What you didn’t know is, you were being set up.
That first decade was a piece of work! Just as you were finding your stride and enjoying this young human, puberty happened.
Their brain started changing and suddenly, they don’t want to share everything with you they definitely don’t want your input! They’re more argumentative and sharp leaving you feeling confused, hurt and rejected.
“But I liked the way it was 😫
I want my child and our relationship back!”
Your teen argues with you because you’re their safe place; a trusted sounding board with a greater perspective on the world, even if they don’t agree with you.
Sometimes, arguing is your teen’s attempt to connect with you which provides a small dopamine hit their brain’s pleasure centre.
Arguing is a raw form of critical analysis, decision-making, determining beliefs and values. You’re getting the unfiltered version because your teen’s emotional regulation and impulse control aren’t fully formed.
The second wave.
The first brain development stage in the toddler years developed language and thought skills. Research now shows there’s a second brain development stage during adolescence when your teen’s brain is densifying and becoming more complex.
Just like when a building is being built and there’s scaffolding all around it, arguing is your teen’s way of filling in the spaces between the scaffolding, so it becomes a solid structure.
Knowledge is power.
Your teenager’s brain is often in a mild state of fight or flight (AKA angst, frustration, edgy, sassy, defensive, snarky, etc.) because their fully formed emotional brain doesn’t have the protection and regulation of the unformed intellectual brain. They know they’re changing but they don’t know why which can be unsettling and being vulnerable feels too scary.
Empower your teenager by telling them what’s happening in their brain, and it’s completely normal. This must be communicated from a place of compassion and love, not condescension or a brush off/invalidation or it will backfire fast!
‘I get that arguing works for you right now, and it’s a necessary part of your brain development. Sometimes I find it challenging so I’ll let you know when I need to tap out.’
‘Arguing and pushing back is normal as a teen and part of you finding your own beliefs and perspective on the world. So is feeling edgy. I respect that even though I find it hard sometimes.’
Where’s the line where your teen turns mean?
You both deserve to be treated with basic respect and dignity and I don’t think that’s negotiable. If they’re coming at you with aggressive, toxic comments, you have the right to interrupt and set a boundary.
‘I love you enough not to engage right now. I want to hear what’s going on for you and this doesn’t feel like the best time.’
‘Your feelings are important, and I want to have a conversation with you. How about we circle back in half an hour when I’m more available to listen?’
‘This feels like a no-win situation for me. Is there another way to word what you said?’
Notice these phrases use ‘I’ language and validate your teen’s feelings while setting an emotional boundary?
Keep your word.
If you say you’re going to circle back, do it! If the situation feels unsafe or you notice yourself getting defensive in preparation for a battle, respectfully tap out again and circle back as many times as it takes.
That consistency of drawing the line and not engaging, while letting your teen know they’re important to you, builds emotional safety and trust.
What if I walked you through this process in tiny bites with simple, proven tools so you have less conflict, lower stress, and better communication with your teen?
Communication with an argumentative teen feels hard and hurtful, but what if there was a better way?
Join my FREE masterclass below and learn how to transform your moody, hormonal teen into a compliant, respectful human without the daily nagging or punishments.