Many parents, who have teenagers, often encounter power struggles with their teenager. Typically the power struggle occurs because the teenager disagrees with the limits their parents are setting. Many parents get frustrated by the power struggles, but teenagers at times enjoy the power struggle. If they get their parents into an argument most parents forget the main point of the discussion and the teenager wins.
This is the situation which occurs in normal life. However, we are not living during normal times. We are dealing with a pandemic and the possibility that another pandemic maybe beginning. We still are struggling with the Coronavirus and now we have another virus, monkeypox, beginning. By this time many families are tired of dealing with the pandemic and want to return to their lives prior to the Coronavirus. Therefore, we are in a situation with families tired of dealing with a virus and inflation and people can get annoyed easily.
At this point, it is important for parents to remember that a teenager’s brain is not fully developed. The prefrontal cortex is still developing in teenagers. This is the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and other executive functions such as making decisions. Therefore, while teenagers look mature enough to be able to participate in a reasonable conversation, their brains may not be mature enough. To put it another way, you are not debating the house rules regarding curfew or issues related to the Coronavirus with a 16 year old, you are debating the rules with a fifth grader in terms of their physical and emotional development. Therefore, they are more likely to argue and to be disrespectful. However, an argument is not always bad. There are ways to have a healthy arguments and avoid destructive, hurtful arguments. Most of us never learned how the have a healthy, reasonable disagreement. Many people may think this idea is crazy, but it’s not.
Many people feel that a disagreement or fight is always is a bad thing for a relationship. However, this is not true. Especially now, with most people feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the future there are bound to be things that irritate everyone. Instead of ignoring these issues until everyone is screaming and yelling. It is better to address these issues in a healthy manner and lower everyone’s stress level. Besides lowering the stress level in the house, you are modeling for your teenager how to have a reasonable discussion about differences of opinions without having to say hurtful things to each other.
As I stated above, parents who are dealing with teenagers and children need to remember that their children’s Frontal Lobes are still developing. Therefore, they cannot always reason like adults and often have difficulties having fair disagreements. This is one of the reasons fair fighting was developed. I have included a list by TherapyAid.com which explains fair fighting rules.
Yes this might sound odd, but you can have a disagreement that is fair. You do not always need to use insults or not listen to each other. By using these rules, you and your teenager may be able to resolve an issue or at least come to an understanding without saying things that will hurt one another. You can also teach your children how to use these rules with each other. This should help reduce fighting between siblings.
Parents what I suggest is that you sit down with these rules with your family and discuss that you would like to start to using these rules in your family. Explain that times are difficult on everyone and these rules can help make this time a little easier. Take the time and go over each rule so all family members understand the rules. Also make a copy for yourself to keep, your teen to keep and a copy to put on the refrigerator to remind everyone. Remember, these rules will be a change for both of you so don’t be surprised if it takes you some time to get use to these rules and use them on a regular basis. Change usually never occurs over night and some people have difficulty with change.
While these rules are beneficial for parents and teenagers, these rules are also useful for couples too. Very few people in our society were brought up learning how to clearly communicate. Just look at how many arguments occur due to miscommunication if you need proof. For couples I would recommend the same steps as parents and teens. First sit down and go over the rules so you both have the same understanding of the rules and keep a copy for yourselves. The next time you have a disagreement practice using these rules. Keep practicing until you become comfortable using these rules. This way the entire family can start using these rules and hopefully improve communication within the family.
Fair Fighting Rules
1. Before you begin, ask yourself why you feel upset.
Are you truly angry because your partner left the mustard on the counter? Or are you upset because you feel like you’re doing an uneven share of the housework, and this is just one more piece of evidence? Take time to think about your own feelings before starting an argument.
2. Discuss one issue at a time.
“You shouldn’t be spending so much money without talking to me” can quickly turn into “You don’t care about our family”. Now you need to resolve two problems instead of one. Plus, when an argument starts to get off topic, it can easily become about everything a person has ever done wrong. We’ve all done a lot wrong, so this can be especially cumbersome.
3. No degrading language.
Discuss the issue, not the person. No put-downs, swearing, or name-calling. Degrading language is an attempt to express negative feelings while making sure your partner feels just as bad. This will just lead to more character attacks while the original issue is forgotten.
4. Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them.
“I feel angry.” “I feel hurt when you ignore my phone calls.” “I feel scared when you yell.” These are good ways to express how you feel. Starting with “I” is a good technique to help you take responsibility for your feelings (no, you can’t say whatever you want as long as it starts with “I”).
5. Take turns talking.
This can be tough, but be careful not to interrupt. If this rule is difficult to follow, try setting a timer allowing 1 minute for each person to speak without interruption. Don’t spend your partner’s minute thinking about what you want to say. Listen!
6. No stonewalling.
Sometimes, the easiest way to respond to an argument is to retreat into your shell and refuse to speak. This refusal to communicate is called stonewalling. You might feel better temporarily, but the original issue will remain unresolved and your partner will feel more upset. If you absolutely cannot go on, tell your partner you need to take a time-out. Agree to resume the discussion later.
7. No yelling.
Sometimes arguments are “won” by being the loudest, but the problem only gets worse.
8. Take a time-out if things get too heated.
In a perfect world we would all follow these rules 100% of the time, but it just doesn’t work like that. If an argument starts to become personal or heated, take a time-out. Agree on a time to come back and discuss the problem after everyone has cooled down.
9. Attempt to come to a compromise or an understanding.
There isn’t always a perfect answer to an argument. Life is just too messy for that. Do your best to come to a compromise (this will mean some give and take from both sides). If you can’t come to a compromise, merely understanding can help soothe negative feelings.
Again, this might seem simple to some people, but communication problems are one of the biggest problems I encounter as a psychotherapist. We simply don’t educate children about clear communication, which creates problems when these children become adults and try to talk with each other. So don’t be embarrassed or assume you do not need help in this area. Simply read the rules and try them in your life and see what happens.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience and he specializes in treating teenagers, children, trauma victims and their families including first responders. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website at www.rubinocounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Drrubino3 or follow him on Twitter @RubinoFamily.