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With Teenagers, It’s All About Timing

Don’t waste your breath arguing when you’re both lost in your emotions.

Key points

  • When teenagers are being run by their emotions, they are generally not going to make their best decisions.
  • Arguing with teenagers when they are emotionally upset is rarely (if ever) going to yield a positive result.
  • Delaying the discussion may help in allowing emotions to cool and more logical solutions to surface.

Have you ever been in a discussion with a teenager that keeps escalating into a drawn-out argument no matter what you do to try and deescalate the situation? Sometimes the more reasonable you are, the more your teenager raises their voice and becomes more reactive. Perhaps at these times you’ve experienced yelling, swearing, or watched your teen storm out of the house yelling at you all the way. Perhaps you’ve gotten so upset yourself that you said things you didn’t mean and felt bad about it afterward. Sound familiar? If you’re a parent of an adolescent or teenager, chances are you’ve experienced this scenario in one form or another.

Escalating Arguments

Escalating arguments often quickly evolve into shouting matches in which both parties want to get their way. Soon the logic of the situation goes out the window. The teenager (and sometimes the parent as well) abandons any form of logic and just lets their emotions rule the day. Perhaps you’ve experienced either yourself or your teenager trying to bully their way through the discussion. Often things get said that neither of you mean and before you know it, you’re both regretful and upset. In this scenario, neither of your are in a position to find a solution that works. You both are so emotionally activated that all you want to do is get your way and not give in. This situation may cause both of you to feel misunderstood and not cared for.

Letting Emotions Die Down

Of course, when time passes and emotions die down, it becomes much easier to work things out with your teen. Compromise is much easier when both parties are not caught in their emotions. When you can gain some perspective about the situation, it’s easier to find a solution that works for both parties. That is why emotions have to subside before meaningful solutions can be found.

Parents can get caught up in their emotions just like teenagers can. After all, parents are human, too. We get hurt; we lose our tempers; we are not perfect. It probably won’t surprise you that teens have learned how to push our buttons over the years. They know how to get our emotions activated as well. They often use every bit of knowledge they have of us to their advantage. They want to get a reaction out of us with the hope they can convince us to give them what they want.

Emotions Can Cloud Our Logic

The problem is that when we are emotionally escalated, our brains become foggy. This “brain fog” can descend on our logic as our emotions can become fired up. Before you know it, we often can’t think straight either. We may feel overwhelmed and barraged by our child’s defiance and lack of respect. We may become angry at what we perceive as their ungratefulness and their inability to communicate effectively with us. Our efforts to engage them in a meaningful discussion may be met with emotional outbursts. At these times, resolution may seem unsolvable. The question becomes, is there something we can do about this? Can we deescalate our teen’s emotional upset and stop things from spiraling out of control?

The answer is a resounding “maybe.” My experience as a parent and someone who works regularly with teens tells me teenagers can be reasonable and logical. They just can’t be that way when they are in the midst of an emotional reaction. As a result, the most effective way to deescalate a situation with a teenager when they are emotionally caught is to delay the discussion. When they have been overtaken by their emotions is the wrong time to engage them in a discussion. They are primed and ready to argue. They have an agenda and nothing is going to get in the way of them trying to convince you to give them what they want. This is not the time to have a logical discussion. Their logic has taken a vacation and they are operating on pure emotions; emotions that don’t care about anything logical you have to say.

Caught by Emotions

When people are caught by their emotions, they are unlikely to be able to hear your point of view. Whatever you’re logically saying to them is being obscured by their emotions, which are shouting at them to just get their way. When this happens, they are often unable to think of anything other than convincing you to give them the answer they’re looking for. When this happens, there’s not a lot of room to have a successful conversation. It’s tough to find a satisfactory solution when the person you are talking to is unable to have a logical discussion.

In order to have a better relationship with your teen, it is vitally important that both of you come from a place of logic and not just your emotions. Highly-charged discussions may have to wait until after emotions have had a chance to subside. The time to resolve issues is when people’s overwhelming feelings have died down and both parties can have a discussion without being emotionally overwhelmed.