Reconciling with Your Troubled Teen Son

You’ve had a big, blow-out fight with your teen and now you don’t know how to start the process of reconciliation. The disagreement may have been over something trivial, or it may have been because your teen did something seriously wrong. Whatever the cause of the argument, you both are angry and upset, and yet it falls on you, as the adult, to model the correct way to resolve differences in a mature manner.

Take a Break

Start by giving yourself and your teen some time to cool down. Unless it is an issue that must be resolved immediately, it’s ok to wait a few hours, maybe even a few days, before you try to discuss the issue again. You both need some time to calm down and regain your composure. Your teen may be giving you the silent treatment or acting outright hostile, but let it be - at least for a little while. Don’t pretend that nothing happened, but definitely don’t go right back at it. You could say something like, “I know you’re mad at me right now. and I’m mad at you. Let’s just give ourselves a little time to cool down before we discuss this issue again.” You could also add, “I still love you, even though I’m upset with you.”

Think about It

While you’re living under a temporary truce, analyze what happened during the argument. First, consider the reason that you argued. Sometimes the cause of an argument between parents and teens is clear. At other times we argue over unimportant things when we really are angry about a larger issue. You may yell at your son because he left his shoes in front of the door, and you tripped on them as you came through with your arms full of groceries. You were probably not angry about just this one incident. You may feel frustrated with your teen’s disregard for basic housekeeping rules, and resentful that your teen doesn’t help more around the house. Your teen doesn’t understand why you were so mad about a pair of shoes. Small acts can get blown out of proportion because they’re really the last straw in a collection of behaviors we find annoying.

Before you talk to your teen, be clear in your own mind why you were upset, and what you would like to see as a resolution to the problem. Try to understand why your teen was angry. You don’t have to agree with your teen, just try to see the world from his point of view.

When you think about the root issue of your argument, think about your stance on it. Some things are negotiable and some things are not. There is no compromise when it comes to issues of your child’s health and safety, breaking laws, being violent, or violating the rights of others. Whether you are preventing these behaviors or discipling after they have been committed, you are doing your job as a parent. Keep in mind that teens will try to test the limits you set for them and try to manipulate you so that they can get what they want. And they get angry when you thwart these efforts. You should not feel bad about doing your job as a parent.

Angry Words

While you’re thinking about the argument, consider what you and your teen said to each other. When we are in conflict with someone, our anger and frustration often get the better of our wiser selves and we say things that we don’t really mean. Did you lose your patience and lash out with hurtful words? Probably your teen also said angry and hurtful things. Know that your teen didn’t mean what he said, any more than you did. Most teens, at some point, say, “I hate you!” to their parents. They don’t really mean it. Teens don’t know how to manage the flood of emotions that rush through them when they are upset. They don’t know how to express their anger appropriately. Sometimes parents don’t do so well with expressing anger either. Tell your teen you’re sorry for the hurtful words you said when you were angry.

Time to Talk

When you feel you and your teen have had time to calm down, then agree on a time to talk about the issue. Get the timing right. Don’t have an emotional discussion after a long, tiring day at work or school. Maybe you can go out for breakfast on a Saturday, or take a walk in the park and talk then. Set some ground rules. You want to discuss the issue, you’re willing to hear your teen’s side, but you will not listen to abusive language, insults or hurtful words. Make sure you follow those rules yourself.

Time to Listen

Let your teen talk about the issue without interrupting and without jumping to judgement. Listen and try to understand his perspective. You don’t have to agree with your teen, just try to see the world from his point of view. Acknowledge your teen’s feelings about the situation. Explain your own thoughts and feelings on the topic. Try to find some grounds for agreement or maybe just agree to disagree and not talk about that subject anymore. Then it’s time to let it go. Say, “I love you and let’s not argue about this anymore.”

If your teen has done something dangerous or illegal, try to make him understand how this behavior can cause harm to himself and to others. Explain that you are concerned about his health, safety and well-being and you are upset that he has put himself at risk.

Time to Get Help

If the source of your argument is an ongoing and serious problem then talk to your teen about the need for professional help. Issues such as a teen’s drug or alcohol abuse, violent behavior, self-harming behaviors, or illegal activities, need to be addressed by a mental health professional. You may want to consider sending your teen to a school for troubled teens. Sometimes it’s helpful to remove a teen from the environment where he has developed negative behaviors. A therapeutic boarding school provides a safe place for teens to get therapy and an education, and family counseling with their parents.

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