Parents: 5 steps to avoid getting hooked into arguments with your teen

Arguing with your teen is a quick way to wear down the relationship and build up resentment and anger between you and your teenager. Here are five ways to avoid getting hooked into arguments with your teen, using both love and logic.

What is Love and Logic?

Love: I love my teen enough to set and follow through on boundaries in an empathic and caring way.

Logic: My teen needs the autonomy to choose, mess up, and experience the natural consequences of their actions to develop a healthy self-concept.

Today, we’ll introduce you to a Love and Logic technique that is highly effective for minimizing arguments with your teen and paving the way toward productive conversations.

Teens will try to “hook” you to get you to argue with them about boundaries and consequences. Historically, this may have warn down adults around them to the point of giving in. Over time, this pattern teaches teens that they are not worthy of love, it damages their self-concept and erodes their sense of stability.

When people are emotionally activated, the amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for fight or flight, comes online. This is the oldest part of our brain, affectionately referred to as the “lizard brain.” The prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for making decisions, planning, setting goals, and anticipating consequences, is completely inaccessible during this time. When your teen is upset and arguing with you, they are in their lizard brain. If you get hooked and argue back, you are then also utilizing your lizard brain.

When your teen tries to hook you into an argument, remember… You cannot reason with lizards. It is not possible to reason with your child when they are emotionally escalated. The best thing to do is to be the warm rock for your beloved (terror of a) lizard until they can once again access their pre-frontal cortex (which, by the way, continues developing into the mid-twenties!). This is done most effectively through the use of empathic statements, patience, and genuine care.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Well, that’s all well and good, but how does this work in practice? Does it really work?”

Step-by-step guide to staying calm when your teen is trying to hook you into an argument:

Step 1: Empathy

Empathy has the power to “soak up” emotions. Respond with an instant empathic statement when your teen is emotionally escalated. Choose a statement that feels true to your heart, and stick with it. Make sure to get comfortable with it before your teen comes home after curfew with an attitude!

  • “That stinks”
  • “Oh, man…”
  • “That sounds really rough”

Step 2: “Go brain dead”.

Don’t give too much thought to your teen’s argument to avoid trying to reason with them. Remember that thing about reasoning with lizards?

Step 3: One-liners

Try using these Love and Logic one-liners, or create your own. You may sound like a broken record – and if you do, you’re doing it right. Please note, these are only effective if they are expressed in a sincere, compassionate, and understanding manner. If these statements are expressed in a condescending or sarcastic way, they will not work.

  • “Bummer”
  • “How sad”
  • “I love you too much to argue”
  • “I respect you too much to argue”
  • “I know”
  • “I know, but what did I say?”
  • “Probably so”
  • “I bet it feels that way”
  • “That’s an option…”

Step 4: Delay the consequences.

Since your teen’s prefrontal cortex is offline, they won’t hear you now. Moreover, immediate consequences take away the opportunity for your teen to reflect on their actions. Wait to deliver consequences until both you and your teen are calm and have had time think things through. A hidden benefit of delaying consequences is the ability to consult with your village. We are stronger together! Try a statement like this:

  • “I’ll have to have to do something about that. We’ll chat later, but for now, try not to worry”

Step 5: Feel free to take a break and walk away.

This is especially important if, at any point, you feel yourself getting angry or upset with your teen. Some helpful statements for this are:

  • “I care about you and am looking forward to checking in once you’re calm.”
  • “Let’s talk about this when both of us are calm”

How do we get good at this? We practice! Explore statements that feel true to you, and try them out. Get your partner bought in, your friends, your neighbor’s dog, whoever… And practice with them! Not every one of these tips will work with your unique teenager or in your family dynamic. We recommend trying out quite a few of them in different circumstances until you find a few that feel natural and work for your family. Check out these tips on setting limits and allowing for consequences here as well for more ideas on communicating with your teen.

Need more support?

Maintaining a healthy and open line of communication with your teenager is paramount, and avoiding unnecessary arguments is a crucial part of that process. At Antelope Recovery, we understand the challenges parents face in navigating these complex dynamics. Our dedicated team is here to provide support and resources to help you and your teen build stronger connections and more effective ways of communicating. Whether it’s through family therapy, parental counseling, or teen groups, we have a range of services designed to assist you on this journey. Don’t hesitate to reach out and discover how Antelope Recovery can empower your family to navigate these challenging times with resilience and understanding. Your teenager’s well-being and your family’s harmony are within reach.