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How To Negotiate and Compromise With Your Teenager

Lori Freson


It’s hard to get along with your teenager. Not only have they become more focused on their friends and probably a bit moody as well, you and your teen truly want different things. They want independence, freedom, and just to have fun. You want them to be safe, be responsible and make good decisions. Often, in their efforts to achieve their goals, they fail to satisfy what it is that you as parents want, and actually need. And herein lies the biggest source of conflict between teens and parents.

Teens often express to me that their parents are always mad at them or never let them do anything. Parents often complain that their teens never do as told or all always unpleasant. First, I caution against the use of the words always or never. Are they literally always unpleasant, or literally never do as told? I doubt it. Be honest here, and figure out what the reality is. It might feel like always or never, but can you think of some exceptions? Like when you had dinner, or a BBQ, or watched a movie together? Maybe if they took out the trash or did the dishes?

Things aren’t always as black and white as they seem. So, while it might feel like it always or never, it very rarely is true. There is a bigger question here, though, which is why are you feeling angry so much of the time, and why aren’t you allowing your teen to do more of what they want? This is where the differences between teens and parents needs and wants really pop up.

If you feel that your teen is not behaving safely, responsibly, or appropriately, you’re going to have a problem. It is your job as parents to keep your child safe, and to teach them how to behave appropriately. You can and will likely do literally anything and everything to see to it that this occurs. The problem is that most of this couldn’t be further from your teen’s mind. Their goals are to be with their friends and have fun, and somehow for them, the end justifies the means. In other words, they don’t think too much about what they’re doing, as long as they get what they desire.

Often, the conflict between teens and parents causes them to behave even worse. You’ve said no to something, largely due to their own behavior, but they just double down and get mad and determined to get what they want anyway. Now, they are being defiant, since you have already said no, and they are perpetuating the cycle of not getting what they want because they’ve not given you what you need. The good news is that this cycle can be broken, and if you can both do it successfully, you will very likely get along better and everyone will get more of what they want.

Here are some tips:

  1. Keep your teen’s goal in mind at all times. They simply want to do what they want to do.
  2. Think about your goals at all times. You want to know they are safe, making good choices, and telling the truth.
  3. Encourage them to choose behaviors that confirm for you that they will stay safe, that they’re making good decisions, and that they are trustworthy. This might not come easy for them. They need plenty of guidance, reminders, and examples.
  4. Make it clear to them that you expect them to show you with action and behavior, not just words, that they deserve the privileges and permissions they so desire.
  5. Discuss constantly and openly how they are doing with this, and how they’re feeling about you. Ask what you all could be doing better.
  6. Give them more trust, freedom and independence, once they make you feel more comfortable granting this. It might be scary, but you have to try. Start with small things, baby steps.
  7. Don’t be surprised by setbacks. You are all human. You will both mess up sometimes. As parents, when your teen messes up, you will need to respond accordingly. They might take three steps forward and two steps back sometimes. That’s okay, as long as everyone can acknowledge what went wrong, learn from it, and move forward. Use these as teaching moments with your teen.
  8. Help your teen realize that the outcome largely depends on them. So often, teens feel out of control, like their parents have all the power. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, you can prevent them from doing something you don’t want them to do, but if they become the best possible person they can be, you won’t want to stand in their way.
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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.