Recall the last conversation you had with your teen. Maybe it was less of a conversation and more of a disagreement or argument? It is frustrating to have someone you love become upset and argue with you, but in the case of your teens, this ‘talking back’ may actually be a positive thing.

One of the normal developmental stages of adolescence is to push back on boundaries. Teens are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. This means they may spend less time with family and more with friends. It also means they may actively disagree with boundaries and rules parents put in place. Having a teen (or teens) can be exhausting! You see them accomplish great things (like winning a state championship, or getting a scholarship to college), but you also watch them make mistakes and choices that you thoroughly disagree with. Of course, the goal for parents of teens is to raise them into adults who are successful and caring. Those arguments you have over what clothes they can wear or which party they cannot go to, may be shaping your teen into the adult you want them to be.

A recent study video-taped teens and parents arguing and found that the quality of arguments could shape teen behavior. Parents who wanted to talk with their teens were able to teach the skills of persuasion and remaining calm. Teens whose parents kept talking to them during arguments were more confident, persuasive, and calm. Not only did they have qualities that will serve them well as they become adults, they were also more likely to say no to drugs and alcohol.

On the other hand, parents who ignored their teens, rolled their eyes at them, or simply said no without having a discussion had teens who were more likely to see arguing as a waste of time. The teens would back down right away and this behavior carried over into their peer groups. They were more likely to accept drugs or alcohol when offered.

So how can a parent use an argument to help shape their teen’s behavior? Help them to argue more effectively. If you want them to bring the car home by 9pm and they want to stay out until 11pm, ask them what their reasons are for staying out late. You don’t have to agree to their request by any means, but asking their rationale helps them think decisions through and be able to articulate their opinions and thoughts in a calm way.

Now, I know not every argument is going to be calm and thought out. I also realize that sometimes, hearing a teen’s opinion is not an option, but the next time your teen starts to talk back or disagree, it might be an opportunity to teach some great life skills.