Working Towards a Win-Win

When it comes to the relationship between parents and teenagers, there are few skills that can make things better, faster, than mastering the art of compromise.  Many of the families we work with are stuck in a never-ending battle of wills.  On one side are the parents who believe that they know what is best for their teen and on the other is the teenager who doesn’t necessarily agree.  This dynamic, which is present in all families with teenagers, is not a sign of trouble but rather a sign that the teenager is developing their own sense of self and individual identity.  However, unless families have the skills they need to effectively manage this battleground, this healthy dynamic can turn toxic.  If both sides insist on standing their ground, these small battles and minor skirmishes can morph into a full-scale war where no one wins, everyone is unhappy, and the parent-child relationship is left in tatters.

In order to understand why compromise is so important, it helps to take a step back and re-examine our role as parents.  Many parents feel like it is our job to control every aspect of our children’s lives and sometimes control, discipline, and a “do what I say” mentality is what is needed, even with teenagers.  Unfortunately, it can be easy for parents who are tired of their teen arguing with everything they say to dig in their heels and fortify this position.  The answer to every question, request, or argument becomes some version of “because I said so.” When parents choose this place to stand their ground, most teenagers will take up an opposite position, assuming that the only way to make their voice heard is to shout louder and rebel more.  When no one is willing to stand down, everyone loses.

However, if our job as parents is to teach our children what they need to know in order to successfully navigate the world on their own, we make room for flexibility as well as “do what I say” moments.  We make it possible to find a middle ground when it makes sense without relinquishing our right to exert control when it matters.  We create space to teach our teens how to compromise, how to negotiate, and how to stand their ground when the situation warrants it rather than feeling like the only way to win is for someone else to lose.

Working towards a win-win situation starts with a discussion where everyone feels heard and understood.  It is important that this discussion is centered on communicating each side’s position and doesn’t include judgment, criticism, or demands.  The key concept parents need to keep in mind is that sometimes it is better to lose a few battles in order to win the war.  If winning the war means producing a self-sufficient, self-confident young adult that willing contributes to society, it can be easier to let go of battles that aren’t likely to affect the overall outcome.  For example, your daughter’s desire to dye her hair purple may offend your parental sensibilities. But if allowing her to win this battle makes her feel heard, supports her search for her own identity, and allows you to stand firm on something that is more important without being seen as a dictator, it may be better for her in the long run if you back down.

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