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About arguments (this time, we're doing good!)

I know my oldest has years to go before he hits the teen years, but I've felt for a while now that his behavioral struggles give me a window into who he will be as a teen -- he's got all the talking-back chops and punky authority questioning that any self-respecting teen boy would. Lucky me: I get to practice conversing with a teenager years before my time!

Sometimes I agonize over this (mostly when someone else is overhearing me and Everett in a tense debate over privileges and responsibilities, speckled tightly with the occasional bit of bad language). But thanks to some new research from the University of Virginia, I could just go ahead and embrace it. These debates with me now and in his teens will help him resist peer pressure among his friends and stand up to problems on the job. In other words, our arguments are lessons. According to NPR:

"[In the] study, 157 13-year-olds were videotaped describing their biggest disagreement with their parents. The most common arguments were over grades, chores, money and friends. The tape was then played for both parent and teen...

"[The researcher, Joseph P.] Allen interviewed the teens again at ages 15 and 16. "The teens who learned to be calm and confident and persuasive with their parents acted the same way when they were with their peers," he says. They were able to confidently disagree, saying 'no' when offered alcohol or drugs. In fact, they were 40 percent more likely to say 'no' than kids who didn't argue with their parents.

"For other kids, it was an entirely different story. "They would back down right away," says Allen, saying they felt it pointless to argue with their parents. This kind of passivity was taken directly into peer groups, where these teens were more likely to acquiesce when offered drugs or alcohol."

How you argue is important. If you "reward" children who develop a persuasive argument, bargaining thoughtfully instead of using begging, whining, threats or insults, you will teach them how to not just get along with other teens (and to stay clear of dangerous problems like drugs and binge drinking), but how to successfully manage relationships as an adult -- even and eventually, marriage.

I was, for once, proud of my parenting skills -- something I tell the boys every (sometimes many times a) day is to use their problem solving abilities to come up with a solution that doesn't involve physical aggression or anger. Now, this doesn't work very well between the boys many days, but I often see the persuasive kid show up for a really great and -- often -- even courteous! -- debate with me or another adult. And that's something to be proud of.

Comments

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The ability to allow a child to argue with you takes a certain amount of patience and willingness to not think your authority is being threatened by it. But I would much rather have my child express his opinion about something to me and learn from that process than to be shut down at every turn.

Great post. I can now see my "discussions" with my 9 year old son in a different, more positive light. Thank you.

I have always welcomed robust debate (a teacher once told my daughter when she was seven that she should be an attorney) but I also have some areas where there is no debate and after my children make their argument (my high schooler recently created a power point to bolster her position) the decision is final. There is no whinging or deal making after the fact or our lives would become unmanagable.

Oh I love this post. I am not afraid of confrontation, never have been. Always believed that open and honest communication are the way to go, even if it's uncomfortable. My husband, on the other hand, is extremely non-confrontational. Somehow, we get along just fine and I'm so grateful for that. My in-laws have criticized me for creating an environment with my kids where there is "too much conflict", as they see too many opportunities for negotiations for my kids. They are definitely of the "take it or leave it" generation and feel that offering my kids a choice between PB&J or a bagel for lunch gives them too much control and too many options. I see it very differently--I want my kids to see their options, make a choice, and live with their decision (the living with their decision is where my kids are still learning...). I want my kids to be able to bring up their concerns, make a case, and ask for change. They are only 4 & 7, but we have family meetings on a fairly regular basis. Don't get me wrong, they still hear "because I said so" a lot. There are lots of times when something is not up for discussion and they are learning to be ok with that. But conflict and confrontation are healthy things, and it helps us as parents to hear what really matters to our kids and show them that we can be flexible too.

Great post. Leah, I especially liked your comments. I grew up in a 'be seen, not heard, make no choices and accept our decisions' household, and it did me no favors. Being very passive, I ended up in quite a few unpleasant situations, and had no idea how to say 'no' or have a voice. My daughter, 10, has been given lots of options and choices, and way too much discussion goes on for my mom's liking. She feels free speaks her opinion to her friends and has refused to take part in bullying, cheating, and more. Here's hoping that strength of character continues into the tween and teen years.

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