Why do you and your parents have a daily war of words? We look at some common causes of verbal battles—and help you find ways to bridge the communication gap.
It’s Friday night. You hear your friend toot her car horn, so you fly down the stairs. “Later!” you shout, but Dad springs up from the couch. “Hey, wait! Where are you going? With whom? And how . . .”
You turn around and let out a groan. “Movies. Sarah. And I swear I already told you! Do you try to be this annoying?”
Cue a World War III-worthy explosion from Dad. And (spoiler alert!) you miss the movie.
Sound familiar? Most friction between teens and parents starts as straight-up miscommunication, says Michael Bradley, a psychologist and author of Yes, Your Parents Are Crazy!: A Teen Survival Guide. But the good news is, you can stop the chain reaction before it builds to a relationship-wrecking blowup. By talking calmly and fighting fair, you’ll show Mom and Dad you’re mature and even responsible. That translates into more trust, freedom, and privacy for you in the long run.
Convinced? Here’s help navigating three of the most common fight-starting scenarios.
Communication Breakdown #1: Dad Doesn’t Get It
You’re hanging out at your friend’s. Your curfew is in 20 minutes, but no one else is leaving, so you call Dad for an extension. He won’t budge, and boom! You blow up.
You’re thinking: “I’m always the first to leave! Doesn’t he realize how left out that makes me feel?”
He’s thinking: “I hate being put on the spot. If I give in, it’s like the rules don’t matter!
Talking tips: Back off now, but use this as an opportunity to fix the bigger issue. Ask to talk in the morning, then address his concerns before explaining where you’re coming from: “I know it seems like I’m always trying to push the limits, but all my friends have an 11 p.m. curfew. Feeling left out every weekend is hard.” Propose a permanent extension, but tell him you know he’ll need some time to think about it. That won’t just show maturity—it will also decrease the chances of the convo spiraling out of control.
Communication Breakdown #2: Mom Won’t Back Off
As soon as you walk through the door after school, your mom is on your case: How was your math test today? Why haven’t you given her that permission slip to sign yet? Are you about to leave your dirty lacrosse uniform in your gym bag? You erupt like Mount Vesuvius. Not only have you not had enough time to do what she wanted (hello, you just got home!), but she talked to you about the same things yesterday . . . and this morning.
You’re thinking: “She’s so annoying! I spent all day at school and then practice, and I have a long night of homework ahead of me. Doesn’t she see that the more she talks, the more I tune her out?”
She’s thinking: “If I don’t remind her to do things, she’ll forget. I’m just looking out for her, and I need to ask every question before she locks herself in her room for the rest of the night!”
Talking tips: If Mom catches you when you’re stressed, don’t hit the mental “ignore” button—and don’t lash out either. Instead, take a few deep breaths while you process what she wants. Sometimes she just needs to know you hear her! Respond to the easy stuff without any eye rolls—it only takes a minute to hand over a permission slip—and tell her you’ll talk about everything else later. “Sorry, Mom, long day. Let’s talk at dinner, once I’ve had a chance to change and start my homework.” And next time she nags you to clean your room? Ask for clarification and a deadline. Knowing what she wants you to do (and when) makes it easier to meet her expectations—and gives you a chance to prove yourself.
Communication Breakdown #3: Your Parents Pry
A family car ride can feel like the third degree. First off, Mom isn’t satisfied until you’ve described your day, period by period. Then Dad launches into an interrogation about something he saw on your friend’s Facebook wall before asking you where your new profile pic was taken—and why everyone kept writing “YOLO!” underneath it. You snap. They’ve finally stepped over the line!
You’re thinking: “Why are they so nosy? I’m not doing anything wrong. And even if I were, it’s called a ‘personal’ life for a reason!”
They’re thinking: “We feel so in the dark! I wish he’d let us in on his life a little more before we have to beg for the details. It’s hard to watch him go through things on his own. And what’s YOLO? An insult? Some new drug?”
Talking tips: Great news! “As long as you’re not doing anything that would freak your parents out or put you in danger, you’ve earned the right to establish boundaries,” says Annie Fox, author of What’s Up with My Family? So assure them that if something were to happen that you couldn’t handle, they’d be the first to know. But in the meantime, you need their trust—and a little more room to breathe. One way to get the space you need? “Tell your parents a bit about your day, your school, your friends, your music,” says psychologist John Duffy, author of The Available Parent. If you share a little bit of your life, your parents probably won’t feel the need to dig as much, he explains. That, in turn, puts you more in control of what information stays private.