Why You Should Let Your Preteen Talk Back

Why You Should Let Your Preteen Talk Back

Nothing makes nostrils flare and lips purse up quite like the “talk back”. It can take a calm, cool and collected dad to red faced, bulging veins and a firm but tight jawed, “JUST DO IT!” in 2 seconds flat. I remember feeling absolutely lost when my volleyball coach told me not to respond when she gave me directions from the side of the court. “Just do what I am telling you to do,” she said. “I don’t need a yes ma’am or a comment. Just do it.” But there I was thinking, “But, I can’t do it!” She did not want to hear that either! So I was frozen. I needed to learn how to do what she was asking me to do. I needed to believe in myself and I needed guidance. 

“Talking Back” is written at the top of many parent’s list of most annoying behavior.

It is a primary reason for conflict in families. A parent says, “Get your shoes on, it is time to leave” and the child replies, “I am! Sheesh!” Or a parent says, “Eat your green beans.” And the child, without missing a beat, says, “I don’t like green beans.” Parents, describing their preteen, say he/she always has something to say back or he/she has to have the last word. Parents would appreciate that the preteen follow the directive without reply.

Argumentative behavior is annoying.

Arguing requires more time and patience than is available most of the time. It is good to start with your children when they are young and teach them to listen and know when you are serious. You can put in place a parenting strategy like 1,2,3 Magic to communicate with them in a brief way that you mean business. This lets them know that this specific request is not up for discussion. It is common to feel like you are walking on glass trying to talk about the simplest things with your preteen.

Family Therapy

Fight to understand each other better.

So why allow some talking back?

When one of the two parties involved is not allowed to respond in a discussion, communication breaks down.

In counseling it is often the teenager that has to increase their ability to verbalize their feelings. The teenager is learning to connect their feelings to verbal language. They are also learning to connect their feelings to a trigger. We work through preteens verbalizing what they are “hearing” their parents say. Often in their parent’s non verbals. The preteen is shutting down because they “hear” the parent saying something through their tone, eye contact, or body language. They have learned in their subconscious that their feedback only leads to confrontation. All this leads them to shut down.
 
Shutting down or exploding are teenagers biggest form of amo. Parents, frustrated with their teen’s nonverbals, often explode in anger. They want their teenager to show life. They need to know that their teenager cares. This amo is your teen’s biggest line of defense. The trouble is, when the the unskilled teen is trying to express themselves, their attempts can land them in the dog house. Teens can have terrible nonverbal skills: poor posture, lack of eye contact and difficulty tolerating frustration.
 

The parenting needs to fade from a dictatorship to a democracy as they grow from toddlers to adults.

As your preteen becomes older, you are wanting them to express their thoughts and participate in discussions. If they are shut down, it might be they are not talking back because they have learned that they will get in trouble if they interject. They may be feeling offended, disrespected or threatened.
They are likely lacking the skills to express their feelings. 
They may be confused themselves about why they are feeling this way.
Preteens can go through the feelings of stable, angry, and shut down in less than 10 seconds.
They can also be completely unconscious of this pattern.
They need to connect all these parts of their brain to have heathy relationships. Most adults haven’t mastered these skills! So there is always room to grow.
 

Broken communication drives the teen and parent further and further apart.

Avoiding addressing their hurts and pain will only isolate them further from you. They need to know they have your respect, protection and love. As much as they may fight against you, they know they need you. It is often the adult that has to increase their ability to hear their teenager. Skills that help the adult filter through the poor communication skills and help their teenager make connections in their unintegrated brain are reflective listening (“What I hear you saying is…) and an attitude of curiosity versus judgement.

The Result 

When, together, you have practiced and developed skills, your teen might say,
“When you lean forward and widen your eyes I feel intimidated. I hear you saying I should not disagree with you.”
You would say,
“I hear you saying my nonverbals are making your feel more tense and you are wanting to shut down even though you have good points to bring up.”

Get Help 

It is often helpful to work through these communication stumbling blocks in counseling. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you find yourself stuck in a pattern that is not desirable. It can be a vulnerable time for both of you. It is also a wonderful opportunity to affirm your love for each other and work through conflict. Receiving feedback from your preteen is difficult. Maintain your authority with a warm, but controlled response. This helps them feel safe and loved.
When you wanted to say back, “I can’t do what you are asking me to do!” what would have made it possible for you?
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2 thoughts on “Why You Should Let Your Preteen Talk Back”

  1. Mary Parker says:

    It is good for each of us to be reminded of one of the most glorious skills of mankind. That is, we can change! We forget that we can change, learn, develop, and forge new skills. Every one of us is capable of learning new skills. Trouble is it takes time and it is hard work. My fifth grade teacher Mr. Mirisy always responded to our “I can’t…” with, “If there is a will, there is a way.”
    “Just do it.”

    1. emilykateparker@gmail.com says:

      That is so great that she repeated that truism and it was seared into your heart. You are a strong woman who has forged a way down many paths! Thanks for reading 🙂

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