ASK EMORY: Arguments that go nowhere with teens

ASK EMORY • BY EMORY LUCE BALDWIN

Dear Emory,

I have a 13-year-old daughter who is driving me bat!%$# crazy. She has always been a drama queen, and now that she is a teen it’s getting so much worse. The good news is that she brings me her problems and asks me for help. Fine. I’m her Mom and I’m happy to help.

The bad news is that, when I try to show her where she is making mistakes and what she should do to fix it, she goes ballistic. She screams at me that I “don’t understand!” before storming away saying, “you’re not helping!”

Whatever. If she wants to solve her problems without me, I’m okay with that. That’s what growing up is all about. But when I say this to her, she bursts into tears because, “You don’t care about me!”

This is exhausting, and I don’t know what to do. We keep going round and round, and as you can see, we are…

Getting Nowhere on Garland


Dear Getting Nowhere,

Wow, I can see why you feel like you are going round and round…your daughter asks for your help, then throws it back in your face. And in the process, you’re both getting frustrated and angry.

I feel your pain, Mom—I’ve been there, too.

Adolescence shifts the bedrock of parent-child relationships, throwing everyone off-balance. When your daughter was little, she asked you to help and you knew how to help her with ideas and suggestions. She appreciated your help and you enjoyed helping. This was a pretty good system that worked pretty well.

Now, your daughter comes to you for help, and rejects the very advice and solutions she used to rely upon. It’s sounds confusing both for you and for her. She asks you to help her, but not to tell her what to do or how to do it. She doesn’t seem to know what she wants.

So, how do you figure her out? And how can you help her figure things out, too?

As a young adolescent, I’m guessing that your daughter is betwixt and between. On one hand, she wants to learn how to deal with her own problems and rely upon you less. On the other hand, she isn’t very good at dealing with her own problems, yet. So she comes to her best helper (you!) to help her figure this out. This, then, is a good time to start making the switch from offering solutions to offering support. Instead of giving her the answers to her problems, you can encourage her to trust herself that she is capable of learning how to find the answers she is looking for.

For example, the next time your daughter drops a problem in your lap, you might simply smile in a friendly way and ask her, “So, what kind of help are you asking for? Do you want a friendly ear? Are you looking for some ideas? Or, would you just like some reassurance from me?”

If, for instance, your daughter is struggling with a school problem, she may be asking for you to give her a ‘friendly ear’ and listen patiently while she puts her problem into words for you. Oftentimes, just talking out the problem helps a young person get perspective on the situation for herself, and come up with some ideas about how to deal with the problem.

Or maybe, your daughter is out of ideas and doesn’t know what to do next. As a parent, it is always tempting to use your hard won experience and knowledge about life to cut to the chase and tell your child how to solve her problem. This will probably backfire, for all the reasons I mentioned above. This is when you can take your parenting game up a notch and ask the kinds of questions that will encourage your daughter to think through the problem:

“What is the problem that you are trying to fix here? Is it a friendship problem? Or a standing-up-for-yourself problem? Or is it some other kind of problem?”

“What ideas have you already tried? How did it go? Why do you suppose that didn’t work?”

“What kind of ideas are you looking for? Do you want to figure out what’s going on? Figure out what to do? Or, are you trying to figure out how to get out of this situation?”

Always, always, always, your daughter will be looking for reassurance from you. When young teens say “Help me,” they are often asking parents to help them out by saying, “I believe you can do it.” The tallest and most mature seeming kids are still young and inexperienced, and their confidence will sometimes falter when they are dealing with life’s challenges. Your confidence will likely feel tested, too, when you see your kid flailing around. Yet, this is when parents can help their kids the most—not with solutions, but with real, meaningful support through encouraging words such as:

“I appreciate that this is a tough situation you’re dealing with.”

“I admire your determination to figure this out.”

“It’s not the end of the world to make a mistake, this is how learning works.”

“I can see how hard you are working to make sense of this situation.”

“Experience has shown that you have a good heart, good intentions, and good sense. You can do this.”

About the Author

Emory Luce Baldwin
Emory Luce Baldwin is the co-author of "Parenting With Courage and Uncommon Sense." In addition to being a Takoma Park mom for more than 25 years, Emory is also a family therapist in private practice and a parent educator with the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP). Well over a thousand parents have learned from her how to have healthier, happier, and better functioning families — while enjoying her good humored yet practical approach to the ups and downs of family life. Emory’s family therapy offices are located in Takoma Park and at the Parent Encouragement Program in Kensington. You can read more about her at her website: www.emorylucebaldwin.com