According to the psychologist, Jack Hinman, argumentativeness is an important developmental pattern for teens and young adults. The good news? It’s normal. The bad news? You can’t entirely control or stop it. Teens and young adults need to push boundaries and assert themselves in order to move from the compliant dependence of childhood to a more independent adult identity. It’s a messy process at times, but without some level of self-assertion—aka argumentativeness, your budding adult is likely to get a bit stuck on her journey toward maturity.
The best tool a parent has for managing conflict with their young adult child, says Hinman, is a positive relationship. “Parents should view their relationship with their child as a bank account,” he says, “and they should make deposits at every opportunity so that the account is full when it comes time to make a withdrawal.”
According to Hinman, who specializes in working with teens and family systems, deposits should take the form of positive attempts to connect, encourage and communicate. Attempts to deposit are most effective when the teen is open and relaxed. Withdrawals occur whenever there is a negative interaction such as a disagreement, the assignment of a consequence or the delivery of critical feedback. Having a full bank account—i.e. a strong, positive relationship—maximizes a parent’s influence during difficult interactions. “Parents are losing credibility with their teens and young adults,” says Hinman. “The assumption that ‘my child should listen to me because I’m a parent’ won’t fly with an 18 year old! Parents have to work constantly to maintain a positive relationship with their children—especially during adolescence and young adulthood—if they hope to have influence when it counts most.”
When parents reach a point where occasional arguing morphs into chronic defiance, they may not have any opportunities to make relational deposits. A chronically defiant teen will simply not allow positive interactions. It’s at this point, when lost ground cannot be recovered, that outside help from a therapist, clergy person or other trusted adult may be necessary for a parent to regain positive access to the relational account. Like paying off any large debt, replenishing a chronically overdrawn relational account can require a long, patient, persistent effort and the assistance of others.
The good news though, says Hinman, is that “it’s simply never too late to start making deposits.”
Jack Hinman, Ph.D., is a clinical director for the InnerChange family of young adult treatment facilities.