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Six lines you should never use in a fight with your parents (and what you should say instead)

There’s always that moment, isn’t there, when you know you’ve lost the argument with your parents? They’re being totally and utterly unreasonable about something, explaining their ridiculousness away with claims they’re ‘keeping you safe’/ ‘teaching you something important about life’ / ‘making themselves feel better about their miserable existence by making yours totally fun-free as well’. OK, they probably don’t say that one out loud but they’re totes thinking it.

You feel your insides boiling and ever-more creative swearwords rising in your throat with each “no” they utter. So you say it (or scream it, or mutter it with a withering eye roll): that perfect line that encapsulates exactly how frustrated you’re feeling. And it’s met with ‘the look’. The look that says that you’ve properly stuffed it. That if there was a chance they were going to come round to your way of thinking, it’s now a goner.

Emma Gleadhill, a speaker and coach who helps young people to handle their relationships, says that, “the rows teenagers have at home tend to be the most unbridled of all. After all, rowing tooth-and-nail with friends is politically dangerous, and you can’t really sound off like that to teachers.” But, if you handle them in the right way, disagreements with your ’rentals can help you learn important skills “like negotiation and emotional intelligence.”

And better negotiation means less chance of you getting your thousandth “no”.

So here are six lines you should never use in a fight with your parents, and six handy tips from Emma about to what to say instead.

1. “OMG you are SO unfair!”

This one slips out when your parents don’t seem to be listening to a word you’re saying or giving a flying you-know-what about what you want, need or feel. Doubly infuriating when they’re vetoing something all of your friends are allowed to do.

What to say instead:

Rather than thinking in black and white – ‘my parents either agree with me or they’re dead to me’ – try to present your request or issue as something you’d like to explore together. Ask calmly for them to hear you out then explain all of the reasons it’s important to you. Tell them you don’t want them to answer right now, but want to keep thinking about it and discussing it with them. Offering to collaborate means they’ll be less likely to give you that immediate smackdown.

Be prepared for them to say no, but explain that this request/issue isn’t likely to go away, so you want to keep working together to understand each other’s views, and eventually get to a point where you agree. If you feel yourself getting upset or cross, say you want to stop the conversation and come back to it when you’re calmer.

2. “But I’m an adult now!”

When your parents are acting like they don’t trust you – to make your own decisions, to keep yourself safe, to pick who you hang out with… the list goes on. And yes, you know it’s a bit of an ask for a 14-year-old to go to a tech-free festival on a remote Scottish island with a group of uni students you met in the park but.. but… it’ll totally be FIIIIINE. WhyamInoteighteenalready?!!

What to say instead:

Be realistic about the fact that you’re not quite an adult yet (and saying you are will actually just make you look childish). But point out that you need to have a taste of independence and the responsibility that comes with it – otherwise how are you ever going to learn to cope with it? Ask your parents if you can work together to move slowly from this point (where you feel they’re being overprotective) towards them slowly trusting you more and more. Ask what you could do to earn that trust, and when you’re given the opportunity to prove yourself take it seriously. If they let you go into town with your friends one Saturday but ask you to text them at lunch and be back by 6pm, do it!

3. “I didn’t ask to be born!”

When you want your parents to know that, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now, everything (including the fact that you flunked your maths test, and broke your dad’s favourite vase practising keepy-uppy in the house) is actually THEIR fault. If they hadn’t brought you into this world, none of this would have happened, would it? And if it’s their fault when stuff goes wrong, then it’s their job to fix stuff, too. Right?

What to say instead:

‘I didn’t ask to be born’ is the ultimate statement of passivity and might actually cause your parents rush in and start controlling everything they think you can’t handle. And who wants that? Instead, try to take some responsibility for the things that are in your control and consider what you might actually need help with. Your parents will be much more likely to engage with you if you keep calm and say, “hey, I’m struggling with this, and this is the support I need.” Even if that ‘support’ is just giving you a bit of space.

4. “You just don’t get it!”

And by ‘it’ you mean everything: what it’s like to be a teenager in 2017; the Snapchat versus Instastories conundrum (OK but if you HAD to pick one…); the pure, inexplicable joy when someone tells you your eyebrows are on fleek; the fact that, no, on fleek doesn’t have anything to do with alopecia, and no you don’t need to get your eyebrows checked out in case they drop out in your sleep.

What to say instead:

Some parents get really overwhelmed when their children are emotional, so they end up saying the wrong thing, or saying very little and acting as if your problems are silly. Try telling them, “when you dismiss my problems like that, it makes me feel like you’re dismissing me”. Then tell them what you need, whether it’s help, support, or a chat about things. If there’s something specific they don’t understand, why not educate them? Maybe your parents won’t let you get Instagram because they’re worried about your online safety. Listen to their concerns then explain to them exactly how Instagram works and the values you see in having it. Give a little to get a little: suggest that you join for a trial period and let your parents see some of the things you post.

5. What you want to say: “I hate you and I genuinely mean that”

Oh there are soooo many variations on this – “Wow. Great parenting, guys” (accompanied by a slow handclap), “I wish I was adopted”, “you’re ridiculous/sad/pathetic”. There’s no getting around it: these comments slip out when you really want to dig the knife in. And give it a little twist, too.

What to say instead:

We often lash out when we feel hurt or disappointed, or when our values are threatened. So spend some time thinking about what the real cause of your upset is. Maybe you feel like your parents aren’t there when you need them, or like they might not respect how you feel about something really important, like your gender or sexuality. If you finished your last conversation with an insult, you might need to start the next one with an apology. But after that, try to open up to your parents and share your issues in a calm way. Try this: “what I said was out of order but this was how I was thinking and feeling when I said it. I know you’re angry but I need you to try and see where I’m coming from. We need to do some thinking together about how to make this situation better.” It might be a bit scary – showing our vulnerable side is nervewracking – but when we’re vulnerable we’re also more likely to be given help and support.

6. What you want to say: “Just. Leave. Me. Alooooone!”

Urgh – when you just need a minute, just one minute, without being quizzed about how school was, or how it’s going with your crush, or why all the mugs seem to be in your room. And speaking of rooms… why can’t they respect that, just because you’re in three for three hours, does NOT mean you’re downing tequila and sending nude selfies? No you don’t need to knock every five minutes, mum. Everything is cool.

What to say instead:

If you just need a bit of a space, and the more your parents are talking to you the angrier you’re getting, tell them. Really. “I can feel myself getting angry so I need some space to think and calm down” shows you’re not just a tantrumming teenager, but a serious contender in negotiations. And when it comes to your room, explain that, if you’re keeping it in a good state, you don’t see any reason why anyone should come in without you saying it’s ok. (You could even tell them that research shows girls have to fight harder for their privacy, so that’s what you’re doing).

But say that you understand their worries and you’d like to agree on some boundaries about what’s ok and what’s not ok – both in terms of them coming into your room, and what you do in there.

Emma Gleadhill runs workshops in schools helping young people to handle their relationships.


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