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Today's Family Magazine

How to stop nagging your teenager

By Cheryl Maguire

As I watched a local theater production of the musical “13”, I smiled listening to the catchy tune.  Then the teenagers on stage sang the lyrics in a mocking tone, “No, you’re not ready!  No, it’s not time yet!  No, it’s not right now!  Wait until you’re older!  Homework. Laundry.  Dishes.  Courses.  Just settle down and hold your horses!”

I squirmed in my seat and thought, “Do I really sound like that?”

I’m guessing if given the opportunity my twin teens would say, “No mom, you are much worse.”

“Parents can develop a habit of expecting their children to simply comply with demands made of them and nagging is a reactive behavior to increase compliance,” said Dr. Linda Kudla, a clinical psychologist.

Dr. Kudla explained that adolescents will typically respond to nagging by either avoiding their parent (which leads to an increase in nagging and perpetuates the problem) or reacting with more challenging behaviors (such as continued/increased noncompliance, lying, sneaking, etc.).

Dr. Sherry Kelly, a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist said, “Generally, nagging results from a difference in expectations.  Like a bad math problem, if your expectations are significantly different from your teen’s expectations –– they will disappoint you and you will nag.”

Dr. Kelly explained that parents should stop nagging because this type of behavior can cause symptoms of depression and anxiety in teens.

Here are some solutions on ways parents can change their nagging behavior:

Clarify expectations

It is important to clarify what your expectations are so that you and your teen are on the same page.

“Parents often have expectations that exceed actual life events.  Be clear about what you want for your teen and listen to what they tell you about what they want,” says Dr. Kelly.

Understand that nagging is due to fears

Figure out what are you afraid of and then either discuss these fears with your teen or find a way to manage it.

“Nagging can be a sign of anxiety.  When parents nag them they often feel anxious for their child and the nagging helps reduce their anxiety because it makes them feel like they have a sense of control,” says Amy Rollo, a licensed psychotherapist. 

Understand that this is a normal phase of development

Teens may not follow through with their parent’s requests because they are going through a normal stage of development of being independent of their parents.

“Teenagers are gaining independence.  It is normal for them to rebel or not always follow through, as it is part of this stage of development” says Rollo.  

Amanda Sasek, MS LMFT a licensed marriage & family therapist also discusses this development stage.

“Parents need to recognize this is a normal developmental stage and work with it instead of against it.  They need to remind themselves every day that their teen not listening to them is usually not an attack against them, but teenagers are trying to assert control at a time where they feel that they have very little control,” says Sasek.

Create goals with your teen

If parents and teens have a common goal then they are more likely to work together.

“Sit down with your teen and discuss the chores that need to be done and then ask what they would like to do and when they would like to do them,” says Sasek.

 Reframe nagging into a caring response

Dr. Kelly recommends ending the cycle of nagging behavior by implementing PAR: Prepare, Accommodate & Reframe.

She explains what PAR means by saying, “Anticipate and PREPARE yourself for the situation that will trigger nagging responses.  Second, ACKNOWLEDGE and ACCOMMODATE how you might feel (frustrated) and, third, REFRAME your nagging response into something helpful.”  She goes on to say, “This is particularly important for parents to learn because nagging often is cloaked around criticism.  You may feel like you are trying to manage or help get your teen in gear, but your teen may hear it as criticism.”

Dr. Kudla explains that when an issue arises, an appropriate approach might be to observe and describe the situation while working towards a democratic and mutually acceptable compromise.

“For example saying ‘I notice you haven't cleaned up your room yet.  What's up?’ then validating the reasons that it hasn't happened yet and wondering what might help make it easier.”  She goes on to say, “Ask if they need time or some help or suggest a fun outing to celebrate after it's done.”

Dr. Kudla explains that most issues can be resolved with compromise, and when adolescents feel like their parents understand and respect them, they're more likely to have stronger relationships with them and less stress overall in their already stressful teenage lives. 

 Show gratitude

“There are several studies that show acknowledging gratitude immediately ‘lights up the brain’, softens the stress center of your brain, and makes you healthier and happier,” says Dr. Kelly.

 If you show appreciation for the things your teen does do then they will be more likely to do them in the future.

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in Parents Magazine, Your Teen Magazine, and other publications.

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