Charlie*, a 14-year-old freshman, was an honors student, very sociable, and enjoyed playing sports. His teachers and coaches had only good things to say about him. Although Charlie’s parents enjoyed hearing these positive remarks, they wondered why Charlie seemed so different at home, spending most of the time in his room and arguing frequently with his family.
Charlie’s parents decided to schedule an appointment with a counselor to discuss these concerns. At Outreach Teen & Family Services, Charlie and his family met with counselor Kathleen Davies. Charlie said he disliked being at home because he often felt pressured by his parents to be “perfect.” He agreed with his parents that the arguments, occurring almost daily, were out of control, and everyone in the family agreed that they missed the fun family nights they used to have.
Davies helped the family explore methods of communication. “Arguing is not necessarily a bad thing,” she says. “It typically means that two or more people are trying to work out a disagreement. However, people often want to learn other ways of dealing with disagreements because arguments are mostly ineffective and have negative consequences such as loss of trust due to harmful comments.” When we argue, often our main goal is for our opinion to be heard, and so we shout louder without trying to listen or compromise.
Davies helped family members create their own lists of triggers or topics that typically increased their anger or frustration quickly. She also helped them to identify the ways in which they could individually recognize their anger and frustration. “No one is effective at communicating while angry or frustrated. During a discussion, it’s important to monitor your own emotions.”
If you feel you are becoming too upset to talk about the topic any longer, let the other person know this. Tell them you are too upset right now and you need some time alone.
“Pick another time to continue the conversation. You may need to attempt the conversation multiple times. This is OK; it is not a failure.”
Davies also explained that it’s OK to mess up.
“The most important thing is to admit your wrongdoing and apologize. Apologizing helps to reduce guilt and re-establish trust that may have been lost in the heat of the argument.”
With practice in session and at home, each family member learned effective communication techniques, including knowing when to walk away and how to use coping skills to reduce frustration. Charlie and his family reported spending more positive time together. Although they described their communication as “a work in progress,” they could all identify positive changes. “Communication is a skill that is never perfect for any of us,” Davies says. “It’s a skill that we all have to work on over the course of our lifespan.”
*Charlie represents a typical Outreach client. Details do not correspond with any specific case in order to protect client anonymity.
Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer counseling and educational programs to teens and parents that are affordable, accessible, and discreet; all within a welcoming, supportive environment. www.outreachteen.org .