Oppositional Defiant Disorder

How do you get your teenager to stop arguing with you?  According to many experts, you don’t!

Arguing is not only normal adolescent behavior–it’s developmentally necessary.  Adolescence is a time of experimenting with and forging new levels of autonomy.  Part of that process is learning how to express independent opinions that run contrary to those in authority.  Your job is to help guide that behavior so that it evolves into normal adult independence, rather than disordered behavior such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

So as far as effective parenting goes, the question is not whether or not your adolescent will argue with you (they will), but how you should engage that behavior.

The first thing to consider is what is motivating the arguments.  Is it normal developmental testiness or is your teen arguing significantly more than her peers or siblings?  Excessive arguing may be caused by a number of factors, such as a strong personality, depression, anti-social tendencies (budding ODD), family or social problems, or attentional difficulties like ADHD.

Extreme levels of defiance may require professional diagnosis or intervention.  But all forms of argumentativeness require good parenting skills.  “The key to a good outcome for this developmental phase,” says clinical psychologist, Jack Hinman, “is relationship.”

Hinman advises being ever mindful of your “relational bank account” with your child, making positive deposits all the time.   Positive deposits might include spending quality time together, helping with homework, attending sporting events, joking around, asking curious questions, complimenting, and positive instruction.  Keeping the account full by making happy relational deposits ensures that when conflict arises and you have to make a withdrawal–setting a boundary, redirecting, administering a consequence–you’re not overdrawn already.

If you’re already relationally in the red with your teen or an oppositional disorder is emerging, opportunities to make deposits will be scarce.  In this situation your teen is likely to be guarded and unreceptive.  Hinman suggests that this situation might make it necessary to engage outside help.  This help might be a therapist, a member of the clergy, or a favorite aunt or uncle.

Whoever steps in should be able to help mediate and begin bridging the gap so that you can re-engage and begin building credibility with your teen.  In a sense, this person is loaning you a little credibility so that you can build your own back up.

This may take some time and persistence.   “While it’s never too early to start building long-term credibility through relational deposits,” says Hinman, “it’s also never too late.”