Advice & Features Articles

How to Stop Nagging Your Teenager

By Cheryl Maguire

It is so easy to nag at our kids in response to what they are (or are not!) doing, but experts say that you can gain more compliance and a happier family if you follow some basic guidelines.

“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,” says Dr. Linda Kudla, a clinical psychologist at The Child and Family Institute.

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

Dr. Sherry Kelly, a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist in Hartford, C.T., says, “Generally, nagging results from a difference in expectations. Like a bad math problem, if your expectations are significantly different from your teens’ expectations, they will disappoint you and you will nag.”

Dr. Kelly explains 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 teens and listen to what they tell you about what they want,” says Dr. Kelly.

Understand Nagging Is Due to Fears

Figure out what you are 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, 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, M.A., LSSP, LPA, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist in Houston, TX.

Understand this is a Normal Phase of Development

Teens may not follow through with their parents’ requests because they are going through a normal stage of development of being independent from 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 in Plymouth, MN concurs. “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 they have very little control,” says Sasek.

“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.”
-Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPA, LPC

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.

Dr. Kudla explains that an appropriate approach might be to observe and describe the situation, while working toward 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.”

Reframe Nagging into a Caring Response

Dean Beckloff, PhD, LPC-S, founder of The Beckloff Behavioral Center in Dallas, Texas says instead of thinking in terms of nagging your teens to alternate their behavior, reframe it as ‘herding’ them toward the better decisions.  And he says if you are helping a kid to get back on track, a basic principle is to use as few words as possible and choose your words wisely.  “That immediately helps you not sound like you are nagging,” he says. He also suggests using common politeness when giving direction. “A teen is looking to be treated more like an adult so determine how you would say something to an adult and do the same with your teen.”

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

These experts agree 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.

“A teen is looking to be treated more like an adult so determine how you would say something to an adult and do the same with your teen.”
-Dean Beckloff, PhD, LPC-S

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 teens do, then they will be more likely to do them in the future.

And, Dr. Beckloff reminds us that it is wise to seek support when need be, whether that be a teacher, a tutor or a professional counselor.

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