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Avoiding Escalation Traps: 8 Things to Avoid When Talking with Your Teenager


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It is common to feel your teenager is annoyed with you simply for existing. An attempt to help or asking how their day was can result in eye rolls and short answers.


This often leaves parents feeling underappreciated and disrespected. While we may not mean to annoy our teenager, it is important to recognize the role parents may play in escalating already tense situations.


By avoiding these common practices, conversations with a teenager can be:

  1. More productive

  2. Less intense

  3. Emotionally supported

A common theme of the following practices is that they are nonproductive. They distract from the intended focus of the conversation and create a disconnect between parent and teenager. Avoiding these can make difficult conversations easier and with better results.


The emotional intensity of a conversation plays a big role in what direction it takes. It is important for parents not to make a tense situation worse through escalation. Increased escalation can lead to dramatic reactions and greater rifts in the parent-child relationship.

Finally, these practices create a lack of emotional support in the relationship. They often lead to feelings of not being heard, cared about, or seen. This can create a feeling of hopelessness for the teenager and make it hard for parents to help them through a difficult time.


8 Communication Practices to Be Aware of to Help Avoid the Escalation Trap


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Below are 8, less effective communication practices that at one point or another, each of us as parents have used in communicating with our teens.


1. Preaching/Cliches


We can all remember being lectured to by our parents. I am willing to bet that they were ineffective most of the time. Whenever a lecture or a cliche begins, teenagers often get angry or walk away.


This is because being compared to others, being told how bad they are, or being told a life lesson they have heard time and time again can make a teenager feel inadequate, defensive, and frustrated.


Preaching also distracts from the present moment leading to an unproductive conversation.


2. Talking in Chapters


When frustrated, it is easy to turn a short discussion into a verbose tirade about how the teenager always does this and never does that. This is frustrating to teenagers who may feel personally attacked by the accusations.


This is an unproductive way to manage frustration, and parents will often find better results if they simply say "Can you please wash the dishes," instead of starting a long conversation about the teenager's history of washing or not washing dishes.


3. Labeling


No one enjoys being labeled, yet we as a society have created so many ways to label people; especially children. Oppositional, strong-willed, lazy, useless, etc. are all labels commonly placed on children.


These labels can become self-fulfilling prophecies because when used often enough, children will live up to the labels they are given. When a label is used it is difficult to see the teenager as they really are.


4. Futurizing


Parents want what is best for their children, and this leads them to "futurize" or anxiously discuss their child's future success, creating feelings of doubt, resentment, and hurt in the child.


Parents should avoid statements like "You will be flipping burgers for the rest of your life," "You will never make it to college," or "You will end up living under a bridge."


5. Problem Solving


When a teenager approaches a parent with a difficult situation it is often not to have the problem solved but to be seen and heard. When parents go into problem-solving mode, they overlook the emotions experienced by the teenager and miss a chance for their teenager to feel listened to.


6. Questioning Teenagers' Restlessness and Discontent


It is developmentally appropriate for the teen stage to be moody, self-conscious, and uncertain. When parents ask, "What is wrong with you," or say, "You used to be so talkative and happy," they alienate the teen.


Teenagers do not often know the "why" of their personality change; if they did, they would not have the emotional vocabulary to describe it anyway. Parents should support the teen instead of making statements or questions the teen has no answers to.


7. Not Tolerating Experimentation


The teen years are a time of experimentation and self-discovery. This often takes the form of strange hairstyles and clothing.


A parent is not required to approve or like these changes. Let's face it, he will never make the mullet look good and most likely will look back on this phase with embarrassment; however, when experimentation becomes a power struggle, it can consume and destroy a relationship.


It also takes energy away from managing more concerning behaviors, such as drug use or not respecting a curfew. It is best to express disapproval once and not bring up the subject again on these minor means of experimentation.


8. Collecting Criticism


In the heat of an argument, it is easy to pull out the long list of frustrations and criticisms you have been holding back. However, these only lead to hurt feelings and broken relationships.


Criticism and pointing out defects never lead to resolution. When was the last time you heard someone say, "You are right! I have been a big jerk. I will stop that right now!" It is more likely that they will become angry, hurt, and defensive, escalating the conversation and ensuring it leads nowhere productive.


There is Support in Helping You Support Your Teenager


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Managing difficult and tense conversations is not easy. This is especially true if you were not able to learn from your parents because they did not manage conflict well. This is often where we learn our communication style.


However, it is never too late to repair relationships and learn to do things differently. A family therapist can help identify emotional blocks in a relationship as well as discuss ways for tense discussions to be more productive. And working with a therapist who specializes in family counseling can help you navigate this course in less time when compared to individual therapy.


If your teenager is experiencing emotional challenges that could use outside support and help, a teen therapist who specializes in teen counseling can make all the difference. And the combination of teen therapy and family counseling can be a game changer!


Katy Teen & Family Counseling: Specializing in Teen Therapy & Young Adult Counseling Katy, TX & Houston


Parenting teenagers is one of the most exciting and at the same time, stressful things we will do in our lives! There are tips in communication approaches with teenagers that can make this challenge a bit easier and more productive. Our family therapists can take what you learned above and build on that to further help in your relationship with your teenager.


At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, our therapists specialize in teen therapy, young adult counseling, and family therapy.


We also have our Sugar Land location. Sugar Land Teen & Family Counseling is located in Sugar Land, TX, we specialize in family counseling. We are conveniently located off of US 90 and Dairy Ashford Road.


At our Katy, TX location, we have 70+ years of combined experience. If you are ready to meet with one of our teen therapists, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:

  1. Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling

  2. Talk with one of our caring therapists

  3. Begin the healing process today!

Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling


At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we provide a variety of therapy approaches that are supported by research and shown to be effective. Some of the teen therapy and young adult counseling we offer are:


Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapy


Anxiety counseling

Anxiety/Panic attacks

Neurofeedback for ADHD/ADD

Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)

Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)

Therapy for depression

Therapy for trauma

PTSD counseling


Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)


Trauma Therapy

PTSD Treatment

Depression Counseling

Therapy for Anxiety

Therapy for Social Anxiety

Therapy for Panic Attacks


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)


Trauma treatment

PTSD treatment

Counseling for anxiety

Anxiety/Panic attacks

Depression therapy


Group Therapy for Teens


Teen Depression

Teen Anxiety

Teen Social Anxiety

Teen Panic Attacks

Body Image


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)


Therapy for trauma

PTSD counseling

Therapy for anxiety

Anxiety/Panic attacks

Therapy for depression


Couples Therapy & Marriage Counseling


Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling can be very effective. The secret ingredient to success is each person willing to look at themselves and work to do things differently, together. When a marriage counselor or couples therapist has this to work with, the success rate can be very high.


Sometimes life will throw challenges at us that create situations that put strain on our marriage or relationship. It may be due to:


Choices and actions that have been made by one partner.

  • Financial downturn in the economy creating financial strain.

  • Feeling like you're growing apart.

  • Feeling like you don't have as much in common as you used to.

Whatever the reason may be, marriage counseling and couples therapy can help. Couples therapy and marriage counseling has also been found to work in less time than individual therapy.


If you've worked hard for this relationship and find that there are now barriers in the way of maintaining a healthy relationship, contact us at Katy Teen & Family Counseling.




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