Complaining will never solve the problem. Stop complaining and take action.
A favorite question of parents is, “Why does my teenager complain so much?” They complain every time I ask them to do something. I just don’t see the reason for it. Here I try to discuss how to stop the complaining and to change it into constructive conversation and action so that there is a shift of responsibility from the parent to the teenager and perhaps less complaining. Complaining rarely solves anything, and in the parent/teen conversation it usually escalates into a battle of words and will. Complaining can actually be a habit, a form of communication that the teen and parent have both involuntarily allowed to develop and now the focus becomes how to change the habit to make the communication positive. To change the habit of complaining takes time, patience, and commitment to change the pattern of communication.
First, complaining is a coping mechanism in the conversation and has to be reversed. So next time your teenager complains, understand that it may have come from a learned strategy from a long time ago that worked and was therefore reinforced. Both parent and teen must mutually agree to find a better solution than to complain when a parent begins a conversation or asks the teen to perform a task, such as picking up their dishes, or cleaning their room. The conversation needs to identify that your teenager is complaining and then asking a series of valid questions.
- Is the complaint valid? Should I really complain about driving my little sister to her ballet class (teenager). Do they have a valid reason for not wanting to drive their sister (parent) The answer may stop the conversation and have a solution. If the reason is “because I don’t want to”, is there a discussion on family roles and responsibility and expectations with why your teenager can use the family car. Or is it that your teen is on a zoom study call for the big chemistry test tomorrow. See how that focuses the conversation on a cause.
- What can I do to solve the issue I’m complaining about? Is it complaining about taking out the garbage after mom has had to remind you 353 times? I could set a weekly reminder on my phone and just take out the garbage before mom has to remind me, proactive (teen and parent). Again, a solution to the complaint.
- Is this a recurring complaint or a one-off situation? I ask this because a solution to stop a recurring complaint is usually the answer. A one off situation requires more communication and listening to understand. Listen with curiosity, not to respond.
I encourage parents and teens to understand the cost of complaining, that if it is not stopped it is easy to escalate beyond the initial request or complaint. Negative feelings and emotions surface and things are said out of anger. Rather than escalating the conversation and the complaining, stop and create space to vent after the negative emotions have passed. Venting, unlike complaining, is a way to articulate a frustration and have a conversation about the complaint and not the other emotional issues that were brought up. Stopping when the conversation escalates maintains trust and the relationship, remember communication is the relationship but it cannot be negative, and “fighting”. As a parent we need to model positive communication skills.
The ramifications of escalating complaining in a conversation is the emotional toll and hurt as both teen and parent will say things that they never would otherwise. Everyone is guilty of this. The great thing about a poor communication interaction such as this, is the opportunity to go back, admit the mistake and correct the communication and listen to one another with the intent to understand the other person. This will allow for trust to be rebuilt and foster the growth of the relationship. It is not easy to step out of a conversation when we are angry and the intent is then to overpower and win. That is not the goal of the relationship you want with your teenager. You want to build communication, trust and respect.
Overall, complaining serves no purpose, but I see it as an opportunity