Guest Blog: 3 Most Common Parent-Kid Fights and How to Stop Them

By Vanessa Van Petten

When I was a teenager it felt like my parents and I got in the same fights over and over again. After working with thousands of teens and parents I have realized that there are several common fights parents have with their teens. Below, I have described these three fights and offered some solutions for stopping the argument cycle.

1. The “It’s Not Fair” Fight


– Older brother gets to stay out late with his friends. Teen finds this grossly unfair.

– Parent gets to have soda, child does not. Teen finds this grossly unfair.

– Teenager cannot buy new outfit for dance because it is too expensive. Teen finds this grossly unfair.

Emotional Intent: When you hear a teen talk about how unfair something is, what they are often feeling is, “I am not important or special enough.” If you feel like your teenager is constantly arguing about justice or fairness, they are most likely feeling like they are not being heard or cared about enough to get what they want. Of course, this is usually not the case. In the examples above parents would be worried about safety, health and money, while teens feel like they are not as important as their sibling, that their parents do not understand how important the dance is, and so on.

Solutions: The best way to stop the “it’s Not Fair” fight is to address the emotional intent. The best way to do this is for parents to push into the “it’s not fair” feeling from their children instead of pushing against it. For instance in the new outfit example a parent might say to their teen, “I hear you think this is unfair, will you tell me why?” A teen will most likely respond, “You buy stuff for yourself all the time,” or “But I deserve this dress.” These answers are important because it will show the parent the emotional intent behind the upset and feelings of injustice. If a parent addresses these by saying something like, “I could see how you feel like us not buying this for you is about you not feeling worthy. But the truth is we are trying to save for the big vacation we are taking this summer—which is for all of us. I know how important this dance is for you. Maybe we can get you a new pair of shoes or…” then the fight is stopped.

2. The “Treat Me Like A Grown-Up” Fight


– Teen wants to be able to stay out late with friends. Parents say no. Teen thinks they are being treated like a child.

– Teen wants to go away for Spring Break, parents say no. Teen thinks they are being treated like a child.

Emotional Intent: Most fights during the teen years are actually based in this ‘treat me like a grown-up’ motivation. The earlier you can catch and address it the better it will be. It derives from the fundamental pulling away that comes with a teen trying to assert their independence.

Solutions: It is very important for parents to discuss reasons for decisions that are making a teenager angry. This way teens are sure to understand the real reasons for a parent’s choice. Another great way to help teenagers get less upset in fights surrounding their maturity is for parents to help teens feel mature in other ways. For example, perhaps parents do not want their teen to go away for the whole Spring Break because they want to have family time. A great way to address this with teens is to say clearly, “We really want to have family time with you, but we know you are getting older, so how about you do a weekend camping trip with your friends for one of the weekends.” This teaches teens you trust them, but it is all about balancing needs.

3. The “We Are a Different Person” Fight


– Parent wants their teen to join band, teen doesn’t want to.

– Parent expects higher grades and when teen doesn’t do well, a huge fight ensues.

– Teen does not keep room tidy, parent gets upset when guests come over.

Emotional Intent: Often times teenagers tell me that they will purposefully keep their room dirty or choose unapproved hobbies just so they can be different from their parents. Parents frequently misinterpret room cleaning or bad grades for laziness, when something deeper might be going on. Teenagers often will ‘misbehave’ or fight with parents simply to show them that they are their own person—even if it gets them into trouble.

Solutions: First, it’s important to make sure that you do want your child to be their own person. Be careful not to push expectations or your own goals onto your kids. Second, make sure teenagers know that some of the requirements you have for them (good grades a tidy room for guests) are not to make them feel less like an individual, but for them to have more choices in their future and to present a nice home to guests. I recommend parents being very direct with teenagers about their need to be ‘their own person’ you might be surprised what common fights are actually based in this emotional intent.

Overall, fighting can be stressful, but teenagers often tell us that ‘fighting’ with their parents is their way of discussing issues. Look at fights as a way of getting to know a new aspect of your teens and be open with them about hoping to stop harmful cycles. 

Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation’s youngest experts, or ‘youthologists’ on parenting and adolescents. She now runs her popular parenting website,, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers to answer questions from parents and adults. Her approach has been featured by CNN, Fox News, and Wall Street Journal. She was also on the Real Housewives of Orange County helping the housewives with troubled teens. Her new book, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?, was just released in September 2011 with Plume Books of Penguin USA.

Posted in Adolescence, Blog, Books, Child Development, Family Man Recommends, Teens, Tweens | Leave a comment

“Rockin’ Babies” Contest

Got a cute baby? Enter pix to win cool stuff! I’m helping to judge a contest to help get the word out about Rockin’ Babies, the fun and funny new board book written by Dr. Jenn Berman and Cynthia Weil, with illustrator Galia Bernstein. Dr. Jenn is one of my very favorite parenting writers and a marvelous psychologist and on-air expert. Her most recent book is Superbaby. She wrote Rockin’ Babies with her mom, who has co-composed, with her husband Barry Man, classic rock songs such as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

Posted in Babies, Blog, Books, Contests, Family Man Recommends | Leave a comment

Family Man Recommends: ‘The Future According to Me’

Rob Kutner is a very funny fellow. He also happens to be a terrific dad and husband (though his wife Sheryl is more qualified to judge). On the funny side, this Emmy-nominated writer for Conan and Emmy winner for his years on The Daily Show weighs in on predicting what the upcoming years have in store with his new Kindle book, The Future According to Me. He covers such topics as the future of Earth, man, woman, race, politics, chocolate, hipster aliens, and Black Holes filled with deadbeat dads, among things worth reading about while you’re in the bathroom library. Honestly, 99 cents is all it takes to get you into the mind of the Nostradamus of Funny — not sure if that makes sense, but if you want the real laughs, check out Rob’s book, which can be read on just about any electronic device.

Here’s a snippet of what Rob has written about fatherhood: “Having a child means that, by definition, I’m constantly thinking about the future — the worst and best scenarios, usually at the same time. In some ways, writing this book was just a cheap form of therapy. Unfortunately, I’ll never be able to read it unless I can figure out how to wrestle the iPad back from my toddler.”

Posted in Blog, Books, Family Man Recommends, Humor | Leave a comment

Father and Son Are ‘Dinorific’

In the interest of creating a “time capsule of creativity,” Michael Sgrignoli wrote a series of ten poems about dinosaurs that he then had his son, Ethan (then age 8), illustrate. The result could’ve been a simple keepsake for Mike and his kid, but the poetry is funny, the words cleverly chosen, and the content quite educational. Along with Ethan’s adorable pictures, the book makes for a fun read with your kids. More than that, it’s the kind of thing that might inspire you and your own child to do something similar. My own six year old made me sit down at the computer after we read Dinorific Poetry and we wrote a few verses. While it’s certainly not as polished as Mike (who also sells advertising and plays drums on weekend gigs) and Ethan’s work, I am grateful for the incentive to write something with my son. Check out the efforts of the Sgrignoli team and see what imagination roars for you.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Blog, Books, Family Man Recommends | Leave a comment

New Social Action Book Series for Kids

A couple of years ago, Tracey Serebin interviewed me for a number of segments on her Internet radio show. Tracey also mentioned she had a dream of publishing a book series geared for 7-12 years olds to help raise the social consciousness of kids. Like too few of us, Tracey has been steadily working on making her dream a reality and she is now raising the capital to publish her just-finished first book in the Daisy Button Adventure Series. The initial volume is about building a community garden, something that is growing in importance in a world in which a lot of kids do not get enough fresh produce in their diet. Tracey is already making agreements with schools around the country to use the book series in their curriculum. If you are interested in the book, take a look at the Web site linked above. If you’d like to contribute funds to get the book into its first printing, click to the site.

Posted in Blog, Books, Family Man Recommends, Social Action | Leave a comment

Dating Dad: Rock

By Eric S. Elkins

Even before I was a father, I daydreamed about sharing the things I loved with my kids. I mean, what could be better than introducing your child to the joys of your life? I reveled in the idea of sharing amazing foods, books, music and other experiences with my offspring. And when Simone was barely a mass of cells, I’d sing to her mother’s belly whenever I had the opportunity — kid-friendly songs, ballads, and the Sh’ma; a prayer that Simone has known by heart her entire life.

I’ve written about the ways having my girl with me has enhanced my life, and if you’ve been paying attention, you probably noticed that one of my greatest joys is sharing experiences with her — watching and learning as she interacts with new things in her world. Sure, there’s the innate pleasure in watching her face as her brain processes new inputs, whether it’s foreign currency or duck fat fries — the moments when she first saw Big Ben and then the Eiffel Tower, her eyes wide, mouth open, iconic clichés suddenly real and wondrous, are treasured memories for me.

But the larger satisfaction that comes from sharing new things with Simone is in her appreciation of the things I love. I’ve never pressured her to like what I like, but she is the child of two geeky, sci-fi-loving, pop culture-addicted parents, so she’s kind of wired to appreciate the cerebral, the outlandish, the edgy. 

Simone never asked to listen to Justin Bieber or Hannah Montana. But she will request some Arcade Fire, maybe a little Decemberists, and always They Might Be Giants.  In our house, there’s plenty of Dave Brubeck, and at the age of three, Simone would ask to hear Ella Fitzgerald in the car. When she was six or seven, I took her to an off-the-radar Flogging Molly concert (another favorite, for both of us), and she danced with abandon backstage to their Irish-infused punk raucousness.

So when I bought two tickets to see U2 in Denver a full 18 months ago, I always knew Simone would be my preferred date at the stadium spectacle. We were disappointed early last summer when it looked like we’d need to sell off the tickets because of our trip to London, but then Bono threw out his back and the tour was postponed (sad for him, good for us). The rescheduled date is almost a year after the original one, but it’s coming up this weekend. Simone’s never seen an effects-heavy rock show. She has no idea what she’s in for. I feel so very lucky that I get to be there when the giant stage explodes with music and energy and she gets swept up in the majesty of it all.

I am starting to feel a little uneasy, though, about shaping Simone into an unabashed geek wonder.

See, sometime last year, I found out from a friend that the hoary old TV series SeaQuest DSV was available on Netflix Instant, and I thought it would be fun to watch with Simone. I had no idea that she’d be immediately enthralled, and would want to watch one episode after another. But the more we watched, the more I would laugh and say, “This is just Star Trek under the sea.”

Simone became very curious about this Star Trek of which I spoke, so we started out by checking out random episodes of the original series and The Next Generation (aka TNG) that I’d sweep up on the DVR. The old show was a bit too dark and cheesy for her tastes (though she did laugh through a few episodes), but, damn, she took to TNG right away, immediately loving the characters and story lines. That enthusiasm gave me the impetus to break into the DVD sets I’d been hoarding for years — when I used to write movie, book, and video game reviews, companies would send me tons of products. In that time, I managed to collect boxed sets of every season of the original show and its late ‘80s reboot. I’d been reluctant to break through the shrink wrap and desecrate what could be a small eBay fortune, but the thought of making our way through the mythology together season by season was much more exciting than maybe selling the set off for a few hundred bucks some years down the road.

For a time, Simone didn’t want to watch anything else except for the next episode of Star Trek. She abandoned Top Chef All-Stars, lost interest in reruns of Phineas & Ferb. It was Star Trek or…

…well…this is where I have started to feel a little guilty…

…because if we weren’t watching Star Trek on TV, Simone would beg for us to read J.R.R. Tolkien together. I know. I know.

Although Simone plows through massive novels on her own, we have a special ritual of reading together every night at bedtime. When I introduced her to “The Hobbit” (which her mother told her was boring) I wasn’t sure how she would take to it. But the story is so exciting, the writing so descriptive and rich, and the characters so lovable that Simone couldn’t get enough of the book. We didn’t even stop to breathe before we dove into the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, immersing ourselves into the warm glow of Middle Earth and embracing “Fellowship of the Ring,” reading it aloud together at every opportunity; less TV, more curling up on the couch or in a sunny patch on the carpet digging into chapter after chapter. I’d read, different voices and accents for different characters, until my voice was ragged.

And, oh, when we finally finished the first book and I decided she was ready for Peter Jackson’s epic film version, we were both giddy with excitement. For me, it was all about experiencing Simone’s wonder at the loving manifestation of the novels — to be with her when she saw Ian McKellen’s Gandalf for the first time, or the meticulous creation of The Shire, the home of her beloved hobbits. Or — and this was so incredible to see with her — the appearance of the fire-winged balrog in the depths of the Mines of Moria. By the time the credits were rolling, Simone was a sweaty bundle of exuberance. In the same breath, she said it was the best movie she’d ever seen and could we get reading the next book in the trilogy.

At school these days, she and her pals play “Lord of the Rings.” Simone walks through the world with a Frodo name tag, a homemade necklace with a yellow clay One Ring, and…um…a sword wrought of pipe cleaners. 

Oh crap. What have I done?

Simone is her own person, and I would never want her to feel obligated to like something because I do. I want her to develop her own tastes and preferences. Did it break my heart when I realized she may never love roller-coasters? Sure, a little bit. But I’d rather she became a media-savvy consumer of art and culture — of the stuff that appeals to her at a cellular level — than a clone of her father. And I don’t want her to become so geeked out that she can’t communicate with the normals.

So her enthusiasm for Star Trek and Lord of the Rings gives me pause. In the midst of the deep satisfaction and pleasure I have when she asks me to re-read a beautifully crafted description in “The Two Towers,” I feel just the slightest pang of apprehension. I realize I need to give her the tools to feed her passions (as I’ve always done), but maybe to step back, too, a little more often now, as she navigates her tween years, and see what happens without my steady curating.

The good news is that, next school year, she’ll be surrounded by her tribe — creative, quirky students and teachers who will fill her receptive mind and heart with a diversity of perspectives. And music. And books. And movies. She’s headed into a fecund time of exploration, and I’m thrilled to see what new passions she brings home to share.

Who knows…maybe she’ll feel a surge of pride and excitement when she introduces me to some treasure for the first time, and I’m the one with a giant smile on my face.

Eric Elkins’ company  specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing

Posted in Books, Dating Dad, Divorced Dads, Featured Moms & Dads, Film, Music, Single Fathers, TV | Leave a comment

Book Preview: ‘Go the F*** to Sleep’

There’s a new picture book that has parents around the world buzzing. It’s so hot that, in advance of it going on the market in October of this year, it has already cracked Amazon’s top 300 list because of presales. No, it’s not a previously undiscovered Dr. Seuss. It’s a story that’s actually meant for grown ups called Go the F*** to Sleep.

My friend Geoff Silverman brought this little tome to my attention and I got a sneak peek into something that should hit the funny bone of many parents because of its crass but true sentiments. Written by acclaimed novelist Adam Mansbach (recently of Angry Black White Boy) with illustrations by Ricardo Cortes, the book imitates Goodnight Moon (the classic bedtime story from Margaret Wise Brown and illustrator Clement Hurd) as it uses calming poetry full of nature-oriented symbolism before it whacks you over the head with what the parent reciting the poetry realizes: his child will not go to sleep! With each page, the narrator tries to regroup to help his child slumber, but the kid won’t go down. As such, the parent curses up a blue streak in ever-deepening frustration. Frankly, it says what many of us feel bubbling beneath the surface when a son or daughter continues to eat away at our precious down time.

This is very obviously not meant to be read to kids, and the back cover has a warning stating this. However, if you can handle a bit of off-color humor, this is a book parents will laugh heartily over. See the Amazon page at

Posted in Blog, Books, Family Man Recommends, Humor, Parenting Stress | 2 Comments