Handle Misunderstandings with Parents

This article was written by Youth Advisory Board member Ilana Ginsburg with contributions by fellow member Ranen Miao.

Dealing with Misunderstandings

Misunderstandings happen in any relationship. If not dealt with appropriately, they can lead to conflict or frustration. To avoid a cycle of miscommunication with your parents, try putting yourself in their shoes.

Consider their side of the argument. It will show you are mature and thoughtful — that you are preparing to have an informed discussion, rather than an argument. Even if you disagree, it helps to know what the source of their frustration may be.

Parents Want What’s Best for You

The first step in working through miscommunications is to consider why your parents might make certain choices. In most situations, your parents are trying to do what they think is best for you. An acknowledgement that they are trying to act in your best interest is a first step towards diffusing a fight.

You and your parents will disagree or misunderstand each other sometimes -- that’s just the way any relationship works. Your task is to transform these misunderstandings into positive discussions.

Intention vs. Action

We have a tendency to judge ourselves through our intentions, but others through their actions. Take a moment to really think about this statement because it might apply to one of your experiences. You may have said something that hurt a friend’s feelings but immediately thought to yourself, “Oh, no! That’s not what I meant or how I meant it, I promise!” Your friend, however, may not have understood and took your words and actions at face value, without considering your true intention.

With your parents, try to take a step back and consider their intent. They love you and truly want what’s best for you. They’re trying, and that’s the most you can ask of anyone.

After reflecting, try having a conversation about what their intentions may have been. Tell them, “It seems like we disagree about this, but I’m having trouble understanding your perspective. Could you help me understand where you’re coming from?” Make sure you really listen to their answer. Then you can offer your point of view.

Conversations can never hurt as long as we approach them from a good place. Try to talk when you feel calm and level-headed. This will help you stay clear and rational during the conversation and will help your parents be more receptive of your thoughts. See our piece on How to Talk to Parents About Something Important for more communication tips.

Turn Misunderstandings Into Positive Discussions

Realize that your parents are only human. You and your parents will disagree or misunderstand each other sometimes — that’s just the way any relationship works. Your task is to transform these misunderstandings into positive discussions. You can improve your relationship with your parents by improving your communication. Listen without judgment. Consider their point of view. Clearly articulate yours. Give parents the benefit of the doubt and they will return the favor.

Thoughts From Members of the Youth Advisory Board

Ranen, 17

“One of the most heated fights I’ve ever had with my parents was when we clashed about how I balance my life. I have always been more of an extracurriculars type of person. There’s nothing I detest more than hours upon hours of homework, studying, and assignments.

In the middle of sophomore year, my parents decided to confront me about slipping grades. From first marking period, my grades had fallen (probably because I was having debate tournaments every weekend). They sat me down, and told me very bluntly, ‘You need to focus more on school.’

Of course, no one enjoys hearing those words. For two hours, we talked about how unfair the American education system is and about the importance of my extracurricular work. My parents saw what I did as a nuisance: distractions that would hinder my ability to get into a college and take away precious time from studying, resulting in a subpar GPA and report card.

It was at this point that I pointed out, ‘I respect both of your opinions. I know you want me to do better. And I know you want the best for me. I have listened and I hope you will let me make my own decisions. I want you to support what I choose in high school, and I want you to let me accept any consequences of my actions.’

Suddenly, the tones of my parents mellowed out a lot, and a screaming match turned into a real discussion. We agreed on a few things. College and school are important! So are the clubs that I love. We agreed that I could stay in my non-academic activities, as long as I spent more time studying than on binging Netflix shows. That’s a compromise that we’ve kept up to this day.”

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