Fighting Words: How to Fight Off Fighting Words With Your Teen

Taking a look within ourselves might be the answer to our teenage conflicts

6 min read

A parent and a teen. What a dynamic duo.

As you read “parent and teen,” you probably envisioned a scene where both parties are at not at peace with one another. There’s some banter, some disgust, some bossing around, something that shows a distinctive, often competitive “we are sooo different” message that you could practically smell from the imagination in your head.

Isn’t that something? The two characters in a family unit remind me of two characters I used to watch when I was a kid on the weekends on Looney Tunes.

Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam.

These two are my favorite comedic animated duo of my time. They came about from the classic episodes of the ‘40s and ‘50s. There was an episode back then called High Diving Hare (1949) that had a conversation that stuck with me for decades:

Bugs Bunny says in his classic Flatbush/Brooklyn accent, “Hey! Just a minute, you. Them’s fightin’ woids (words)! And good ol’ raw and honest Yosemite Sam responds with, “Yeah, them’s fightin’ words. As I took the 5th sip of my morning coffee and looked at my laptop’s blank Word document, I thought about what I wanted to share about teens with moms. Then, that ol' duo showed up in my mind along with the phrase,


That was it!

While I’m sure English teachers all over the globe might have something to say about the words, use, and structure of that sentence, I urge you to look past that and refocus!

Moms, guardians, guides, teachers, and instructors, lend me your attention for a moment!!

One of the biggest struggles we see in parenthood is in connecting and staying connected with their teen(s). Often, connections are slowly cut through how our conversations, concerns, and challenges are, well, um, challenged by the words we choose. Let’s call them “fighting words.” A potentially simple conversation can quickly transform into an unexpected tsunami demolishing the heart, emotionally speaking.

How in the world did this turn into that, they might ask themselves. How do I tame this fire down when I *feel* like I’d rather add even more oil to it?

Sometimes two loving souls can instantly morph into the hunter and the hunted, where one has all the verbal ammo and the other, emotionally, either takes the hit or runs for cover.

When complicated emotions and feelings pour strong words into a fragile moment, well, as Bugs Bunny said, them fightin’ words. They’re the kind of words we usually don’t truly mean to deliver, once delivered.

So, what are fighting words?

In the basic sense, they are words that are used to create a negative, emotional, and often, physical impact (feeling challenged, insulted, offended, etc.); they’re words shared that cause someone to feel upset enough to fight back or negatively react in some way.

Examples are:

a. getting a point across at the expense of hurting someone’s feelings,

b. characterizing someone in a negative light,

c. poorly challenging someone’s abilities or personality,

d. emotionally abusing someone to gain something from their pain, be it an answer, acceptance, power, etc.

But if we look even closer, fighting words also represent something within us that we need to look at a little more consciously. They show the listener or receiver how we handle situations as they show up.

As a mom to a fifteen, er, almost sixteen-year-old, and having once also been in my teens once upon a time, I understand some of the struggles that both mom and teen experience. I have also worked with parents and their teens to comprehend some of the prominent and common differences and similarities regardless of the gender of the parent/teen relationship.

Homelife, school life, family life, overall people manners, bad habits, interests, curiosities, concerns, new friends, breakups, social media, self-respect, respect for others, health choices, choices in general – I mean, it’s safe to say there are a plethora of topics to chant about over a water, a wine or a whiskey, amIright?

We have moments of frustration.


Misunderstood points.

Repeat offenses.

Fractures and breaks in our illuminated, pristine plans of action that we dreamt to see through perfectly.

Shhhhoooooooooooooooooo!! [**inhale…………..exhaaaaaaaaaaale………**]

Mom-bro, we need to just breathe a little more deeply than we imagined, sometimes. Some parents may not even realize they could be Mom-or-Dad-zilla-ing through their teen’s daily lifestyle – and one of the biggest culprits is having a poor communication connection.

I’m gonna roll up my typing sleeves now and give it to ya straight.

It doesn’t matter what anyone else says to you about understanding them first. Everything starts with you first. They’re your babies that have brains still developing and the world is spitting a million inappropriate spits in their direction and the teens might only think it’s raining. So hear me roar this in the kindest way a mama can roar:

When your communication, delivery, and reception risk emotional insult or injury to the receiver,

them’s fightin’ words

and you’ll want to shift your sails a bit to keep yourself and your teen(s) from the emotional storms that

await up ahead.

I thought not to suggest all of you lovely matriarchs a personal time-out in these moments, which is usually the heralded go-to. Self-care is great when you feel a little raggedy, sure, but it’s temporary. You’ll only return to the same old raggedy angry bird at some point later on when your inner pressure cooker blows your FML whistle.

I’d rather have you take a little time-IN with me. Right here. Riiiiightnow.

Refocus your views a little tighter toward the communication habits we’ve grown to use, reuse, misuse and abuse. What are your natural communication go-to’s when things feel more resistant? Challenging? Frustrating? Where exactly is our emotional thermometer as *we* take on life’s poop? How do we want to be remembered by our children when it’s about how we manage our hardships? What do we want them to inherit when it comes to resolving conflict?

Eeesh, Anita, slow down.

I know. I’m passionate about caring for us first, then them. Let me just step down from that look-at-us platform and put my bullhorn down. Let’s first take a look at the fighting words that were once used on you when you were a little lassie.

What were the ways people spoke to you that would upset you? Write it down.

What words insulted you?

What drove you batshit crazy about the words used by your mom, dad, siblings, friends, teachers, neighbors, etc.?

What sentences and phrases do you still remember that affect you even a little bit today?

Get that excellent mental porcelain goddess we call a journal and dump all that crap out right there. Revisit those. See how those sentences, phrases, and reactions had you feeling initially. Did they sting? What did those words cause you to do as a result? Here I’ll give you some from my journal:

No one will ever want you.

Why don’t you think before you talk?

You’re an idiot. Your crying goes nowhere. No one cares about your theatrics.

Now you. Get it all out. Review them. Then, as soon as you can, find a fantastic personal coach (*ahem*) and resolve each one.

When you get to the completion of that decompression, you’ll start refueling with better quality information and responses that say “I love you,” more than other words that generally feel the opposite. You’ll speak their language a bit better and you’ll teach them to speak your language as well. Fighting words will reduce, conversations will begin, and soon your teen will become an adult who can say, “My parents get me, and I get them.” That’s the sweet spot for love in a family unit.