Ep 268: How to Convince Stubborn Teens

Michael McQueen, author of MindStuck, dives into the science of persuading stubborn teenagers, and reveals why the tactics parents typically use to influence our kids simply don't work.

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Full Show Notes

Trying to convince a stubborn teenager to see things your way can feel impossible at times. They seem completely stuck in their perspectives, unwilling to listen to reason or logic. So how do we get through when teen minds seem closed off?

According to our guest Michael McQueen, the root of the issue lies in outdated persuasion tactics. When trying to sway teens, most parents rely on giving information, evidence and rational arguments. But as Michael explains, this only taps into one small part of the brain–the rational, thinking prefrontal cortex.

The majority of our decisions and viewpoints are actually shaped by a more impulsive, instinctual part of the brain. For teens, who are still developing cognitively, this portion of the brain wields even more influence. So if we want to change a teen’s mind, we have to learn what truly motivates it.

The Teenage Brain

In his book “Mind Stuck,” Michael refers to the two processing centers of the brain as the “inquiring mind” and the “instinctive mind.” The inquiring mind takes in information and analyzes it logically before coming to conclusions. But for most people, only around 5-10% of decisions happen here.

The instinctive mind is much faster, making snap judgments based on emotions, biases and self-preservation. This is the mind that judges whether someone is in our “tribe,” and causes us to have gut reactions. For teens with underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes, nearly all decisions happen via the instinctive mind.

So when parents offer rational arguments to change teens’ behavior, teens brush them off–because facts and data barely penetrate their instinctive way of thinking. Actually, pushing logic often backfires, causing teens to dig their heels in defensively.

Instead, Michael suggests appealing to the instinctive mind by building trust and rapport. One way to do this is through vulnerability and finding common ground.

Getting on Their Wavelength

Trying to assert authority or superiority when conversing with teens is unlikely to get us anywhere, Michael says. Teens are inherently skeptical of parents’ knowledge and worldliness. The instinctive mind wants to stick with the tribe–and for teens, parents are not members.

That’s why Michael suggests having authentic conversations where we come alongside teens humbly. Saying “I don’t have this all figured out” or “I’d love to hear your take on this” demonstrates that we respect their autonomy. It also diffuses tension so they drop their defenses.

Michael also discusses the importance of developing trust by upping oxytocin levels. The bonding hormone oxytocin determines how much we unconsciously trust someone. Releasing it requires candidness and finding synchrony–walking together side-by-side can naturally build connection.

Matching body language too obviously can feel disingenuous. But according to neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zak, going on walks is an easy way to build rapport with teens by mirroring cadence and getting on the same wavelength.

Asking the Right Questions

Beyond vulnerability and synchrony, the language we use with teens can foster influence and trust, Michael says. Asking questions is more productive than making statements. And there’s an art to framing inquiries that defuse tension and make teens want to open up.

We can preface questions by admitting we don’t have the full picture. And we should ask out of genuine curiosity rather than trying to catch teens behaving badly or evaluate their choices. Our motive should be understanding their perspective.

The way teens interpret our questions depends heavily on body language and tone as well. And the types of questions we ask can steer conversations productively or unproductively.

More Than Logic

While the instinctive mind drives most of a teen’s decisions, the inquiring mind still plays a role too. Particularly as the prefrontal cortex develops, introducing facts, data and personal experience can supplement emotional appeals.

Telling stories makes parents more relatable. And describing our own regrets and mistakes reassures teens that poor choices or failures aren’t abnormal–everyone makes bad decisions in their youth.

While logic alone rarely changes perspectives, when combined with vulnerability, rapport and the right questioning, facts can reinforce the influence parents have. Understanding and utilizing multiple persuasion tactics allows parents to get through even when teens’ minds seem firmly stuck.

In the Episode...

On top of the topics outlined above, we also discuss:
  • Why isolation impacts teen psychology
  • How to have high stakes conversations
  • Why consistency and boundaries breed respect
  • Picking your battles as a parent
To learn more from Michael and grab a copy of “Mind Stuck,” head to his website at michaelmcqueen.net. Thanks for listening–don’t forget to subscribe!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Ep 268: How to Convince Stubborn Teens
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