Resolving Conflict with Your Teen

Conflicts between parents and teens are a normal part of life but it can be stressful. For example, you may face conflicts when trying to advise teens, as they are likely to find it irritating, intrusive or too critical.

The situation can spiral out of control, leading to a war of words. Staying cool and finding a reasonable yet neutral solution that is acceptable to all can become difficult, and this may escalate things.


Understanding how teens think

The teenage years are a time of much change. Other than puberty, many other factors come into play, such as studies, social life, and of course family. Brain development during adolescence is believed to play a role in this, and it can lead to increased susceptibility to intense emotional responses. Some teens may even become inclined to engage in risky behaviour. This volatile mix of high emotions and risk-taking can be a major factor in the parent-teen conflict.

If you want something from your teens, you won’t get it by being an authoritarian. Being firm and open is the most effective parenting style for all teens, and it is essential for teens with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Everyone needs rules in life to live safely and peacefully. Teenagers need rules too, even if they may sometimes break them.

Don’t do/say things you may regret

If the situation isn’t urgent, agree to disagree and postpone the discussion on the issue at hand to a later time. Once everyone’s emotions have cooled, it should be possible to have a productive talk. Above all, don’t hold grudges or resort to the cold-shoulder/silent treatment. Do your best not to be overly critical with remarks, as this would only further escalate the situation.


Tips on dealing with conflict

So how can you work toward resolving conflicts with your teen? You definitely need to be more proactive. Here are some tips on how to deal with conflicts:

  • Have a talk later: Your teen may do or say spiteful things. To avoid responding negatively, you can ‘disengage’. Step back and let him or her know you are available when your teen is ready. For example, “I’m quite upset right now. Let’s talk about this once we’ve both cooled off,” or “You seem to be very upset/angry right now. Why don’t we discuss this after we’ve both calmed down?”
  • Don’t get personal: When things get heated, the chance for a talk to devolve into an argument is much higher. As a general rule of thumb, don’t let emotions get the better of you when talking with teens, as this would be counterproductive. Tell them your logic and reasoning for making certain decisions.
  • Teens need space: Don’t use ultimatums to get your way – this only drives a wedge in your relationship and doesn’t present your point of view in the best light. Instead, try to reach an agreement, but do give your teen time to come to terms (and agree) with you. Show some flexibility.
  • Listen to your teen: Communication is a two-way street, so when you talk to him/her, be open to his/her point of view as well. There may be valid reasons for them, and by listening, you acknowledge and validate his/her opinions as well as feelings. Listen to and hear your teen’s point of view. The key is to listen with the goal of understanding.
  • Don’t jump the gun: Assumptions are dangerous as they can easily undermine your relationship with your teen. Before placing the blame or responsibility on him/her, make the effort to find out what really happened. Teens tend to be more sensitive, so you may need to explain things clearly.
  • Avoid personal attacks: Don’t use an accusatory tone or phrases such as “You never listen,” “Why are you so stupid?” or “You’re so careless.” Remember that what you say should target the behaviour, not your teen, otherwise it becomes a barrier to communication. Deliver your messages even when your teen won’t listen.
  • Keep it on track: Stick to dealing with one issue at a time by focusing on what started the conflict. Trying to deal with multiple issues is counterproductive as it would make your teen feel like you’re finding fault over everything. However, make your teen accountable for their action.
  • Be specific: Specify your expectations clearly. Being vague only opens the door to unnecessary conflict as your teen may fail to understand what you expect. At the same time, ensure that your expectations are reasonable and something that your teen can achieve. For instance, you could say, “I noticed you’ve been having trouble finishing your homework. Can you start doing it after dinner instead of at 9pm?”


Resolve conflicts

Today’s teens and parents often don’t interact enough to get to know each other. No conflict is resolved until you and your teen see eye-to-eye. You can’t expect teens to read your mind. Conflicts with your teen should be handled by resolving the issue in question.

It’s easier to use the parent trump card but this can easily be viewed as being confrontational. To your teen, heavy-handed approaches would only serve to further alienate him/her from accepting your point of view. Remember that his/her opposition is just one part of problem – how you react is another. Do understand that you will always view some things differently, based on differing levels of experience.

Don’t burden your teen with your own issues. Know what you really want, and focus on that. Take responsibility for your own behaviour and be open to understanding your teen’s feelings and seeing his/her perspective. This allows you to communicate with empathy, which goes a long way toward resolving conflicts with your teen. Let him/her know that you are willing to listen and he/she will feel accepted, valued and supported.

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