Parenting Tips: How to Manage Conflict Effectively with Teenagers
It’s not uncommon for teenagers and parents to experience conflict at home; and it is a normal part of the parent/child relationship as teenagers start to explore their sense of self and independence into adulthood. Good conflict management between parents and teenagers is important to help maintain positive family relationships.
Dealing with conflict effectively with your teenager can help to reduce family stress levels and make your relationship stronger; as well as teach your teenager some important and effective life skills to constructively deal with conflict in their other relationships, and be able to negotiate and understand others. It can definitely be challenging, however, as the teenage years can be confusing for both adolescents and parents. And parents don’t usually have a handbook about how to manage conflict and the individual situations which can come up. So we have put together some tips and strategies which might help with managing conflict at home, and to have more positive outcomes for family relationships:.
- Create a positive relationship early on
Spend regular time with your teenager, such as having dinner together daily, going out every Saturday for a drive, or watching a TV show as a family. Have set time during the week for family time. Spending time together is important during childhood, and is important to continue once children become teenagers. Even though teenagers also often want to spend more time with their peers during their adolescent years, setting whatever time you can agree on for family time is important and can create positive family relationships and shows that you love them. It might be less time together than when they were younger, but any time you can organise together with teenagers is valuable.
- Start communication early and make it a routine
By having open communication early on, about all sorts of things, it creates a relationship where conflict can more easily be managed when it does occur. Make time to talk with your teenager regularly about their day and how things are going; start conversations with them at appropriate times or when they are most open for a chat. Research shows that young people view their parents as credible sources of information and are affected by parental beliefs and behaviour, so have chats about life stuff early as well.
It is recommended you start having chats with your teenager at least before they are entering high school, where young people are more likely to be exposed to more peer influences and where more conflict might occur. It is never too late to start regular chats though. Listen without judgement and give them your full attention.
- Model positive communication
As the parent, it is up to you to model positive communication and teach your teenager positive ways of relating to others and communicating respectfully with others. Young people can easily pick up communication styles from their parents, so it is important for parents to be able to deal with conflict with teenagers in a calm, fair and loving way. Also, make sure that you are relating to your partner or other adults which teenagers see you with, in a calm and respectful way. Children can easily learn negative styles of communication from their parents, such as yelling or not listening to the other person. The first thing is to make sure that your communication as a parent is good communication, and learn how to improve your own communication if needed. Parent support agencies such as the services at the end of this article, can support parents with this.
- Resolve a conflict through a chat
The only way to resolve a conflict effectively, so that both you as the parent, and your teenager, are happy with the outcome, is by having a chat and communicating about it. You will need to have a respectful and calm chat, to come to some agreement and mutual understanding. Let your teenager know that together you can solve this problem and it can be worked out. If you don’t have a chat, or just say ‘no’ to something without a discussion, your teenager won’t able to understand your point of view and it is more likely to cause further conflict in the future if that is how disagreements are always responded to in the family. For example, if you say no they can’t attend a party, they won’t understand why you might be saying that unless you tell them eg. you are worried about their safety, you think they are too young to attend parties on their own due to safety risks and so on..
- Seek to Understand & show you are listening
To resolve a conflict, it is important to start from a point of understanding. Try to start interactions with your teenager with a show of understanding, even if you don’t fully agree with, or comprehend what is being said. The goal in communicating with others is to first understand, then to be understood, as this can positively contribute to effective conflict management. If your teenager feels heard and understood, this is a great starting point in resolving the conflict.
For example, if the conflict is about your teenager wanting to go out on the weekend, to show your understanding, start by saying something in a calm way, such as “I understand that you want to go out to the party on the weekend, and that you want to spend time with your friends. Let’s have a chat about this”.
When you sit down to discuss the area of conflict, ask them first the what, why and how. Actively listen to your teenager’s views without interrupting. Show you are listening to what they say by paraphrasing back what they say to you. For example, “So you would like to go out to the party because everyone in your class is going?” Also use body language to show you are listening and show you are interested during the conversation, such as nodding your head. As well, you can show understanding by saying often “I understand”.
- Stay Calm and don’t Let Emotions Take Over
It’s important to stay calm during a conflict and communicate calmly and respectfully at all times. Even if your emotions below the surface are feelings of upset or anger with something said or done, make sure that you are calm when dealing with it and communicating with your teenager. Take a deep breath before you speak. During a conflict, it can be difficult not to overreact when your teenager challenges your authority and argues for something that you believe is unsafe or unreasonable. However, it is important to always stay calm and caring, and avoid letting intense emotions take over when you’re trying to resolve the conflict. Take a break if you’re finding it difficult to stay calm and in control, or if you need to settle your emotions first, do that first, and then have a chat. If the discussion starts to get heated, you can also call for time out so that everyone can calm down first and discuss it later more calmly.
- Be non-judgemental
Be non-judgemental when discussing a conflict with your teenager. This means accepting them and not criticising them for who they are. If they want to go out a party, for example, do not judge that they want to go or their reasons for wanting to go. Try to be open to hear anything they might say or ask for. Being open does not mean that you will agree with everything and will let them do everything they want, but it means that you accept where they are coming from and their point of view. Being judgmental either in what you’re saying or your tone is one of the quickest ways to shut down a conversation with your teenager and get them to respond defensively. Questions such as “why are you irresponsible?” Or “what’s wrong with you?” will just lead to conflict, not solution.
- Be Assertive, Summarise & Resolve
Be assertive: Once you have shown you understand your teenager’s point of view, and shown that you have heard them, this is now a good time to clarify and state your own view and belief in an assertive way. For example, “I understand you want to go to the party, but I care about you and I am worried about your safety at the party because of this……” If you have certain rules in the house that the matter would go against, state this and state how you feel about that.
You may have heard about “I feel statements”. In good conflict management, it is important to use these type of assertive statements. Example, “I feel upset that the curfew rule we have was broken because I felt that disrespected our house rules”.
Being assertive means putting your views forward confidently and using a calm, warm yet firm voice to set the tone. State what you would like in a calm way. The idea is to avoid getting into a further conflict by expressing your views. Parents using assertiveness are willing to listen and yet still hold firm so that the parent’s and the teenager’s needs are both met and understood.
Summarise: Once your teenager has had their turn to say their point of view, and you have also had yours, summarise where you are both at. Example, “So I understand you want to go to the party as you want to have fun with your friends, but I don’t want to allow you to go as I think you are too young and am worried about you staying safe”. Turn now to how you can both agree about this matter.
Resolve: Turn to discussing with your teenager how this conflict can be resolved so that you both feel ok about it. Ask your teenager for ideas, be collaborative and negotiate where you can. State what you want as well. Teenagers are more likely to cooperate when they feel they have a say in the decision-making process. Negotiating with your teenager is about trying to find common ground and compromise. Negotiating is one of the most important skills you can use as a parent and is a tool that will serve you in the long term and better your relationship with your teenager. Even if you just can’t allow them to go to parties just yet due to their age, the compromise might be to let them know when you will review party attendance in the future. Or you might be able to negotiate that you take them there and back and you check that there will be a parent supervising at the party and get to know the family who is having the party.
If the conflict is about something your teenager did that you are not happy about, or a house rule was broken, and you need to set a consequence, make sure to do this with fairness, love, and from a place of learning. You can involve your teenager in setting the consequence as well.
Praise your teenager and thank them for sorting the conflict out with you. It’s important to end on a positive note and to praise the communication and final outcome.
- Dealing with Post-Conflict Management
Move forward after a conflict by continuing to talk to your teenager, and show that you love and care for them. Even if they were not completely happy with your final decision to a conflict, they will hopefully be able to understand why the decision was so. It is important to keep the communication lines open
Continue to spend positive family time together, and do something fun together where you can, especially after a conflict where there might have been tension.
A Message from the Team at 2Connect
We understand that being a parent to a teenager can be challenging at times, and family conflict can occur. Our most well-established service Reconnect, aims to keep young people connected with family, and supports families with managing family conflict. Reconnect provides counselling, case management and family support for young people aged from 12-18 and their parents/families in the Bayside and Georges River areas. To learn more or to refer a young person, contact us at email@example.com or on 9556 1769. For support with family conflict in other areas, please contact NSW parent line 1300 130 052