Resolving parent-teen conflict

Dr Asha Pemberton -
Dr Asha Pemberton -


Parent and teens will have conflict. Ways in which disagreements are approached, eventually dictate the quality of ongoing parent-teen relationships, family dynamics and future lives. In reality, the teen years are confusing for both the adolescent and the parent. While the teen is no longer a child they are also not yet not quite an adult. Teens struggle for their independence and want to make their own rules; while parents struggle to maintain authority and insist that their rules are followed. Teens yearn to live life on their terms and express themselves, while parents sometimes have difficulty letting their teens have freedom and latitude. At the core, however, most parents and teens care about each other, and these emotions exaggerate their differences. Openly acknowledging and managing these emotions is the key to managing parent-teen conflicts constructively.

Find common goals

Parents and their teens have more things in common than they think. Both share: frustration, stress, time pressures, disappointment, financial stress, and fear of failure. They both want the best for each other. How they deal with these feelings and desires can create disconnects. It can also be a basis for managing conflict constructively. At times of stress, both parents and their teen children should pause and take a moment to reflect on the goals they share. Parents are often more likely to have the emotional control to do this, but young people need to be encouraged to develop this skill. Even though in tense moments mind-sets may appear to be worlds apart, taking time to sit and reflect and find common ground is an effective first step.

Be respectful

When communication starts breaking down, emotional tension increases. Communication becomes more difficult and constructive conflict resolution more difficult. Conflict can spin out of control. For both parents and teens there are a few ground rules that should be followed. Issues from the past will stay in the past. Honesty between parties will be maintained. All parties agree that everyone needs to be informed. Resist from name calling, swearing, saying hurtful things and bringing up flaws. The matter at hand should be discussed in the calmest manner possible and if that is not possible, it is better to hold it for a time when more rational approaches are feasible.

Seek to understand

Asking open-ended questions that begin with: how, when, where, do, what or is, is a great place to start when managing conflict. Teenagers are particularly sensitive to being singled out or misunderstood. Parents should allow teens the opportunity to express themselves, openly and without judgement. Whether parents necessarily agree with them is less important than allowing the young people to feel heard and validated. Tensions ease and the shift to problem solving comes more naturally.

Not all conflicts are resolved this easily. Tougher situations require a mechanism that keeps underlying emotional tension in control. In these settings it is usually the lack of emotional control that cause the conflict to spiral downward. In these situations, sometimes a third party is required to mediate, if neither the parent nor the teen can manage themselves. Parents should not feel ashamed or embarrassed in situations when more help is needed. Parenting has many challenges and it truly takes a village to parent teens.

Create written agreements

In situations when tensions are high, and either one or both parties remain inconsistent with decisions and actions, having written agreements can be very useful. Whether it is device use, bedtime routines or agreed chores, having a written record of what parents and teens have arrived at can be useful. In truth, parents sometime are inconsistent and conflict is not always due to teen behaviour. Written agreements provide solid evidence of prior plans to help hold everyone accountable. At the end, conflict will arise but the approaches to resolution make all the difference. As we continue forward this year, make a goal or resolution to make more healthy and productive solutions to conflict between yourself and your teen or young adult.


"Resolving parent-teen conflict"

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