Parenting teenagers is all about balance. With a new level of independence, comes a new level of responsibility. Likewise, there is a need for balance between firm boundaries and age appropriate allowances. Right in the middle of this continuum is where conflict often occurs. Teenagers tend to feel the frustration of being children and young adults at the same time. When conflict arises, remember to use the situation as an opportunity to develop a stronger relationship with your teen, not to damage it.
Here are four rules of thumb for maintaining a healthy relationship with your teen while managing conflict:
1. Have an open door policy
The importance of this step comes before the conflict or argument. Letting your kids know that they can talk to you about anything is important in any parent-child relationship. Often, being aware of what is happening in your child’s life can help you anticipate conflict and be ready for it. It may also help reduce conflict by providing multiple chances to discuss points of frustration and disagreement.
2. Really listen
Teenagers consistently report that their main complaint is not feeling heard. Although you may spend a lot of time talking to your teen, it may be time to focus on listening. Hearing their words is often not enough. An important factor is listening to the underlying emotions. Try to understand and communicate that you are empathetic to their feelings. Even if you disagree. It is important for your child to feel understood and able to air his/her grievances. This can then lead to a more positive outcome.
3. Be willing to reconsider
Parenting is not always about being fair. But as a teen matures, there are times when negotiation is appropriate. Changing a curfew is a good example. Deciding this together based on mutual terms is more beneficial than executing arbitrary parental decisions based on age alone, for instance. Sometimes taking a firm stance is necessary, but when there may be room for compromise, consider and discuss it. Along these same lines, if you feel you have made a decision too hastily, or you have changed your opinion, admit that maybe you were wrong. It is extremely valuable for your teen to see your humility and vulnerability. There may be no greater asset than for your teen to see that you are reasonable and that sometimes you make mistakes too.
4. Keep your cool while managing conflict
Above all else, remember that you are the adult. Teenage emotions, let alone hormones, can sometimes cause more drama than necessary in a situation. Resist the temptation to yell or engage high emotion. Maybe you need to table the discussion until everyone is calm. A conflict may continue over time, and teenagers can sulk for days. Remaining loving and calm can go a long way to chipping away at a teenager’s angry facade. Remember that underneath it is the heart of a vulnerable child.
Always remember, children model after their parent’s words, actions, and attitudes. The essence of avoiding conflict in relationships is communication. It is no different with teenagers. Our parenting relationship experiences the same growing pains as the other areas of a teen’s life. When these difficult times arise, focus on the value of positive conflict resolution skills as a means to develop your relationship with your child at this critical stage of life.