Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Resolving Conflict with Your Teen

"Conflict is unavoidable in any relationship. However, nowhere is conflict more frustrating or magnified than in the relationship between parents and teens." I wrote these words five years ago before I had any teens in my home, and now that I have three teens under my roof, I have to pat myself on the back. I was right! If our home is fairly typical (which I think it is), then random acts of conflict are breaking out in homes everywhere where teens are present.

Rodney Gage is the founding pastor of Fellowship Orlando and the author of the book, We Can Work It Out: Creative Conflict Resolution with Your Teen. In it, he offers valuable insight into the cause and effect of parent/teen conflict and offers creative, Christ-centered approaches to effective conflict resolution. Back in my Parenting Teenagers days, I interviewed him about the book, and here's a sample of that conversation.


Conflict is going to happen between parents and teens, so parents need to know that they are not alone when they encounter conflict with their teen. It's normal, isn't it?

It is, and I think it's very important to reassure and reaffirm parents that if they are in the process of raising a son or daughter who is a teenager, then whatever challenges that they're facing are absolutely normal. There are some situations obviously where parents feel that things maybe aren't quite as normal as it should be, and that's where I hope that some of the more specifics that we'll be talking about will give some direction and guidance on how to overcome that.

What are some key ways for parents to take a more proactive approach in resolving conflict with their teens?

One of the things that is really important for parents to do is to remain cool, calm, and collected. Don't rush to judgment on certain things. Admit your anger. This goes back to speaking the truth in love and admitting when you have been hurt. There are basic things that parents must do in order to get a true grip or handle on the conflict at hand. It's important for parents to understand that the conflict may seem overwhelming and uncontrollable, but at the same time they can get a handle on it if they're willing to do certain things to diffuse the conflict.

How does defining expectations and responsibilities help contribute to the lessening of parent/teen conflict in the home?

Rules without relationship often lead to rebellion. I think that it's important for us to make sure that the lines of communication are consistent, clear, and open. We must have clear expectations related to everything from responsibilities that we're wanting our children to comply with to respecting authority. I think it's important to help our kids develop the area of responsibility on a consistent basis. They've got to be given enough freedom to exert that responsibility. When we can see a consistent level of trust, then the more freedom we can give our kids and the more responsibility they display, then we can affirm them and reward them.

When is it time for parents to get some help from a pastor or counselor in resolving conflict with their teens?

There should never ever be any stigma that a parent should feel that keeps them from getting the help that they greatly need. For example, a lot of parents think, "If I go talk to my pastor or youth pastor, everybody's going to think I'm a failure." It's amazing how we'll seek counsel and wisdom about a business situation. We think nothing about picking up the phone and saying, "Here's a deal that I'm working on. What advice would you give me?" We think nothing about all of that, but when it comes to our family, why is it that they are the last ones to get the help they so deserve?

We ought to go the extra mile in getting all the help, wisdom, encouragement, and insight that we can possibly get - whether it's reading books, listening to tapes, seeking advice from other peers we highly respect, going to the pastor or youth pastor, or going to a professional counselor.

When a son or daughter is experiencing delinquent behavior (major issues of defiance or rebellion, becoming violent in any way, or using drugs or alcohol) that's when a parent must step in and say, "We have got to get professional help to help us with our son or daughter."

A pastor or a youth pastor can always be an incredible resource in terms of being the first step to getting the right kind of help.


Knowing what I know now, I think it is incredibly important for us to heed Rodney's advice to strive to remain calm when dealing with our kids in conflict. I have not always done that, and in my kids' eyes, I lose all effectiveness for that moment when I fly off the handle. Even if what I am telling them is right and true, if I don't stay calm, they don't hear my wise words...they just see my anger. When I stay calm, it goes a long way in defusing potentially volatile situations, and I'm able to communicate much more effectively the wisdom, discipline, and love my kids need to hear at the time.

So, I stand in the mirror this morning and tell you what I also need to tell myself today. Parents of teens...chill out!


Anonymous said...

Haha this is so true. It is so much easier to reach out to your kids when you also understand where they are coming from and remain "chill" without passing judgement or losing tempers

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous:

Haha. Wouldn't it be great too if kids would understand that their actions have consequences? That the more they disrespect their parents by breaking their rules, the more volatile and unstable the home will get? And wouldn't it be great if kids understood that when parents have to deal with consistent disrespect and disobedience from them that it MUST be addressed. It's just unfortunate that kids so often think that discipline is the same thing as judgement. Oh well, one day they'll understand the difference. And by the often lose their tempers too...even when they're parents don't.

Anonymous said...

Well, from personal experience, since I am a teenager. I find it allot easier to understand and resolve conflicts with your parents no matter what the conflict is, if you both have mutual respect and understanding for one another. You must both enter the argument unemotionally or nothing is going to ever be resolved. "Be still and know that I am God". Trust in the Lord that no matter what happens He is in control and it is a part of His wondrous plan for both of your lives. Therefore, you need not to be hasty or rash in what you are trying to make them understand. This often eliminates allot of the tension in the conversation. You need to talk to them like they are mature adults and can rationally respond to conversations with thought rather than hot emotion. Maybe the next time the teenager disrespects you or breaks a rule, instead of using discipline right away, take them out to coffee at Starbucks just the two of you, and start off a rational conversation about what they did, without crying or yelling on both sides. Make them just understand that as a parent you are called and required to be a peace maker in the home.