Repairing Teen And Parent Conflict
Some level of parent-teen conflict is natural and healthy. Conflict occurs because your daughter is growing into an independent and responsible person with her own perspective and preferences. This road is a bumpy one! You can expect to disagree about whether your teen follows your rules, what she wears, and what she does with her time. What’s vital is how conflict is managed and what happens afterwards.
Spoiler alert: Your child will not do what you say. They will do what you do.
Want them to listen to your point of view? Listen to theirs and acknowledge their perspective. Want them to calm down? Be calm. Sometimes things deteriorate into shouting matches. People presume that the louder they are, the more people will listen, when actually the opposite is true. Shouting shuts down communication because our bodies go into fight/flight mode. Our loudest teens tend to be the ones who feel least heard and understood.
When I explain this to parents, they are often in disbelief – “How can she possibly think we don’t get it? She never shuts up about it!!”. That’s because we don’t acknowledge our teen and what she is trying to tell us. We get too distracted by what our own response will be rather than focusing on letting her know that we’ve heard her and reflecting back that we understand her perspective (even if we don’t agree with it). This is validation, and it is key to conflict resolution.
Note: validation does not mean we have to agree with her behaviour or give her what she wants. It means we agree with her feeling. And empathise with her. You can totally tell your teen “no” whilst still validating and empathising with her suffering (e.g., distress at having to hand the phone in at the end of the night).
There’s so much to parent/teen conflict, but in short, consider the following:
- Am I being reasonable in my expectations? Am I being too lenient or too strict? Am I fostering dependence, or forcing independence? Is there a middle ground? Consider the worksheet available here [insert dialectical dilemmas for parents], or better still discuss with your teen. Understand that teens need boundaries, but they also need the opportunity for independence and problem-solving. What type of parenting style am I using? Research suggests setting boundaries for behaviour and expectations, but being warm and empathic, see here for an explanation.
- Be calm and listen to what she has to say. Reflect back what she has said and how she feels about it. Then add in how you feel and what’s important to you. For example “Ok, so you’re really upset that mum wants you to hand your phone in because you’re worried that you’ll miss out on socialising with your friends. That makes sense. And I’m worried that if you stay on the phone, you wont get any sleep and you’ll be exhausted at school tomorrow. What can we do?”. The importance of this acknowledgement is beautifully described here.
- Work together to brainstorm solutions.
- Stay connected. Book regular time in to do mutually enjoyable activities. Sit down and each tick things on this list to find ones you would both enjoy. When you engage in these, it is not a time to ask questions/demands or hound them for homework, solely to have fun [insert list of activities here]. Consider taking an interest in something she likes to do, e.g., have her friends over and and make pizza together, or get her to show you the latest snapchat filters.
No one is ever a perfect parent all the time, and sometimes a disagreement or fight will go down in a way that you regret afterwards. Maybe you shouted or said something you didn’t mean. The good news is all the research says that relationship repair can undo nearly all of that and set a wonderful example to your child about how they themselves can fix things. So, approach her once you’ve both calmed and own your mistakes with lots of “I feel” or “I felt” statements.
When we’re struggling with poor behaviour, research overwhelming shows that positive reinforcement for desirable behaviours is the most effective means of behaviour change. That is, catch your daughter doing the right thing, and offer praise and attention. Even if it is something small.
A note about consequences. Sometimes along the bumpy road to adulthood, our teens make some poor choices and we need to implement consequences.
- Natural consequences are the best for learning. E.g., She didn’t study for a maths test because she was too busy snapchatting with her friends and now she has failed the test. Failing the test is the natural consequence.
- Consequence should be as closely linked as possible to the behaviour. E.g., She took her sister’s necklace without asking and lost it. An appropriate consequence is that she has to save up her money to buy a new one.
- Behaviour and resulting consequences should be clear in advance where-ever possible. Ideally, there should be family rules that have been discussed and agreed upon in advance, along with the agreed upon consequence for rule-breaking. See here for more.