Four Ways to Decrease Conflict with Your Teenager

Raising a teenager is full of excitement and challenges. Teenagers are changing intellectually, emotionally, physically, and behaviorally, so it’s no surprise that adolescence is often accompanied by parental misunderstanding, unclear communication, and disagreement. No wonder G. Stanley Hall, a noted American Psychologist, referred to adolescence as a time of “storm and stress.” The good news is, most teens adjust to adolescence without any major issues and many families learn to adapt to this transition as well.

However, some kids and parents struggle with these changes more than others, and defiance and conflict can become more problematic. Adolescence experience an inherent desire for more freedom and autonomy. They are exploring their identity and growing their capacity to make more independent decisions. Most parents realize that this increased independence and freedom comes with an equally important increase in responsibility and structure, but it’s easier said than done to strike this balance.

Your role as a parent places you in an important position to step in, offer guidance, and lead your teenager with love and leadership. To help guide and support your teenager most effectively consider a these four approaches to increase the peace with your teenager.

1. Respect the need for autonomy

As adolescents are beginning to think more independently and to question the status quo, they will probably challenge your authority. Although it might catch you off-guard initially, rest assured that your teen’s occasional challenge of authority is a natural outcome of an their need for autonomy.

For example, they might ask things like, “Why can’t I stay out until midnight on Friday night?” or “Why can’t I get a tattoo?” The key is to set boundaries and communicate through these disagreements with respect and honor of their viewpoint. According to researchers one way to honor an adolescent’s sense of autonomy is give them some participation and involvement in setting rules and expectations. The rules and exceptions should still be clear and explicit, but the adolescent can be involved in developing these expectations. Partnering with your teenager’s and giving them a voice helps build self-reflection and critical thinking about their behavior and related consequences.

2. Learn to self-regulate, then co-regulate

If there’s one thing parents agree on, it’s that patience is a virtue with young adolescents. As teenagers are striving for greater autonomy they will test your limits. Your adolescent will likely try to stretch the boundaries you’ve established for them. For example, you might tell them to be home by 11:00 p.m. for their Friday night curfew, but they arrive home at 11:30 p.m. instead. How will you react? They want to see.

As a parent, learning to manage your emotions and reactions is one of the most important skills to learn. It’s crucial you take care of yourself and learn to manage stress so you can be more present and able to teach and coach your teen. If you are unable to manage your emotions, it is unlikely your teenager will either.

When you are able to manage your emotions, you can teach your teenager to label, understand, and regulate their feelings as well. Become an “emotion coach” by accepting, labeling, and validating your teens emotional experiences. Let them know that it makes sense they’re angry, and that you know they want to stay out later with their friends, but you have rules and the reasons for these rules. From these interactions, your teenager is learning about conflict resolution, that’s it’s okay to be mad, and that there are healthy and constructive ways to disagree.

3. Listen and explore their opinion

If you can learn to really listen to your teenager, they can began to trust you with more of their feelings, desires, and fears. Research has pointed out that teenagers will be more responsive to what is called reciprocal communication. This is when parents are open to adolescent feedback and more willing to listen. Instead of the “Because I said so…” approach, use explanation and reason in discussions with your teenager. This way they knows why they can or can’t do something.

Similarly, to have curiosity and empathy about their what they want or where they have a differing perspective. Doing so can provide a framework to communicate more effectively and build emotional closeness to your child. Be more willing to listen when needed, and be willing to provide your teenager more information if they want it. Ultimately, even there’s no room for compromise, and you’re completely at odds with their viewpoint, make an effort to listen and try to understand where they are coming from.

4. Prepare them, don’t protect them

As much as every parent wants their kid to be more independent and self-reliant, it can come with a lot of worry.  Being a teenager comes with making mistakes, but it also comes with signs of more mature behavior. This is why author Christine Carter PhD, in her book The New Adolescence, says teenagers need “freedom with limits.” Teenagers need opportunities to solve their own problems, and face some healthy adversity. As a parent, this means learning to balance the of level of supervision and guidance, with opportunities for independent exploration.

The reality is, some kids need more parental monitoring than others, so it’s not easy to step back and let your kid fail or make mistakes, but to some degree, doing so can push them to take responsibility for their decisions. Teenagers want to know that you will be there to help them if they really need it, but that you aren’t going to jump in and be ‘the fixer’.

Your teen will likely experience some obstacles as they take on new responsibilities and face the increased complexity of adolescence. As a parent, you’re in a position to model, guide, encourage, and teach your teen to strategically manage their newfound freedom, knowing that they will be a learning curve, but that they will eventually become a healthy and independent adult. Remember that even though parenting an adolescent can be a challenging experience, it can also be one the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have.