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Parent – Teen Conflict, Managing it Constructively

This article deals with managing the conflict inherent in parent – teen relationships. Why managing this conflict constructively is important. And some tools that parents and teens can use to manage their conflicts constructively.

Teens and their parents have conflict. How this conflict is managed is critical. If these conflicts are not managed constructively, families divide. Behavior and relationships degrade. Criminal conduct may follow.

The teen years are confusing for both the adolescent and the parent. The teen is no longer a child, yet not quite an adult. Teens are struggling for their independence, yet sometimes unwilling to assume the accompanying responsibility. They often want to make their own rules yet have difficulty following family rules. Sometimes parents have a hard time letting their teens have the freedom teens think they deserve. This is all part of the parent – teen growing up together, conflict system.

Because parents and teens care about each other, emotions exaggerate their differences. Openly acknowledging and managing these emotions is the key to managing parent – teen conflicts constructively.

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.

When communication starts breaking down, emotional tension increases. Communication becomes more difficult and constructive conflict resolution more difficult. Conflict can spin out of control.

Underlying all constructive conflict management is understanding. Feeling that you are understood. And understanding the situation from the other perspective. Knowing that you are understood creates respect for you and your position. Understanding a situation from the other perspective creates an environment that fosters formulation of mutually beneficial solutions.

This is much easier said than done.

Any thing that creates common understanding contributes positively to constructive conflict management. Forcefully stating your case isn’t one. Stephen Covey says it best. “Seek first to understand. Then be understood”.

Asking open-ended questions that begin with: how, when, where, do, what or is, is a great place to start. Tensions ease and the shift to problem solving comes naturally. A great resource describing in more detail how to apply this is the book “I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better” by Gary and Joy Lundberg.

Not all conflicts are resolved this easily. Tougher situations require a mechanism that keeps underlying emotional tension in control. The following is an excerpt from a paten-teen agreement that Diane Butler and I co-mediated a few yearss ago. Both parent and teen had anger management issues. This how they agreed to handle future conflict.

A. Communication: Issues from the past will stay in the past. Honesty between parties will be maintained. All parties agree that everyone needs to be informed. When communication does occur, the following rules are to be kept, no:

1. Name calling
2. Swearing
3. Saying Hurtful Things

B. Issues will be discussed in a calm manner. Should conversations become heated, both parties agree to physically separate.

C. After roughly 15 minutes, each will sit down and write out what they are angry about. When both are done writing they will exchange the papers containing what they are angry about. Both with give the other time to read what is angering the other. Each will then ask “What would you like to see happen?” From there both will listen and develop a work able solution.

D. Should an agreement not be reached after this, parties will alternate getting their way. A record of the last person to get their way will be kept.

E. Agreements made regarding bed and curfew times shall be written and displayed in an area accessible to all.

Will this work in every situation? No. Please treat this as an example of constructively restructuring interactions.

A rule of thumb when managing conflicts is that each party takes 75% of the responsibility for a constructive outcome. 75% means putting forth extra effort. The other 25% recognizes that there is only so much you can do.

Some conflict cannot be managed constructively by those involved. Conflicts that: keeping recurring, are highly emotional, or where resolution isn’t reachable by the disputants themselves, are candidates for mediation.

Mediation, very simply is a confidential discussion with a neutral third party for the purpose of managing conflict constructively. Confidential means what is said in the mediation doesn’t leave the room. As a neutral third party the mediator does not take sides, give advice or offer solutions. Mediators establish and maintain a discussion environment that is safe, balanced, constructive and focused.

The mediation process varies with mediators and the conflict but generally follows the following.

1. Introduction – Mediator discuss mediation. Parents and teen acknowledge mediation ground rules and expectations

2. Parents and teen list and prioritize areas of conflict to be addressed

3. For each area:

i. Each party explains the situation from their point of view

ii. Mediators asking clarifying questions to facilitate mutual understanding

iii. Parents and teens develop a solution workable for all

4. Mediator records agreements reached and prepares a formal agreement that parents and teen sign.

Mediation sessions typically last 1-2 hours. Often more than one session is required.

For more information on mediation please visit these web sites.

Parent – teen is one of the more difficult types of mediation. Some times friends or clergy offer their services as mediators. Unless they are trained and experienced in parent – teen mediation, the conflict almost always gets worse.

For families with serious parent-teen conflict, please contact your local family court services, or equivalent. Finding the right person may take several calls. They will know where families can get access to capable parent-teen mediators, often at little or no cost to the family.


Bob Blyth

Bob Blyth is listed on the Idaho Supreme Court’s list of Child Custody Mediators, certified as a Professional Mediator by the Idaho Mediation Association, an Idaho Mediation Association director, the lead mediator for the Eastern Idaho Better Business Bureau, a volunteer Parent –Teen Mediator, and a principal in Idaho-Mediation. MORE >

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