August 4, 2014

Parent-teen Conflict

It isn’t necessarily true that all teens fight with their parents. True, adolescence is a challenging time for the teen. Physical and developmental changes can be intense, added to the emotional and social stressors teens face, and the pervasive bombardment of unscreened information from technology, and any teen would feel overwhelmed to the point of shut down. But sometimes, the relationship is fraught with tension, irritation and impatience from one side or the other. Sometimes it’s a pattern that can be hard to break, and may seem hopeless to repair. It can certainly feel easier to let the teen “go” then to put up with the conflict.

But it is crucial that parents not give up connection with their teens. Teens may act as though they’re “fine”, or even push parents away, but underneath the prickly exterior they are still children needing guidance through life, looking to their parents to find a way to give it to them.

When parents let go of teens too soon, the young person has to turn to peers to find the guidance they need for survival. This is a dangerous and damaging position to be in, as teens can’t lead teens with any degree of maturity, perspective or respect. They are children leading children. When children look to other children for support and nurturing, they open themselves to interactions laced with reactivity, competition, teasing, and even abuse. Children then must emotionally shut down in order to stay in connection with other children – the adults are not there to manage appropriate behaviours. This is when damage, defenses and wounding compounds and maladaptive patterns for life set in.

Parents, get help for working through conflict with your teens. Learn to listen to them, and be patient with yourself. If the conflict has been going on a while, it may take a while to turn it around. Find support for yourself so you can give support to your teen. Above all, try to stay in connection with them – they need it from you, but don’t know it.

TIP: Teenagers are “lie detectors” (to put it nicely). They know when you are not being authentic and real with them, so be real. If you made a mistake, lost your temper, even blew it with them, say so. As long as what you say is honest and real, it will carry weight. It’s okay to say, “I really blew it when I called you ___. I was really angry and I lost my temper. I wish I hadn’t done that and I’m sorry if it hurt you. I’m going to try not to react like that again when I feel angry. I just don’t know what to do sometimes when we fight.” This is not to say you won’t feel angry, but that you’re acknowledging their feelings and your mistake. Talking like this may seen foreign and forced at first, but you’ll ge the hang of it, with help.