• Alex Jarvis

What is the Nature of Conflict between Parents and Teens?

During adolescence, parent-child conflict increases as a healthy adolescent seeks for more independence to grow and as healthy parents curb that urge for the sake of safety and responsibility.

Expansion, separation, opposition, difference, and responsibility are the "five engines that drive independence," —each generating a different source of conflict.

EXPANSION might lead to disagreements over what they're old enough to do vs. what they're not old enough to do.

SEPARATION might cause conflict over time spent with family vs. time with peers.

OPPOSITION can result to disagreements over living on parental terms vs. the teen's terms.

DIFFERENTIATION can result to conflict over expression of individuality that is okay vs. expression that's not okay.

RESPONSIBILITY can lead to disagreements over decisions they're not accountable for vs. what they're accountable for.

Given the likelihood of increased conflict in the relationship, here are several conflict concepts that parents might find useful to consider:

1- PARENTS ARE TRAINED IN CONFLICT, and they need to understand what their training model is. They experienced and witnessed conflict in their family of origin in formative ways. If it was a sound and constructive model (e.g. calm discussion leading to proper resolution) or if it was an unhealthy and destructive model (with aggressive attacks leading to hurt feelings), they might want to approach their teens differently.

If parents want to, they can modify the way of handling conflict that they’ve learned when they were younger.

2- CONFLICT IS COOPERATIVE since opposing parties work together to resolve a significant point of disagreement.

Conflict is something that both parties mutually agree on. It takes two to start a conflict, but only one to end it by disengaging. What if they gave a war and no one (or only one side) showed up? Any time a parent is arguing with their teen, they should ask themselves this question: Why did I agree to take part in this argument, and do I want to stop my involvement here? To end an argument, just stop arguing back. Teens and parents are jointly accountable for any conflict they engage in. Participation in disputes is a personal choice.

3- CONFLICT CAN BE INSTRUCTIVE with the teen learning from the exchange. Parents do not have conflict with their teenager; it is something they do with their teens.

It's a performance. Every time they get into an argument, the parent teaches another lesson (through example and interaction) about how to handle conflict. And this instruction is useful not only in that moment, but also in the future. The teen who learns to constructively resolve disagreements with their parents get vital skills for resolving conflict in future significant relationships —as partners and as parents themselves.

4- CONFLICT CAN CREATE RESEMBLANCE —with the influential behavior of one party often being imitated by the other. When the teen starts interrupting, raising their voice, and throwing general accusations at the parent, it can be tempting for the parent to reply in kind. But, instead of succumbing to this temptation, the adult should model the mature behavior they want the adolescent to learn —listening carefully, speaking gently, and adhering to facts.

5- RESEMBLANCE CAN GENERATE CONFLICT when parent and teen share the same adversarial traits. Perhaps they're both stubborn. Perhaps they must each have the last say. Maybe they are both very strong-willed or are highly competitive. When parents observe such similarity with their children, they should bring it up in a conversation with them. They should do this with the teen in order to develop strategies for dealing with future confrontations without falling back into the same old patterns. Conflicts of similarity between parents and teens have the downside of intensifying quickly and getting resolved very slowly —if at all.

6- COOPERATION CAN CREATE CONFLICT as it requires the two parties to manage sharing the same thing. Hence, telling teenage siblings to share the computer raises a slew of cooperation issues that could lead to petty arguments: Who's in charge? Who goes first? Who gets the most? What is a fair share? Who knows best? Who decides? Who is right? When is whose turn? If parents want to minimize cooperation issues, they can specify how things will be shared.

7- CONFLICT IS HOW SIBLINGS GET ALONG. Conflict does not mean they're not getting along. Conflict allows siblings to stimulate interaction, vie against each other, practice argumentation, assert themselves, test their ability, assert dominance, sort out differences, and ventilate emotions –among other things. As long as parents monitor the conflict and make sure that no violence happens, the push and shove of sibling conflict can teach siblings how to work together when they disagree.

8- CONFLICT CAN CHANGE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION as the language used changes with the tension rising. As impatience builds, the words parents or teens use can shift from objective, moderate, and declarative to accusatory, evaluative, and extreme. For instance, from, "You didn't do what you promised" to "I really cannot trust you at all!" It is the parent's responsibility to keep an eye on the level of argument so that it does not become offensive. When inflammatory speech intensifies conflict, parents need to stop it and divert to a healthier conversation.

9- CONFLICT CAN LEAD TO VIOLENCE when frustration leads to anger and anger leads to physical or verbal abuse. This is why management of emotional arousal is the number one priority in family conflict, with the issue at hand always being secondary.

Each party involved must be responsible for monitoring and managing their own emotional condition. If anyone (teen or parents) feels the danger of "losing it," they need to step back, take time to cool down, and commit to resuming the discussion at a more emotionally stable time. The rule of safety always has to be employed: conflict is never used as an excuse to harm family. Conflict between parents and teens is normal and expected, but violence: never.

10- TOLERANCE FOR CONFLICT CAN VARY BETWEEN PARENT AND TEEN, with the teen being up for argument more often than the adult. Why? Because conflict is one way the teen confronts the adult in order to gain an older, equal standing (eventually independence from) the most powerful adult in their life. Even if the teen loses the argument, the effort makes him feel stronger. For the parent, however, there is less to gain personally and more stress to bear —having to devote energy, time, and emotion in a quarrel of questionable benefit, which often leaves the adult exhausted with the teen seems unfazed. Conflict with parents is a common part of growing up for the adolescent still in fighting condition and with greater independence on the line —as if to say: "Bring them on!"

Do you have a teen that is troubled, or is in constant conflict with you and is easily triggered? Professional intervention is available at JarvisHypnotherapy to help you achieve a healthier relationship and connect effectively with your teen. Book a consultation with us today.


Content credits

Parents, Adolescents, and the Nature of Conflict

Photo credits momjunction.com