Conflict is a normal part of what it means to be human and so is to be expected in family life given we all have different opinions and views.
Senior School Psychologist
Conflict can particularly escalate during the teenage years due to the big physical and emotional changes teenagers are going through, including hormonal and brain structure changes, and being in a stage of life where they are seeking independence. For this reason, teenagers often find taking the perspective of others challenging, and may have strong emotional reactions which can exacerbate conflict.
While it can be tough dealing with teenagers, it is also a time when they are learning many life skills that they will need for adult life. Learning to deal with conflict effectively is one of those skills which, as a parent, you can play an important role in helping them develop.
Setting rules/boundaries in advance is key in helping avoid conflict in the future. However, it is important to make sure there is a good relationship base before setting these boundaries. A good relationship fosters mutual respect, positive communication and enjoyment of being together. Having this base will help when setting boundaries and dealing with any conflict that does arise.
Boundaries themselves should be specific. Giving teenagers some control and choice when setting boundaries and setting realistic consequences for when they are broken will help in having them follow them.
When conflict does (inevitably!) come, it is best resolved when people are calm (this can be very hard to do!). This means that if you or your son need to take ‘time out’ or ‘a breather’, you should do so and come back to discuss a short time later when you are both feeling calmer. Teenagers especially don’t think clearly when they get really angry (or emotional) so helping them calm down is essential before trying to have a conversation. This may mean getting them to take a break or letting them talk to a friend for a few minutes or giving them something else to do to distract them. Being calm might also allow space for patience and greater empathy, and provide an opportunity to get to the heart of what’s really bothering your son.
When you are both feeling calmer and are ready to talk here are some ideas for helping talk through the conflict:
It is important to remember that while anger and conflict between parents and teenagers is a normal part of life, if this turns into aggression or violence then it is time to seek help – everyone has a right to feel safe. If you are concerned about your safety or the safety of others, then call 000.
Remember – conflict between parents and teenagers is normal and healthy but putting specific boundaries in place, in the context of a positive relationship, will help. Dealing with teenagers can be frustrating and overwhelming so take time for yourself, try and stay calm, and if you are worried about safety seek help.
If you or your son need help with dealing with conflict or talking through how you are feeling after conflict, your son could call Kids Helpline (1800 022 22) and you could call Parentline (1300 301 300).
Katelyn Tasker, Senior School Psychologist
28 February 2024
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