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7 Pillars of Healthy Conflict

When we’re in the middle of the struggle with a teen and the emotions are raging, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel—or if we do see it, it may look a lot like an oncoming freight train.

In fact, nothing can be more disruptive in the home than a teenager going through a period of intense conflict with their parents. My dear friend, James McDonald says, “There’s no pain like family pain.”  Yet despite the troubles it can bring, conflict can be helpful and strengthen your relationship if it is handled right.  It is not a sign of disaster and failure—it’s a necessary part of progress toward maturity.  So, don’t back away from it…welcome it!

Let me share with you my Seven Pillars of Engaging in Healthy Conflict:

I. Look at conflict as an opportunity

Conflict presents an opportunity for both you and your child to learn and grow.  There are lessons in the struggle you are facing, and if you don’t learn them, you are probably going to have to repeat them until you do.  Conflict and struggle can bring us together and deepen our relationship with our teens.  When you come out on the other side (and remember—you will!) you will find yourself and your child in a much better place if you use the conflict to grow and develop into a better parent.

II. Focus on the big picture

There’s an old saying that goes like this: “When you’re up to your armpits in alligators, it’s hard to remember why you’re in the swamp in the first place.”  You didn’t know what you were getting into when you signed on to be a parent; none of us does.  But those day to day details and arguments can overwhelm you so that you forget what the main purpose is.  We’re preparing our children to function as responsible, mature, independent adults.  Conflict is part of the preparation process, not a diversion from it.

III. Make changes in yourself

The only person I can change is me.  I can work with my child to encourage and help them, but I need to make any necessary changes that God has revealed to me through the conflict and trust Him to change my child.  Of course we all want to “fix” our teens.  It is a parent’s job to guide them.  But nagging, fussing, fighting and yelling isn’t going change behavior for the better.  The temporary trials that we are facing are part of God’s plan to instruct us and help us learn perseverance.  If your trouble making you a better parent, a better spouse, a better person, a better Christian?  Don’t miss the opportunity you have to grow.

IV. Guard your marriage relationship

So often trouble with a teen, especially if it has escalated into serious conflict, can drive a wedge between mom and dad.  Blame can get thrown around and disagreements over how to respond to the problem can cause tension.  Remember this—long after your teen is grown and gone, you’re still going to be together.  Don’t allow today’s problem to rob you of that vital relationship.  Another great benefit of sticking close together is that you can provide encouragement and help and support to each other.  It’s far easier to go through a hard time when you have someone to help.  It reminds me of what Benjamin Franklin told the delegates to the colonial Continental Congress. He said, “We must hang together, or we will hang separately.”

V. Talk, talk, talk

Now, when I say “talk” in this context, please understand that I’m not including yelling, arguing, correcting, lecturing, berating, or condemning; I’m talking about a two-way conversation.  That kind of open communication builds relationships that can withstand the storms of conflict.  Take the time to sit down and converse with your teen.  A young lady who is living with us at Heartlight told me about a recent phone communication with her father.  We allow the kids thirty minute phone calls, and she was giddy that she had just spent 23 of those minutes on the phone with her dad…it was the longest conversation they had ever had!  When she told me that, there was a sparkle in her eyes and hope in her voice.  I knew things were getting better for them, and they will for you as well if you make real conversation a priority.

VI. Give your child hope

We’ve been talking about hope primarily as it relates to parents, but it is vital that your child knows you believe in them.  Perhaps the single most damaging thing parents say to their children is, “You’ll never change.”  That kind of negativity and hopelessness is devastating to a teenager.  Your hope and belief in them is fuel for the engine of change.  They need to know that there is a way out, and that you aren’t going to give up on them.  That will help them continue on the path to positive change.  I can’t overemphasize how important this is.

VII. Remember that you’re not alone

I hear it frequently when I talk to parents after I speak somewhere.  They will say something like, “I thought I was the only one who had that problem with his teenager.”  It’s the best kept secret in your church and community.  But it doesn’t have to be so.  If you are struggling with conflict with your teen, I encourage you to seek out other parents in a similar situation, for support and encouragement.  There may a small group at your church, or some organization in your community (and if there isn’t maybe you can start one) where you can find friends who will pray for and encourage and counsel you.  When you struggle together, you get through it stronger.  Instead of waiting until everything’s perfect, find other parents right now and be a help to each other as you go through the process together.

Psalm 27:13 is one of my favorite verses.  It’s as though it was written for parents of teenagers.  It says, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  It’s easy for us to become skeptical and think that things will never get any better when we have ongoing conflict with a teenager, but take heart.  When you don’t feel like God is there, and you feel like everything is dying around you, you will see the goodness of God if you look for it.  That oncoming light isn’t a train; it’s the light of hope that will draw you to a better place.  You don’t have to hold on to despair.  A good day is coming.  I encourage you to not give up, but to hang on and hang in there until you see it come to pass.

We talked about this issue in-depth on our radio program last week called “Hope in Conflict.”  To listen online look for the program dated June 25, 2011 at

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit, or to read other articles by Mark, visit

There is nothing worse than living with a teen spinning out of control, and no worse feeling than the hopelessness parents experience in the process.  If you are such a parent, we invite you to come to our next Family in Crisis Retreat, July 14-16, led personally by Mark Gregston.  Learn more here:

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.