by Mark Gregston
Living with another person is not easy and conflicts are bound to happen. And no matter how much you might want to avoid and ignore it, some conflict is actually a good thing. Our children are growing up in a culture that doesn’t listen. We are divided as a nation and as a people, and somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten off track in thinking that if you disagree with someone, you can’t be friends or friendly. But conflicts don’t have to lead to a big fight.
Conflicts are often the precursor to making changes within your family dynamics and so, I encourage you to read on to learn how you and your family can make some positive and healthy changes.
Look at Conflict in a New Way
For the last forty years, my wife, Jan, and I have lived on a ranch in East Texas with sixty kids. Each day is full of conflict that could ruin the peace, if you let it, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Unresolved conflicts and strained relationships do not have to be a normal way of life for you and your family, but trying to avoid conflict or escaping from it will never produce the results you want for your family.
For growth to happen in your teen, and yourself, as well, you have to be committed to taking a tough look at what is working and what isn’t. In Proverbs, the Bible tells us: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another, and if we are the iron, then conflict is the friction that helps us smooth out the rough edges in our lives.
In the proper perspective, conflict can actually be the bridge between the differences that you and your teen have and it can be a healthy tool that helps you communicate God’s love in a way that demonstrates His power to forgive and renew.
Our children often don’t think in the ways we do and that’s okay. They have been born for a purpose different from our own. They are God designed with attributes and personalities that are different and unique and they may even have talents and characteristics that their parents don’t possess. More times than not, that can be where the issues come in to play.
Conflict resolution is not an easy process and it’s okay to feel angry, but Scripture reminds us that we shouldn’t let our anger cause us to sin. Sinning against ourselves, our teens, and God takes shapes in a variety of ways such as verbal shaming, verbally accosting one another, physical altercations, and one that most don’t consider: walking away. Now, I’m not saying that you can never walk away, but it’s important to know the difference between walking away because you’re shutting someone down—in order to get the upper hand, and walking away because everyone could use a moment to catch their breath. I’m also not saying that a family should not have rules. Some things, like underage drinking, drugs, and physical violence are not up for discussion or negotiation. You, as the parent, set the house rules for those issues.
If there’s tension in your home, then it’s important that you engage with your teen and let them know you love them—no matter what. Don’t lash out and, at the same time, don’t avoid the conflict, or them. Deal with it swiftly and appropriately while you teach them the art of compromise. And know this, if your teen is acting out or yelling, my experience is that it’s probably because they don’t feel as though you’re listening to them.
Some Final Key Thoughts
Don’t allow conflict to be a roadblock to communication in your home.
Remind your teen that you’re not fighting with them, you’re fighting for them.
There’s no reason to raise your voice or change your inflection. If they become aggressive, you maintain a gentle and appealing speech pattern that’s full of grace and seasoned with truth.
Say what you need to say—even if it’s difficult or hard, but end the conversation with a hug or a handshake. It may sound like an odd prescription, but it lets them know that you are truly on their side and you love them unconditionally.
Listen to what they have to say, so that they will hear what you have to say.
Dads—this next point is especially important for you to note as you are typically the one with a tendency to want one of two solutions: to be right and win, or to fix the problem. But when a parent employs either of these methods in handling conflicts, they’re only reminding and reinforcing that the person is broken and needs to be fixed, or that the person is wrong. Both of these methods affect self-esteem, so parents—please don’t do this. No one will be made perfect this side of heaven and these two methods are really a poor example of grace. Instead, move toward—not away from your teen so that you can train them to manage conflict appropriately.
Mom, Dad … when raising teens, conflict is inevitable. And just because you don’t ever see it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. So, provide the setting to let your teen know that there is nothing you won’t talk about and a not a topic you’ll ignore when it comes to the healthiness of your family. If you want to love like Christ loves you, run towards your child when everything is telling you to run the other way. That’s called, grace. And it means you move towards the other person when everything they are doing is pushing you away. And you extend the hand of kindness to your child, even when they have violated your principles. Conflict is a precursor to change and change is how a person matures and grows. Avoiding areas of conflict prevents you and your family from experiencing the grace of God manifested in your presence.