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Managing Conflict With Your Teen

When having conflict and struggle with your teen, it’s easy to feel as if the entire family is falling apart.  I’ve found that a better view of handling conflict is to see it as an opportunity to pull your family together, like never before!

Conflict Can Be the Precursor to Positive Change

I believe that relationships that stick together through conflict and hardship become closer relationships. In fact, the teens in our Heartlight program that I remember the most fondly are the ones that caused me to want to pull my hair out when dealing with their constant arguing and bad behavior.

Parents tend to put a lot of time and effort into peace-keeping or preventing conflict in the home, but it may be better for them to engage in it. Why?  Because if you never engage in conflict, things in your home may never change, or take longer to change than they need to. Could it be that by avoiding conflict you’re stifling an issue that God wants to use to bring about His plans for your life and the life of your teen?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Most of us prefer to avoid conflict. It is tough to pull a family together when your teen is on one side of an issue and you are on the other. That’s why parents need to better understand conflict, and how to engage in it in a way that is positive.  Conflict can actually build a bridge between your differences and most kids simply need to know that you’ve heard them out, even if you don’t agree with them.

Managing Conflict with Your Teen Means…

…Learning to Argue Well

It’s okay to have disagreements with your teen as he matures. Did you think there would never be conflict in your discussions or that your teen’s growing independence wouldn’t cause him to question your values? Could your teen actually think a bit differently about things than you do? You bet he does.

Sure, conflict will happen. And since it is inevitable that you will argue about some issues, why not use those times as an opportunity to honor your teen’s independent thinking and also allow them time to process your side of the argument.  They’ll never listen to your side unless you honor their need to explain their side.

My point is this… don’t allow conflicts to create a roadblock to future growth in your relationship. It’s okay to feel anger in discussions at times.  But scripture reminds us to “Be angry, but don’t sin.”  So, never allow an argument to get physical, disrespectful, or demeaning.  Know when to take a break, and when to stop until emotions can calm down and the discussion can continue on more respectful terms.

My goal for every difficult and sometimes heated discussion with a teen is this:  At the end of the argument, I want there to be an opportunity for us to hug one another, even if I didn’t change my mind at all. That’s the goal. Even if we can’t agree, I still remain in charge, and we can at least agree to disagree because it was all talked out.

The stance that you take in the heat of the battle is a reflection of who you are in real life. How you communicate during conflict teaches something very important to your teen. The messages that you will want to convey include:

It’s okay to not agree with everyone.

It’s okay to not follow what everyone else is thinking.

There are times that we have to stand up and fight.

We can have conflict, and still remain friends.

And sometimes… I’ve heard your side of the argument, but for your own good, you simply need to follow the rules.

…Engaging in Order to Pull Together

Parents often make the avoidance mistake when conflict shows itself.  In other words, they break away.  They stop spending time with their child and avoid the conflict at all costs.  That may be a reasonable tactic for a short time, until everyone has a chance to cool off and respect is restored. However, ongoing avoidance will only serve to build walls between you and your child.  Instead, by engaging in discussion you will let your child know you’ll continue to love them and spend time together even though you are at odds.

Fathers especially need to spend time with their teens. In group counseling at Heartlight, the most often wished-for thing by teen girls is, “I want more time with my Dad.” They want time together, even if they act like they don’t.  For instance, when you make the effort to take your child out for a weekly breakfast, coffee, or dinner, she knows she is worth spending time with, even when she is at her worst. She also comes to understand that the conflict between you can be resolved, and it doesn’t mean your relationship has to stop when you have problems or disagree.

…Parents Are to Model Appropriate Action

Teens are somewhat limited in their ability to solve problems. They often don’t have the maturity to unravel life’s bigger issues, and they don’t understand how to change their behavior in order to help themselves. That’s where a parent comes in. Demonstrating your own resources for managing frustration is one good way to teach your teen how to handle their own frustration. Tell them how you go about solving problems at work, or with your spouse. Let them know you need and daily seek God’s help, and that you don’t have all the answers. Help them learn how to use different behavior as a way to solve their own problems or to change their situation for the better.

…Establishing Firm Boundaries and Clear Consequences to Maintain Respectful Discussion

When conflict emerges, it’s time to make sure that everyone knows the rules for the “fight” by setting up some basic boundaries.  For instance,  “We’re not going to be disrespectful or dishonest with each other.” Put it into words, and back it up with consequences. Words without backbone mean very little. Let the consequences for crossing boundaries of respect speak louder than your words. And for consistency, make sure those on both sides of the conflict embrace the idea of respect, 100% of the time.

…Taking Care to Not Heat Up the Fire

As you discuss your problems or conflicts, choose your words wisely. Stop saying things like, “No, I will never support that.” You’re setting yourself up for failure, and you may have to eat your words when you say that.  Avoid words like “you” or “always” and speak in broader, less offensive terms.   Be more open to what you will or won’t support, and pick your battles carefully. A wise parent will use the eternal perspective as a barometer for choosing which stances are worthy to fight for, and which ones may not be as important or are just a personal preference on your part.

By the way, be clear on your limits. Don’t say, “It’s your choice,” or “What do you think?”  It is better to say, “Here are my limits… what I will and won’t allow in this situation.  Then, explore their needs and ideas and try to find a way to meet each other halfway, listening more and talking less.

…Loving Them – Regardless

Teens need to know they have a relationship with their parents who love them through the conflicts, while at the same time a relationship that shows them the true character of God.

When I said earlier that the teens that I’m closest to are the ones that I have fought with the most, I meant it sincerely. Conflict, when handled properly, can improve relationships rather than tear them down.   Just as you can rely on the fact that you will have conflict with your teen, rest assured that your teen will have conflict with their future college room-mate, their future spouse, a future employer, and even their future children (turnabout is fair play- Ha!).  So, engaging with your teen in conflict now is more about teaching them how to manage conflict in the future, and less about who wins today’s argument.

Now, get in there and fight!!!!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Parents of Teens Must Adapt

Trying to understand how to help your teen in a world that is constantly changing is like trying to hit a target that constantly moves. Just when your aim is right on target, things change — your kids change. Parents are often bewildered when trying to keep up with the always-changing world of teens. It’s like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hydrant, or holding a fistful of sand. Knowing how to set the right standards and enforce the right discipline can be overwhelming, and may seem impossible.

The key to success in this arena lies in learning to adapt your parenting style to be more fluid, more accessible.

As your child develops into a teen, you no longer have the luxury of making demands and expecting things to remain the same. Whether you like it or not, things change, and you must be able to understand and move with the culture, and set appropriate boundaries. I’m not saying you should stop caring about your family rules and beliefs.  What I am saying is that how you enforce the rules must change.  Otherwise, your child will be unprepared to cope with a culture that is constantly changing. They won’t develop healthy relationships.  They will remain immature and irresponsible, because all of the decisions have always been made for them.

Change The Boundaries

Adapting your style must include learning how to set appropriate boundaries for their newly acquired behaviors, and giving them the choice for the direction they need to go.

A good example of how this works comes from the time I spend training horses. When I put a fence around a horse, I am setting up boundaries. The horse can go anywhere it likes within those fences. If a problem develops, I move the fences in a bit, and reinforce the boundaries. The same can be true with your teen. Set boundaries, and allow your teen to choose his direction within those boundaries. If a problem develops, or things change, move the boundaries in. Examine their world, and put some thought into what needs to be done. Kids today often engage with one another without really interacting or developing any kind of real relationships. The lack of interaction doesn’t help them hone their maturity or grow in their social skills. It’s your job to help them grow. So set the boundaries that help them do more than just engage with others – they need to learn how to interact. Let them choose the direction they want to go. Allow them to experience the consequences of choosing poorly. Help them to see that poor choices and crossing healthy boundaries will take their relationships in directions they don’t want to go, and choosing well will help them build good relationships.

Change Your Aim

Changing your parenting style for the teen years means you change your focus from punishment and discipline to training and character building.

The focus of the boundaries you set should become more about obedience, respect, and honesty, which are the top three qualities necessary to build relationships. Respect, more than anything else, allows all others to fall into their proper place. Conversely, disobedience, disrespect, and dishonesty destroy relationships, and need to be addressed when they appear also. Dishonesty, more than anything else, destroys trust in relationships. Hold your teen responsible for the direction they choose, and cause them to own it. They will make some mistakes, but that’s alright. If they lay the blame on you, however, remember to put the responsibility clearly back on them. Tell them, “this is not about me, or my mistakes, this is about you. I will never be a perfect parent, but if you don’t change things, this will hurt you in your relationships in the future.

Change Your Attitudes

Changing your style of parenting teens in order to meet the demands of today’s world also means that you refocus your own attitudes and behavior as well:

  • Move from lecturing to discussing
  • Move from entertaining to experiencing something together
  • Move from demanding everything, to asking them their ideas about everything
  • Move from seeking justice to giving grace
  • Move from seeing everything that’s wrong and finding more of what’s right
  • Move from spending time always telling them to more time listening
  • Move from giving your opinion to waiting until you are asked.

It is difficult for teens today to grow up and move on. They tend to like their immaturity, and don’t feel the need to grow in their responsibilities. Teaching them to grow and own their attitudes and choices is one of the most important character qualities we can help them develop. So, don’t just tell them they need to be responsible, or that they need to be mature. Instead, carefully identify what is going on in their world, and begin to set out boundaries that give them responsibility and cause them to act upon them. And when the next new thing comes along, learn to adjust the boundaries in ways that help them continue to recognize their need to be mature, responsible, and own up to the consequences of their choices.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Teenage Girls and Inappropriate Behavior

Here’s a question I received this week from an assistant principal of a Christian high school who is struggling with a student displaying inappropriate sexual advances to the boys in her school.  His question is followed by my advice.

Q: Dear Mark,

I am looking for resources, articles, books, counseling ideas for situations that we are dealing with at our school.

For instance, we have a fifteen-year-old young lady who struggles with attraction to boys that ends up in inappropriate behavior.  She asked for help after she was caught kissing boys on the bus and in the band hall.  She says she is overly-interested in male attention.

She is aware of her “weakness” (her words) and fights it.  Her parents are supportive, but they do not want to see their little girl coming on to guys. She is spiritually aware and wants to grow; does well and then falls into the “trap.”  She is vivacious, athletic, intelligent, and attractive.

The next several years are going to become more and more dangerous for her.  So, do you have any suggestions on how to help her at this pivotal time?

A: Dear Sir,

I would say first of all that you are fortunate she is asking for your help.  But the kind of help she is seeking is not available in books or found in printed resources.  It would best be delivered by someone sitting down with her to help her process her thoughts, emotions, desires, and lack of self-control.

You can be thankful, in a way, that this young lady has normal attractions to the opposite sex.  Unfortunately, many her age are experimenting with same-sex relationships and are encouraged to do so by today’s culture.  It sounds as if she already understands appropriate boundaries in that regard, but she allows herself to occasionally cross other boundaries, which can lead to trouble.

In the scheme of things, kissing on the bus, in the band hall, and other places is not really that big of a problem, but it can (and probably will) lead to more serious issues, as I’m sure you are aware.  Since her internal control mechanisms aren’t quite mature enough to keep her from displaying inappropriate behavior, you’ll need to establish some external controls that place her at less risk for disaster. It is easy for young girls in this mode to quickly move from kissing to becoming more intimately involved, to stepping way over the line.

I recommend implementing healthy boundaries that keep her from engaging with guys in uncontrolled settings.  This may mean changing the way she gets to and from events, classes, or other venues for awhile.  Keep those boundaries in place until a counselor can make some progress with her.

In cases like this there is usually something beneath the behavior that perhaps you or her parents don’t see or are unwilling to admit.  A teen doesn’t exhibit abnormal behavior or act out without fuel from somewhere else.  It may come from some sense of loss in her life, or involve a broken relationship with an adult male figure or a parent.  It would help for a counselor to dig deeper with this young lady to see what is feeding the fire.

Most of all, the best thing for parents and school officials to do is to offer her unconditional love, even when she makes mistakes.  Don’t respond in anger.  Don’t shame, belittle, embarrass, or condemn her, as it will only push her further into the behavior and deeper into those unhealthy relationships.  Let her experience consequences for inappropriate behavior, but also let her know she is loved and cared for.   She’s going through changes common to all adolescents, and perhaps some uncommon hidden struggles, but she will get through this.

Just make sure that she gets on the “other side” with her relationships with you and her parents still intact, realizing your concern and support for her life more than your disappointment with her inappropriate behavior.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.