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Develop a New Style of Resolving Conflict

Student Story: Abby

How do you react when conflict rears its ugly head in your family? Do you yell? Get defensive? Give the silent treatment? Get emotional? This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston presents a simple five-step plan to help get your family back on the road to peace.

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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.


Is Your Teen Driving You Crazy?

There is much in the news these days about cars accelerating out of control, leaving the driver and passengers helpless to know how to slow down or stop their runaway vehicle.  That’s kind of what it is like in a family with a teenager who is out of control. The whole family gets swept along for the not so joyful ride.

Is your family experiencing a frightening ride with an out of control teenager? Are you at a loss to know what to do, or don’t know how to react when your teen’s behavior makes every wrong turn and is accelerating toward disaster?

Typical adolescent behavior includes moodiness, hyper-sensitivity and irrational thinking — no cause for much alarm.  But there are other behaviors that are warning signs of a bigger problem than you may realize. These attitudes and behaviors are often triggered by a child’s feeling of being disrespected or abandoned in some way at some point in their life, and the level at which those feelings impact their actions, relationships and decisions in the teen years becomes abnormal.

Do you understand the difference between normal and abnormal teenager behavior? If not, here’s a handy tool we’ve developed to describe the behaviors that may mean that there is more going on than the normal bumps of adolescence:

BEHAVIORAL WARNING SIGNS

Instructions: Enter how often the behavior is experienced: 0=Never  1=Sometimes  2=Frequently  3=All the Time

[___] Your teen refuses to abide by anything you say or request. These behaviors may put your teen or your family in danger or high risk, and lead to constant fear or stress in the home.

[___] Your teen displays behavior that is a marked change from what has been normal for them in the past (slipping grades, sleeping too little or too long, forgetfulness, lack of motivation, aggression, depression, anxiety, hating what they once loved or loving what they once hated, always wanting to be with friends away from home, or avoiding friends altogether and spending too much time alone).

[___] Your teen is increasingly disrespectful and dishonest and no longer veils his or her feelings nor cares about the consequences of misbehavior. Seemingly a loss of a conscience or moral compass.

[___] There is a blatant ignorance or profound rebellion toward the boundaries and rules of your home. This can be shown in passive aggressiveness or open defiance that is unusually excessive for your teen.

[___] Outright or veiled threats of suicide; participation in self-mutilation or eating disorders or cutting (Important: Get immediate professional help!)

[___] Excessive risk-taking, running away, dangerous drug or alcohol use (confirmed by drug tests); blatant sexual promiscuity, or same-sex relationships.

[___] Threatening or out-of-control treatment against people, pets, or belongings, or your teen exhibits a vengeful spirit and destroys things to “pay back” a perceived mistreatment by others. Disrespect for all forms of authority.

[___] Your teen thinks he or she is the center of your family, while at the same time showing a growing hatred for the family, evidenced by a blatant disregard for their feelings, time and possessions.  Demands for money or outright theft of money or family possessions, or using things without permission and then claiming they were lost.

[___] You cannot keep your teen away from peers who are obviously leading a lifestyle counter to your beliefs, and your teen is buying into their destructive behavior and attitudes.

SCORE:  ________(total of the numbers you entered)

If the score is 15 or more, there is probably more going on in your teen’s life than you can handle on your own or through the normal tools of parenting.  Your child needs some professional help, and things have escalated to the point that it could even mean that your child needs to be treated for a time away from your home, at a therapeutic facility like our Heartlight program.

If the score is less than 15, it doesn’t mean that you are off the hook.  Things can escalate quickly and the errant behaviors will expand to other areas; so if you’ve written a “2” or “3” next to any of these warning signs, you need to work hard to do to get that particular area under control before it spreads.

Keep in mind that misbehavior in teenagers is usually nothing more than a flag they are waving high in the air to tell the adults in their life that something is wrong. Their actions are likely being sparked by something in their past, like: abuse, a split in the home, a death of a loved one, a mental illness, or a chemical or hormonal imbalance. They could also be the result of hidden substance abuse, excessive feelings of guilt, or bullying by peers. Sometimes the causes are so tragic and personal that a child would never think of telling anyone about them, but they bubble or explode to the surface through their actions instead. Or, they may not even know why they are acting the way they are.  In those cases, it is best to get a professional counselor involved, who can deal with these issues privately and skillfully.

Other Signs

Some teens act out their issues and stresses in less apparent ways, but these are warning signs as well. Those include: frequent sadness, crying for no reason, withdrawal from friends and activities, refusal to eat or over-eating, sleeping too much, feelings of hopelessness, loss of energy, talk of death, suicide or ending it all are all signs of depression. A depressed teen may not be making a fuss in the family, but the issues and outcomes can be just as serious.

Another type of warning sign is your own feelings.  Pay attention to them.  If you’ve caught yourself thinking: “Our family cannot live like this any longer,” or “I can’t put a finger on it, but something is wrong with that kid,” or “I can’t sit by and watch him destroy himself,” then you already know that something needs to change.  And if you have the feeling that something is going on that you just can’t put your finger on, you’d be wise to put on your detective hat and get to the bottom of it, because your gut feeling is probably right.  You may be able to stop the problem well before it gets out of control.

Take Action

So, are you ready to put the brakes on the joy-less ride your teen has you on?  You’re in charge, even when it seems your teen is “hogging the road.”  It’s up to you to take notice and take appropriate action when your teenager appears to either be accelerating out of control, or spiraling downward with anxiety or depression. Don’t ignore the warning signs. Being sensitive to them can prevent more serious and potentially lifelong dangers.

Sadly, every day, I meet good kids from great families with wonderful parents who are dismayed by their teen’s journey down the wrong road.  The stress of it has torn their family and even their marriage apart in the process.  I trust you will not allow things to get that far before you deal with the problem, or seek the right kind of help, if that is needed.

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.