Conflict comes up frequently in the adolescent years,
almost as though drama and discord are part of the growing-up process. But how our kids learn to deal with conflict is often a result of watching the way the adults around them deal with it. Parents, teachers, mentors, influential adults: all are their mirrors.
Where conflict becomes problematic is in the unskillful ways in which it’s managed. Teens need to develop self-regulation skills so they can A: recognize what has triggered their anger, and B: respond to it skillfully.
Try any of these 5 suggestions to help manage conflict:
1: Take a time out: In other words, walk away from the conflict fueled situation to collect your thoughts and calm down. You can take a walk or take some deep breaths.
2: Use “I” phrases when you communicate. “I feel” instead of “You’re being so lame” is a wiser method of communication. It shows the ability to take responsibility for one’s feelings and actions and eliminates the blame and shame game.
3: Mirroring: By mirroring, we “reflect” what the other person says. “I hear that you feel frustrated” is much more helpful than “You are so frustrating,” or “Why are you so ANGRY?” By mirroring, we recognize what the other person is saying, and as a result, we let them know that we “see” and “hear” them. When someone feels seen and heard, it validates their feelings and allows them to be present for someone else’s process. It’s powerful.
4: Own up to it. Take responsibility for your own actions without pointing fingers at the person you’re angry at. If you lied, own it. If you cheated, own it. If you were mean, own it. You will be more respected and revered if you are honest. In the language of the 12 steps: Keep your side of the street clean.
5: Respect. If you are respectful of others, they are more apt to be respectful toward you. If someone treats you disrespectfully, try the counterintutive practice of being respectful toward them anyway.
Remember this: adolescents aren’t born equipped with problem solving skills or tools for conflict resolution. They have to learn these things. They learn them from watching their parents, teachers, and mentors. If a teen’s adult representatives are poor communicators, or if they handle frustration with anger or discord, then teens will learn to communicate via anger and discord.
Parents, when conflicts within the family arise, how do you handle them? Do you yell? Do you slam doors? Do you get into a shouting match with your teen?
If negative reactions to conflict are your go-to, then conflict will continue to flourish. Yelling won’t solve any problems. It will create more problems. Here’s a common scenario: your teenager arrives home 15 minutes past their curfew. You’re angry, frustrated, and worried. Your reaction to your teen when he or she walks in is to start yelling at them. All of your fears and frustrations come to a head. What if, instead of yelling, you calmly asked, “What time is your curfew?” “What time is it now?” and finally, “Can you tell me what the punishment is for being late?” Several things happen in this scenario. Your teen is given an opportunity to take responsibility, and they can even begin to recognize that the punishment isn’t that egregious.
Parents and teens alike need to know how to self-regulate. Try to integrate some of these into your life:
- Take a time out.
- Count to 10 before you respond.
- Be fair: allow both parties the opportunity to express their views and experiences.
- Don’t take it personally.
- Have empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and feel the feelings of another human being. It’s the ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes. Doing this may allow you to have compassion for the person you are angry at.
Resolving conflict requires a cool head and an open heart. Adolescence is a messy time—rather, it’s emotionally messy. Hormones are raging, moods are swinging, in truth, it’s a party you don’t want to go to but one that is a regular part of life. We were all teenagers once. If we can remember that piece, we can develop empathy. If we can remember what it felt like to go through this rapid-fire change, we will hopefully ourselves to be kinder and more loving to each other.