Adolescence Family Feelings Parenting Prevention Recovery

How Do You and Your Teen Deal with Conflict?

Angry Penguin
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Mental Health

Stormy Adolescence

“There’s only one thing harder than living in a home with an adolescent — and that’s being an adolescent,” according this recent article in Time Healthland. I think they’re spot on. It’s tough being a teen: they’re on an emotional rollercoaster, managing ubiquitous hormones, issues with friends, annoying parents, and that ever-growing pile of homework and subsequent pressure to be the best…at pretty much everything. I’d say that’s stressful. Teens certainly tend to blame their parents and/or siblings for most things, partly because they are the mainstay in their lives and partly because it’s they’re the easiest scapegoats. Parents, at that point, are considered nagging, nit-picky pests, right? Well, not entirely. A recent study by researchers from Seoul National University, UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, suggest that arguments at home may spillover to an adolescent’s social circle, and vice-versa. In other words, there tends to be a significant carry-over from one area of a teen’s life to another. Parents I know will often talk about how a rough night at home might translate to a bad day at school and how issues at school are likely to play out at home. Truthfully, teens, at their very core, can easily be thrown off-balance when trying to emotionally process all of this tumult at once, particularly with the cognitive complexities of their brains working earnestly against them. It’s a lot to manage.

Interestingly, kids with siblings are often better equipped with handling conflict. As Jeffrey Kluger says in his book The Sibling Effect, “Fighting is not just an unfortunate part of growing up, it’s an essential part.” He says it “serves as a sort of dress rehearsal for the outside world,” which gives kids a chance to practice “conflict resolution and avoidance and the subtle art of knowing when to assert yourself and when it’s best to stand down.” I would imagine this could also hold true for a child who’s gone to pre-school, though this isn’t always the case. Environments that introduce varying personalities at a young age are invaluable in teaching the life-long lesson of conflict resolution. Surely, be it via the push and pull of sibling relations or even early education, this is a tool for having less conflict at school and in the world at large. What does this mean for only children? Since they don’t have an inbuilt battering ram (a sibling), they need to learn their conflict-resolution skills from parents, teachers, and the like. It’s not going to be as intuitive of a process though, because the circumstances are significantly different. More on this in another blog.

As parents, the question is always, “What do we do?” Again, teaching, both verbally and by example the ins and outs of positive conflict resolution at a young age is the most helpful tool we have (along with keeping our cool and becoming aware of our child’s triggers). If that didn’t happen, and a child got off on the wrong foot, new efforts to teach this aren’t lost. It may take time. It may take extra doses of patience. It may take additional rides on the rollercoaster. It may even take an intervention by a therapist. Regardless, children do tend to be resilient, and even when we don’t think they’re listening, most of the time, they really are. They are just doing so in their own way—a way that isn’t always convenient for us as parents.

The bottom line is, as our teens learn new ways of conflict resolution,  parents need to hone their own conflict-resolution skills. Just as teens can’t blame everything on their parents, neither can parents blame it all on their kids. At the end what we have is a family problem, requiring a family solution.

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