How can we resolve family conflict with our teenager?
Family conflict between parents and a teenager can be common. Do you feel like a hostage in your home, like your constantly walking on eggshells — you’re not alone.
According to Family Systems Theory, families are systems of interconnected and interdependent individuals, none of whom can be understood in isolation from the system. Family conflict can occur when a teen’s problematic behaviors lead to a destabilizing of the family system.
Family conflict is natural and inevitable. No family can live in perfect harmony and at some point in time, every family will experience some form of conflict. When conflict lasts longer than a few days or weeks though, tensions tend to rise, and it can be tough to handle.
Whether it’s one family member stirring the pot, or a general sense of “brokenness” among the family members, a drastic, prolonged, and negative change in family dynamic can be cause for professional help. Starting with local therapy is always a good beginning.
Causes of Family Conflict
There are innumerable causes for family conflict but there are a few general causes that show up over and over again. Sometimes the mental health of a teen can negatively impact the family and cause conflict. Other times parental conflict, sudden life changes (such as a death in the family, a move, a divorce – etc), emotional distance, or other destabilizing factors can throw the family dynamic for a loop and conflict forms.
There are several ways to deal with family conflict:
1. Practice empathy: Whether you want to admit it or not, it takes two people to fight. Take a step back from the situation and see if there is anything about your own behavior that you can work on before attending your family event. Try to think about the situation from the other person’s perspective. What do they need or what are they getting out of it? Is it possible they had good intentions? Was there a miscommunication that needs clarification?
2. Agree to disagree: Sometimes two good people, even those raised in the same home environment, end up having very different personalities, experiences, and beliefs. Family conflict often stems from situations where “right” and “wrong” are subjective.
If you are convinced that preparing a strong argument for your side, or against theirs, will solve the problem, you may need to think again. Be careful not to mock or belittle things that are important to a family member. In cases like this, it is best to accept that you feel differently about a subject and let it go. It might not be easy but will be worth it.
3. Leave emotions aside: Because we are deeply connected to our family members, it is difficult to recognize when our emotions are getting too intense. We feel that our reactions are justified, and we feel more deeply hurt than we might if the same thing happened with a friend or coworker. Try to take a step back and look at the situation as if you were a third party observer and try to separate the problem from the people involved. If you were asked to mediate, what would you suggest the two participants do differently? Is it possible you overreacted? Is there a compromise that can be reached? Try to look at the situation objectively.
4. Remain calm: This isn’t easy, but necessary. Practice breathing techniques ahead of time or hide a stress ball in your pocket to squeeze when you start to get upset. Rehearse possible scenarios in your mind before you get there and prepare calm responses. If a family member tries to push your buttons, walk away and don’t say anything to encourage or escalate the conversation. Again, it can be difficult but exploding will always keep the battle brewing.
If you feel your teen is out-of-control and you have exhausting your local resources, therapy is not working, it might be time to learn more about how residential treatment can benefit your family.