Conflict is a normal and expected part of life and it can often escalate during the teenage years. Because of a change in hormones combined with a search for identity and the increased responsibility that comes with adolescence, teens are more likely to have disagreements and arguments with their parents than younger children.
While some degree of family conflict can be seen as healthy as it helps develop conflict management skills, when conflict is persistent and intense it can have detrimental effects on the entire family systems such as anxiety, depression, or trauma, and it can cause a block in teen’s emotional and mental growth. To overcome intense family conflicts, it can help to know the reasons behind why conflict develops as well as strategies to work through these conflicts when they arise.
Common family conflicts among teens with emotional or behavioral issues
Reasons behind family conflict can vary greatly as every familial situation is unique. However, there are some common areas where parents and teens find the most conflict, and these can help you uncover the reasons behind family tension and disagreements.
The first common reason behind family conflict in teenagers is a desire to assert greater independence. As teens work their way toward adulthood, they often strive to find independence in as many areas of life as they can from clothing choices to extracurricular activities. When teens try to navigate the world and make decisions without parental supervision, conflict is common between parent and child. It can be a difficult balance between letting your child make her own decisions and inserting yourself in order to keep her safe. To try and maintain this balance, talk with your teen about why she is making certain decisions and set limits that allow her to express herself in safe and healthy ways.
In line with asserting independence, another common source of conflict is a teen’s desire to prove that they are right, which can result in heated arguments. When a teen is told they are not able to do something whether it be going out with their friends or borrowing the car, they are prepared to argue their point of view. This arguing stems from a desire to discuss a perceived injustice as well as express hurt that their parents don’t seem to trust them. In these situations, compromise is often helpful which can show your teen you are willing to understand their point of view and allow them to show you they can be responsible.
Another source of conflict can come from a lack of shared communication. If your teen is repeating phrases like “you don’t understand” or “you’re not even listening to what I’m saying”, it can be a signal that he doesn’t feel like you are taking the time to listen to or understand his feelings. For these types of conflicts to be resolved, it’s important to get on the same page and provide a safe space for feelings on both sides to be heard and understood. During these conversations, avoid asking too many questions and instead validate the emotions your teen is sharing with you.
Setting healthy and appropriate boundaries is necessary for your teen but it can also cause conflict as she pushes against these limits. When teens push boundaries, they are wanting to see how their parents react, how far they will let the boundaries be extended, and how much trust their parents have in them. To help mitigate boundary conflicts, focus on setting realistic boundaries and including your teen in these conversations. When boundaries are infringed upon, find out the ‘why’ behind the breach and modify consequences appropriately.
A final source of common conflict between parents and teens is unrealistically high expectations set by parents, where a child feels perfection is demanded. If teens feel the need to be perfect in school, athletics, behavior, etc, it can harm their emotional and behavioral development and cause arguments within the family. It can be helpful to praise effort over outcome, so teens learn that failure is an inevitable and sometimes beneficial part of life. If you’re experiencing constant family conflict, there are many strategies you can employ to help overcome these arguments and create a more positive family dynamic.
Strategies to stop the fighting and overcome conflict
Once you’ve identified the source of the conflicts, there are many tips you can use to work through the arguments healthily. Try some of these tips together for conflict management:
1. Focus on common goals: Instead of being adversaries, view these conflict resolution conversations as allies who want the same things, namely keeping your teen safe and helping them to succeed. Focus the energy of these conversations on these goals rather than just telling your teen a list of all the things they cannot do.
2. Speak thoughtfully: Using “I” statements during these conversations can be beneficial because it allows you to express how you are feeling rather than blaming and assigning that emotion to someone else. For example start sentences with “I feel _______ when I _______”.
3. Brainstorm solutions together: Instead of telling your child what will happen as a result of her actions, create a list together of all the possible solutions. This will allow her to feel like she is part of the conflict resolution process and will give her a sense of autonomy.
4. Create intentional, fun family time: If the only interactions you are having with your child surround conflict repair, teens are less likely to want to engage with you. Find time for family activities that you know your teen enjoys that will enable connection.
If working through conflicts on your own has become too challenging for your family, Red Mountain Colorado can provide the family guidance and coaching needed to heal your entire family unit.
How Red Mountain Colorado can help bring families together
Red Mountain Colorado is a leading residential trauma treatment center for teens aged 13-17 that is built upon emotional safety, competence, compassion, and consistency. We work with teens who have been struggling with behavioral and emotional challenges such as trauma, depression, and anxiety. The mission of our trauma treatment program is to help your child recover from trauma and grow into a healthy, stable adult.
At Red Mountain Colorado, we know that the entire family system can be impacted by a teen’s mental health disorder. These challenges can divide your family, erode trust, trigger emotional distress, and lead to financial or legal hardships. Red Mountain Colorado seeks to tackle these challenges in order to heal the entire family system. Our family therapeutic process is designed to help you and your child address underlying problems so you can get back to being a family again.
When teens first enter our treatment program, they may not be ready to engage in family therapy sessions right away, so we initiate family healing at the individual level first through experiential and adventure therapy. During this time, your teen is regularly meeting with her therapist and we provide weekly updates and coaching that are meant to help you discover your parenting style, including what works well and what could be improved.
As teens progress through the program, we will integrate telephonic therapy to help you interact with your child again. After a level of comfort and trust is secured, we’ll add in family visits where you and your teen will work together to fix communication and trust to heal the family system and improve overall wellness. During these family therapy sessions, we will address and process past events, resolve codependent relationships, and identify individual family roles.
Sessions help uncover some of the toxic roles family members may have taken on and how to best change them for positive family dynamics going forward. Some of these roles can include:
The Problem Child/Identified Patient (IP) – The world revolves around this individual in the family system. They are the center of attention and are unconsciously selected to act out the family’s inner conflicts as a diversion.
The Enabler – This individual protects the IP from the consequences of their actions and behaviors. It’s common for the enabler to make excuses for the IP in order to prevent embarrassment, reduce anxiety, or avoid conflict in difficult situations.
The Hero – This individual tries to be an overachiever in order to take attention away from the IP. They focus a lot of energy and time on good behavior and actions in hope that it will encourage the IP to get better.
The Lost Child – This individual tries to avoid family issues and the IP’s behavioral issues by isolating themselves away from the family. They will typically turn to other activities such as books or clubs and are not often present during conflicts.
The Mascot – This individual attempts to use sarcasm or humor to cope with problems and lighten the family dynamic. They will often try to ease tension by cracking jokes or clowning around.
When we identify and address these roles in family therapy, it can pave the way for increased healing from events that have caused pain in the family. Our family-centered therapy and coaching approach can help set up your teen and your family for long term recovery and success. For more information on how Red Mountain Colorado can help your family, please call (970) 316-7683.