Great question! The truth is: a) You won’t be able to! and b) You don’t need to!
The reality is conflict is going to happen -especially in families and especially with teenagers! It’s OK. At the end of a long day of challenging moments, this can be a hard thing to remind yourself of, but try and keep in mind that discussion, conflict, competing priorities, having to rewrite rules and expectations all go hand-in-hand with raising children and teenagers. The presence or absence of conflict does not need to be the indicator of the quality of the relationship you have.
Instead, look at HOW you handle the conflict and how you can safeguard the relationship with your teens within a reality that is going to include ups and downs. What does conflict sound and feel like in your home? How much stress is it creating? Do you find that issues get resolved respectfully or are left hanging? Perhaps you feel as though the guidelines you are establishing are getting ignored and walked over. These are great things to consider when we’re evaluating how conflict is getting managed in our homes. When we start to look at HOW things are going, we can address what we’re happy with and what changes we want to make.
A powerful consideration in handling conflict with teens in a positive way, is to think about what your values are as a parent and as a family. What’s important to you around how people speak to and treat each other? How is honesty valued? What’s important to you with respect to your own authority and the rules you establish? If you parent alongside a partner or co-parent with someone, this is an important discussion to have together. When we are clear about our values as individuals and as families, we can filter our behaviour and choices through our values and check to see if they are a good fit for us. For example, if we value a peaceful home where family members speak kindly to each other, then we may feel uncomfortable with allowing large amounts of yelling. Once we identify what is making us uncomfortable, we can take steps to address it.
There will be some days with many teens where conflict, arguments and tension feel all too present. Keep reminding yourself that conflict is OK, and how we handle it is the key. As teens develop their own unique identities, part of that healthy development involves questioning authority and testing limits. When we allow space for conflict, we allow space for families to evolve and for individuals to be themselves and speak to what is important to them. Like all of us, teens are still learning how to handle conflict, speak their minds, manage strong emotions, work within the confines of authority and negotiate. The strongest parent-teen relationships are the ones that allow for open discussion and respect and at the same time have clear and focused boundaries that establish ground-rules for routine, safety and good total health.
With parenting not only teens, but parenting in general, managing knowing when you need to take breaks is another key to managing conflict well. This will help you to stay calm, which is crucial to success in managing and resolving conflict peacefully. When conversations get heated, they tend to lose safety and productivity…quickly! This is a great time to give both yourself and your teen permission to respectfully take a break and come back to the conversation when each person feels calmer. This is a great skill to learn and to teach. Take a deep breath and calmly explain how you are feeling and that you need to take a break from the conversation. Set a time for when you both plan to restart the discussion.
Most importantly, keeping the lines of communication open with your teens as much as possible and maximizing quality time together, even during times of stress, can help to create the emotional safety necessary to support the relationship through challenging times. Connect with your teens as frequently as you can and try to minimize the distractions (we’re talking about anything with a screen!) and really listen to each other. The more time we invest in the relationship together, the better.
There is LOTS of advice out there about raising teens and managing conflict with them and there isn’t necessarily a ‘magic recipe’ either. What you can do is find bits and pieces of discussion that fits for you, your family and your beliefs. The good news is, there are many professionals in communities who are highly trained in supporting families to strengthen their relationships, so if you are feeling overwhelmed by it all, don’t be afraid to ask for help.