Breaking the Cycle: 8 Strategies for Dealing with Conflict with Your Young Teen

A certain amount of conflict with parents is, unfortunately, a natural part of growth within the teen years. Conflict serves some very important purposes. It is nature’s way of forcing you to adapt your parenting to your child’s increasing need for developing self reliance and preparation for them to begin to test their growing independence. Additionally, one of the brain processes that is undergoing a burst of change from early to mid adolescence is that of logic and reasoning. As these abilities are maturing, your child strengthens, sharpens and tests them out on youThey argue, they disagree and they try out different perspectives. They learn to reason and think logically by sometimes being unreasonable and illogical and then correcting themselves and improving their mental balance.

Still, it is not unusual for parents to feel overwhelmed by the conflict at some point so here are some strategies that might help you get through.

1.  Keep your cool

Many young teens have become experts at pushing their parents’ buttons. It is extremely difficult not to overreact when your child challenges your authority, your beliefs or argues insistently for something that you know is unsafe. Most parents who have  experienced the teens years find they have overreacted many, many times, so it is with complete humility that we make the recommendation to “try very hard to avoid escalating a confrontation or argument.”

2.  Strive to identify the real issue

Sometimes it can be difficult to zero in on what you and your child are truly arguing about. Are the low hanging jeans a problem for you because they reflect poorly on your parenting, because they will negatively influence other’s perceptions of him or because they are inappropriate for the social occasion? How important is each of these factors compared to his need and right to make his own choices?

3.  Set realistic consequences so that you are able to follow through

Remember the old parenting adage, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you?” When it comes to punishment or consequences, this can definitely be true for parents. If you tell your daughter she has to stay home all weekend, are ready to stay home yourself for many hours with a very disagreeable young person. For an interesting look at one parent’s struggle, check out the New York Times blog entitled Grounded – Thank Mom and Dad

4.  Accept that, as the parent of an adolescent, you will have to face and overcome embarrassment at some point.  

There is probably no parent in the history of the world who was not embarrassed by something that their child did. Adolescents will, at some point, wear something inappropriate, treat someone poorly, act immature, not follow through on a school assignment, lie to you, or do something really stupid (possibly even illegal). It is important not to let this fear of embarrassment influence your parenting choices. Look at the bright side, you probably embarrass to your adolescent children far more than they could ever embarrass you.

5.  Present a United Front

If you parent with a partner, the two of you must, for the most part, provide a united front when dealing with conflict with your child. Divide and conquer is a tried and true technique employed by youth everywhere and you must guard against it diligently. While there is likely no way that you and your partner will agree on every aspect of child rearing (that is actually the beauty of multiple parents), you will need to come to a mutual understanding prior to approaching your child. Many is the time that the conflict related to a particular childrearing decision was much more heated between two parenting partners  than it was between parents and child.

6.  Allow yourself to disengage

There are times in the life of a parent when you will have listened to the arguments, weighed the issue as fairly as you could and clearly communicated your response and, still, your child will not give it up. At some point it is ok to indicate that you have listened enough, quietly walk away,  and, even lock yourself in the bathroom with a good book for a little dose of peace.  

7.  Natural and Logical Consequences: Let the circumstances do the work for you

One way to minimize conflict is not to take on more than you have to by letting the natural progression of things take their course. If your daughter forgets her lunch money three times in a row, indicate how sorry you are for her and how bad you feel that she will be hungry all afternoon, but  that you just don’t have time to get to the school before lunch. This puts the power of choice and responsibility directly into your young person’s hands. Sometimes, however, the natural consequence of an act or decision is not appropriate. Perhaps, it can threaten your child’s safety or long term future. In this case, use logical consequences where you provide consequences that connect logically to the action, but also minimize risk. For example, if your child is using his new phone to text inappropriate comments to friends, remove the ability to text.  Warning: Sometimes it takes some very creative thinking in order to come up with a logical consequence. But you will get better will practice.

8.  Always try to keep in mind that argumentation and the quest for independence  serve an important purpose and benefit to both you and your child

Whether you want your child to strike off into the wild world or test the waters closer to home, all parents want their children to achieve milestones of adulthood. This is a risky, scary and difficult process. Your child needs to practice this too, particularly while you are still there to catch them if they fall.  Your child’s push to let him or her go is nature’s way of facilitating what is best for both of you.

No matter how many strategies you have, there is always one child or unique situation that trips you up. Share your frustrations of dealing with conflict in the comment section. We are equally certain that you too have developed some excellent strategies to deal with conflict so, while you’re at it, share those too.

What are your conflict frustrations and strategies?


  Article by Becky Mather

Becky is the Prevention Education Coordinator with the Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board where she oversees statewide efforts to offer professional development and training to family serving professionals to promote healthy family functioning and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. She and her husband are the parents of two adult children and a teenage son who challenges them to keep honing their parenting skills and strategies. Becky previously served as a parenting outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension and was one of the co-founders of Parenthetical.