It is summer and the heat is on. Has the heat also risen at home?
Are the fights with your teen on the rise along with the temperature?
Although we may tend to avoid fights, try to control them, attempt to win them or do our best to stop them, fights still happen and especially with teens. There is some good news about fights, though. They can benefit your relationship with your teen, and they can benefit your teen’s development.
Clinical psychologist Lisa Damour, author of Untangled and Under Pressure, wrote in her New York Times blog, “When raising teenagers, conflict usually comes with the territory. A growing body of research suggests that this can actually be a good thing. How disagreements are handled at home shapes both adolescent mental health and the overall quality of the parent-teenager relationship. Not only that, the nature of family quarrels can also drive how adolescents manage their relationships with people beyond the home.”
If fights can be done to problem-solve — meaning there is a common problem that you both are seeking a solution to — they can teach your teen to see beyond a limited view. Damour even says teenagers who engage in problem-solving disputes with their parents “tend to enjoy the sturdiest psychological health and the happiest relationships everywhere they go, two outcomes that would top every parent’s wish list.”
In developing a problem-solving style of fighting with your teen, there are two important steps for parents to take.
The first step is to become adept at operating in that space between stimulus (your teen saying or doing something) and your response.
Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, said, “Between stimulus and response is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Widening that space is a skill developed with much practice, and it is a saving grace in all conflicts. If you are operating in that wide space, you are creative, cool and ready to problem-solve. If the space is very narrow, you feel inflexible, hot and primed to win or to capitulate rather than negotiate. Much learning and understanding is lost.
The second step is to clean up after you come out raging rather than problem solving. We are not perfect. We are practicing. We make mistakes. Clean up by simply saying, “I sure reacted strongly. Can we please begin again?”
Commit to staying in the discussion. Don’t give up if things get heated. Take time to cool down, then come back to the table.
By focusing on problem solving — widening the space so that you can see the myriad of options available — conflict can become an opportunity for you and your teen to enhance your perspectives and deepen your understanding of one another.