So, your teen is becoming more self-sufficient and independent. Your relationship with them is changing. They may be more secretive. They may want to spend less time with the family and more time with their friends doing things outside of the home. They may react strongly to your ideas, advice, and rules.
All these changes can lead to a degree of misunderstanding—or even conflict—between parents and their teens.
A conflict is a disagreement or opposition between two ways of seeing or doing something. It can also be a way that your teen is testing their limits. Conflict does not involve violence, or even shouting or anger, though we can sometimes say things we do not mean in the heat of the moment.
The seriousness of conflicts between parents and their teens can vary significantly. They usually peak in frequency and intensity around age 15. Conflicts also tend to happen more often with the parent who is more hands-on with raising the teen.
Conflict is normal!
Conflict between parents and their teens is a completely normal part of adolescence. It is even a good sign, although admittedly not a very pleasant one.
Working through conflicts helps your teen get to know themselves better and learn how to assert themselves, manage their emotions, make decisions, and solve problems. Think about it: How they resolve conflicts with you is most likely the style they will use with other people!
Most often, conflict arises when parents and teenagers differ in their perceptions about rights and permissions. On the one hand, teens are trying to take power and control over their own lives, while learning the fundamental rules of living in society. On the other hand, parents are still responsible for them, their safety and their well-being.
In fact, most conflicts stem from mundane things like cleaning the house, doing the dishes, tidying up, etc. Conflict can also occur when the teen is ready to take a new step or wants to try something new, for which the parents themselves may not be ready or think their teen is not ready.
If it is normal, when should I be worried?
Conflicts are considered healthy when there is a discussion, an exchange of ideas, and a resolution. This requires openness and trust from both you and your teen.
However, some conflicts can be more serious, and it is best to seek help if:
- there is violence and excessive aggression;
- family members’ health or safety is threatened;
- the conflict drags on and there is no resolution in sight;
- the frequency and intensity of the conflicts are making family life untenable.
In extreme cases, the conflict will cause irreparable damage to the parent-teen relationship. Fortunately, these cases are rare and will most often happen in tense, hostile homes that are already dealing with other family problems. Again, these families should not hesitate to reach out for help.
To better support
- Do not tolerate violence or aggression of any kind. Do not try to resolve a conflict under these circumstances, and do not hesitate to seek help.
- Open the lines of communication and be willing to listen to your teen’s arguments.
- Accept that your teen is growing up and craving more independence. But this does not mean you should turn a blind eye and let everything go!
- As your teen develops their social skills and becomes more independent, learn to give them more power and control over their choices and their own life.
- Pick your battles and accept that there are some situations in which you do not need to get involved.
- Sit down with your teen to set house rules and be very clear and firm about enforcing them.
- Let your teen know that you respect, trust, and support them.
- Conflict between parents and their teens is normal and healthy, but special attention is needed to resolve it in order to continue strengthening the relationship.
- Conflict is a disagreement. It does not involve violence!
- Some conflicts require outside help.
Resources and practical tools
1. For support
If you are dealing with a situation that has you worried, do not hesitate to reach out to a support worker or a health and social services professional:
If you fear for your teen’s or your own safety, call 911 or your local police department.
2. To learn more
Parents d’ados, De la tolérance nécessaire à la nécessité d’intervenir, by Céline Boisvert, CHU Sainte-Justine collection for parents.
Ados : mode d’emploi, by Michel Delagrave, CHU Sainte-Justine collection for parents.
Latest updates : February 2020