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Teens and conflict

Teens and conflict

In this info sheet

It’s normal to go through conflicts during your teenage years, or at any age. Conflicts are opportunities for young people to open themselves up to different points of view, to respectfully assert themselves and to find solutions to various problems.

In this info sheet, we suggest four steps for managing conflicts that you can discuss and put into practise with your teen.

Also, as a parent, it’s important to distinguish conflicts from violence and bullying. Violence and bullying are never acceptable.

To better understand

Developing harmonious relationships … It starts early!

From a very young age, children start developing their relationship skills. They learn to listen, manage their emotions, be empathetic towards others and respectfully express themselves. These skills will be useful to them throughout their life, both for developing harmonious relationships with those around them and for resolving conflicts in a constructive manner.

Conflict as an opportunity for learning

Remember, it’s perfectly normal to go through conflicts, at any age!

Conflicts may begin when:

  • Two or more people don’t share the same ideas, opinions or values.
  • One person disagrees with the behaviours of another person.

While these situations can be uncomfortable, conflict in itself is not a bad thing. Rather, it’s an opportunity for young people to open themselves up to various points of view, respectfully assert themselves,  and find solutions to various problems.

Conflicts: not to be confused with violence and bullying

While conflicts are a part of learning, they may bring up a wide range of emotions in your teen, including anger. Feeling these emotions is completely legitimate. However, how they manage them is particularly important. For example, an appropriate way of managing anger is to get it out of their system by playing sports, but it would be unacceptable to hit or insult another person. Therefore, it’s important to distinguish conflict from violence. To learn more about violence, see the fact sheet on this topic here.

Bullying is characterized particularly by repetition and the presence of an imbalance of power between the people involved. It can be physical, verbal, social and/or material. Here are a few examples of bullying:

  • Tripping or pushing another person (physical).
  • Ridiculing or insulting another person (verbal).
  • Spreading rumours about another person (social).
  • Stealing property belonging to another person (material).

To learn more about the characteristics of bullying and the differences between conflict and bullying, see the table below.

Conflict Bullying
Intention The people involved do not intend to harm or hurt other people. The purpose of bullying behaviours, words or acts is generally to hinder or harm the person towards whom the behaviour is aimed.
Balance of power The people involved in the conflict are generally on an equal footing. They are free to express their point of view. There is inequality in the balance of power between those involved. For example, a large age difference, different social status, several people bullying one victim, etc.
Repetition  While the conflict may continue over time, it generally ends in a reasonable period of time through negotiation or mediation. However, the conflict may result in the end of the relationship. The bullying behaviours, words or acts are repeated by the same person or different people. They may be expressed directly or indirectly, including in cyberspace.
Consequences The conflict may have an impact on those involved and everyone may feel that they have lost. However, no one ends up being a victim in the conflict. Bullying creates feelings of distress and may damage, injure, oppress or ostracize the victims of the bullying.

What to do when there’s a conflict?

Here are four steps to respectfully resolve conflicts (these steps are taken from the work done by the organization Institut Pacifique):

  1. Take a moment to calm yourself down. It’s never a good idea to try to resolve a disagreement in the heat of the moment. Calming yourself down before talking about it allows you to step back and analyze the disagreement more rationally.
  2. At a time that is convenient to all those involved, take the time to talk about what you’re feeling, remaining open and respectful. Each person must listen to the point of view of the other and be able to express themselves respectfully. At this step, it is particularly important to speak using “I” rather than blaming. It’s also a good idea to back up what you have to say with facts. For example, rather than saying “You never listen to me”, it would be more appropriate to say, “I didn’t feel listened to when you were looking at your phone during our conversation.”
  3. Together, try to find various ways of resolving the conflict.
  4. Choose the most satisfying solution for the people involved and end the conversation on a positive note. It’s also advisable to take a look back at the solution chosen some time after the conflict has been resolved (note that some conflicts are too significant and end the relationship).

As a parent, you can help your teen manage conflict in an effective manner. Here are some concrete tips to help you do this.

To better support

Communication

  • Let your teen know that it’s normal to go through conflicts. We can’t always agree with everyone else! However, how you manage conflicts makes all the difference. Managing conflict constructively requires being open and respectful towards others.
  • Discuss the four steps for managing conflict with your teen. Give them concrete examples of how they can implement each of the steps.

Supervision/Guidance

  • Intervene when you witness violence and bullying. Violence and bullying are never acceptable, regardless the context in which they occur. For more information about violence, visit our fact sheet on this topic. We have also created a fact sheet on cyberbullying that you can find here.

At home

  • Lead your teen by example by resolving your conflicts respectfully. Apply the four steps yourself when resolving conflicts at home. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong! With practice, it will get easier to apply them.
  • Encourage your teen to assert themself at home. This way, you will be encouraging them to express their opinions and emotions in interpersonal relationships.

Support

  • Encourage your teen to manage any conflicts they experience independently while offering them your support. Don’t try to intervene and resolve the problem for them without their consent.
  • Take an interest in what your teen is going through and offer them your support. In some cases, conflicts are too significant and end a relationship your teen is having. When that happens, be there for them and listen to them if they need to talk.
  • Congratulate your teen when they manage a conflict constructively. This gives them positive reinforcement!
  • Talk with your teen about the characteristics of an equal, positive and harmonious relationship. For example, does your teen:
    • Respect the other person and is respected in this relationship?
    • Feel safe in this relationship?
    • Able to be themself without being afraid of being judged?
    • Trust the other person?

If your teen seems to be involved in a repeated and ongoing conflict, don’t hesitate to talk to them about it openly. Does this relationship include these features? How does your teen feel in the relationship? Help your teen take a critical look at their relationships. Pay attention to any changes in your teen’s behaviour and to any signs that could indicate that they’re not doing well. Offer them your support and resources that are appropriate to their needs.

In brief

In short, it’s completely normal for your teen to experience conflicts. As a parent, you can help them manage disagreements and this will help them develop and maintain harmonious relationships.

Resources and practical tools

For support

General resources

If you are concerned about a situation, do not hesitate to reach out to a support worker or a healthcare professional:

Community organizations: family centre, youth centre, etc.

Some community organizations offer support programs for parents of teenagers. Call your local organization for information.

School staff members

Resource for teens

To learn more

References

Latest updates : may 2024

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