Understatement of the year: teenagers are tough to parent.
Tell me something you don’t know, right?
Some conventional ways parents deal with their intransigent teens involve arguing, punishing, ignoring, avoiding, and when push comes to shove, therapy.
I recently had success with an unconventional approach with two “heated” teenagers who almost fought on the bus.
A Different Way to Deal with Teenager Conflicts
Kate, a 17-year-old girl, was upset because she believed that Larry, a 15 year old boy was talking badly about her with other kids. She had heard that he called her a b****, made sexual innuendos, talked trash about her family, and to boot, had thrown an apple at her six-year old brother.
Larry was infuriated after hearing that she called his mother “crazy” and made fun of him with other kids. He was scared her talk would lead to losing respect in the neighborhood.
I recommended they participate in mediation even though both were referred to me for school-based teen counseling,
So, I brought these two students who were at each other’s throat in to mediation…raising more than a few eyebrows from skeptical colleagues.
It began with both kids sitting back with their arms folded and facial expressions tense. He spoke so softly he could barely be heard and she was curt.
The walls were up, the tension palpable, and thus began the mediation.
Did Sparks Fly? Did it Come to Blows?
Forty minutes later they were leaning forward, looking relaxed. They were asking each other questions. An occasional smile cracked through. He was speaking with a normal volume. She with compassion and humor.
They mended fences, made an agreement about how they would talk about any future concerns, and even scripted how to respond to friend who was tangentially involved.
So what happened?
Mediation Happened to These Teenage Problems!
- After agreeing to keep the discussion confidential they immediately began to share information more freely
- I reflected and reframed what Kate was saying so Larry had a better understanding of her perspective. This led him to take responsibility for something that he did not previously realize was hurtful to her.
- After Larry took responsibility, she felt
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heard and understood
and began to consider his point of view and interpretation of events.
- They moved beyond the issues of the past and figured out how to co-exist in the present and the future.
In other words, with the help of a neutral facilitator and a safe and confidential environment, two teens who were so caught up in their high school teenage drama they were ready to go to blows experienced the power of effective communication, practiced listening skills, and engaged in problem solving.
Teen Counseling or Family Counseling May Be Helpful But…
…with teen counseling it is unlikely the conflict with Larry and Kate would have resolved as quickly or efficiently.
Conflicts involving teenagers abound. In school. On the streets.
And especially at home with their parents and siblings.
Too often the teenager is identified as a “problem child,” referred to counseling. Now don’t get me wrong — there is a time and place for teen therapy. I am a licensed social worker, after all.
But sometimes the acting-out teen is a product of the conflict — if the conflict resolves the acting-out may disappear. Without someone to mediate, the dispute will likely continue to simmer, and occasionally boil over.
If you live or work with a teenager please consider mediating conflict between teens or between teens and adults. Call on a friend. A parent-teen mediator. A relative. A school counselor.
Mediating the problem now can save a lot of heartache later. Unless, of course, you really like living with teenage drama!
Please REPLY below with your experiences with mediating teenage problems?
The students’ names and ages were changed to protect confidentiality.
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