Teens and young people

Family Conflict

After all, growing up is nothing but an argument with your parents on the topic of whether or not you are grown. You scream ‘am so am so am so’ from the moment you’re born, and they fire back ‘are not are not are not’ from the moment they’ve got you, and on it goes until you can say it loudest.Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

Sometimes a family can feel a bit like a battleground.  Kids upset and angry with parents, parents disagreeing with each other, siblings at war and parents feeling hurt and angry. Every family handles these conflicts differently. In some families, people give each other the ‘silent treatment’, avoiding each other and refusing to talk. In other families voices are raised, words are used to hurt and wound. Sometimes things can get so heated that family members become physically violent towards each other. In every family there are disagreements, and times when we don’t get along. But for some families the conflict is continual and ongoing, causing distress for kids and parents alike.

What causes conflict in families?

Of course the specific reasons for conflicts are different in every family, but here are some of the common driving factors:

  • Change is difficult. As we have discussed elsewhere, our teenage years are when we start learning to become independent and separate from our parents. Conflicts occur when we can’t agree on the pace of the change – typically teens want independence faster than parents!
  • We take each other for granted. Let’s face it. We know that our parent, sibling, partner or child will put up with the kind of behaviour that a friend or acquaintance never would. Shouting, hitting and verbal abuse are unacceptable behaviours that will get you into trouble and cost friendships. But family members will often continue to love you despite these behaviours, meaning that there are not the same consequences if you engage in this kind of conflict at home.
  • Things aren’t going well in other parts of our lives. Stress and unhappiness can be a driving factor for conflict at home. If you are experiencing problems such as bullying, workplace harassment, poor health or relationship problems, it can mean that you are more easily irritated and less able to manage minor disagreements.
  • We have stopped listening to each other. Being in conflict with a family member is sometimes upsetting and hurtful. Accusations are made. You can feel under attack. Often we become so busy defending ourselves and preparing a counter attack that we stop listening to is being said and we therefore miss opportunities to resolve things.

What can we do about it?

Here are some things that both teens and parents can do when they find themselves in conflict:

  • Learn how to argue, negotiate and compromise. We don’t have to agree all the time, in fact that is probably impossible. But as a family we need to practice arguing more efficiently! This involves talking respectfully to each other, taking turns and listening to each other, brainstorming solutions and learning how to compromise.
  • Take another perspective. It is useful to ask yourself “Would I say this to a friend’s Mum or Dad?’ ‘Would I say this to a friend’s child?’ If the answer to this question is ‘no’, then think twice about saying to your family member. Sometimes it isn’t the content of what you are saying but the way you are saying it that needs to change. And changing the way you speak can work wonders in helping you get your point across.
  • Quarantine the argument. You may disagree with your family member over one important issue… but that doesn’t make them the enemy. In fact there may be many other areas where you agree, and there may be times when you enjoy each other’s company. It is important to maintain the positive aspects of your relationship, continuing to show praise and appreciation for each other despite your disagreements.

How seeing a psychologist can help

We love working with parents and kids to build strong, resilient families. We take a neutral stance, meaning that we are not on any one person’s ‘side’. We work with kids and adults to help them change behaviours (such as shouting and hitting) which are damaging their relationships. Our role is to help family members better understand each other, to work on their ‘arguing skills’, and to rediscover the joy in their family.


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