Is Your Relationship With Your Teen In Turmoil?

Is your relationship with your teenager in a perpetual state of conflict? Is your child ignoring your attempts to talk, pushing boundaries, breaking curfew or arguing with you about seemingly everything? Does it feel like your teen has no interest in what you have to say or no respect for rules and boundaries? Does your teen often complain that you’re too controlling, nag too much, or have no idea about who he or she is? Have you been taking your teen’s insults or cold shoulder’s personally – believing that he or she really does hate you? Does everyday feel like an uphill battle that’s either fought on eggshells or manifested in full throttle verbal attacks? Have you often questioned where you went wrong or wonder what happened to your loving parent/child relationship? Do you think that if you could just find a way to better communicate with your teen, a lot of your current conflict could be alleviated?

The teenage years are, by their very nature, a struggle. Teens are charged with the important and challenging tasks of developing personal identity and learning how to navigate an increasingly more complex social environment. Add to that a still developing frontal cortex, surging hormones, and a budding urge for independence from mom and dad and conflict is almost inevitable. This is not an easy time for teens, nor is it without challenge for their parents. However, conflict between parents and teens can also be viewed as a good thing. Thankfully, your teen is willing to tangle with you and express feelings through fighting rather than withdrawing and emotionally isolating from you completely. This can be an important place to start developing more effective and healthy ways to communicate with each other. Although it may not feel like it now, with the appropriate support and guidance of the right therapist, the relationship between you and your teen can improve.

Almost All Teens And Their Parents Experience Conflict

Conflict between teenagers and their parents is extremely common – in fact, it’s pretty much the norm. Teens are trying to grow up, figure out how to negotiate a place for themselves in the world and make their own decisions. Mom and dad, however, are still instinctively protective of their children, and are therefore hesitant to allow their teens to make bigger decisions. Making independent decisions is an important part of the teenage experience, and all teens – including yours – will make bad ones. Arguments over choice of friends, school, appearance, responsibilities and safety will arise. What’s important is learning how to pick your battles and finding better ways to communicate.

Therapy Can Help Improve Communication Between You And Your Teen

A BPS therapist experienced in counseling for parent-teen conflict issues will work with your teen to develop a therapist/client relationship that is built on trust, friendship and confidentiality. This enables your teen to feel comfortable to communicate with a trained adult – who is not mom or dad – in an open and effective manner. Your teen will be given the space to explore who he or she is, their strengths, their interests and who he or she wants to be in the world. Your teenager can also learn better ways to navigate communications with you, as well as addressing other stresses, such as peer relationships, school demands and self-esteem issues. He or she can learn how to chose what’s worth fighting for and techniques to calm down and think through situations in less reactive ways.

Since conflict is high at home, your therapist may suggest that you work with your teen in a family therapy setting. A family therapist can help you and your teen create agreements, which can be an extremely useful strategy to break out of the power struggles that are likely occurring within your relationship. Co-creating agreements can defuse patterns of conflict and empower your teen to make better decisions. A family therapist can also offer you support and guidance as you learn how to create and enforce boundaries and communicate with your child in more effective ways.

The teenage years are an ideal time for therapy. And, it is very possible to get your relationship with your teen back on a good track. With help, your teen can develop better communication skills and learn how to create and maintain healthy relationships and balance in his or her life. Working on these issues now – as well as how he or she relates with you – can make a lasting impact as your teen enters into adulthood. This is ground for building life-long skills, learning healthy conflict resolution strategies and creating a calmer and more peaceful relationship with you and others in the future.

But, you still may have questions or concerns…

My teen is absolutely refusing to go to therapy.

It’s really hard to know what to do when your teen refuses help. Involving your child in the process – giving them the power to choose the therapist – can be an effective approach to introducing the idea of therapy. You can tell your child that he or she is going to therapy – not negotiable – but offer him or her the opportunity to interview and select a therapist.

If your teen’s refusal continues, you may want to seek parenting advice from a family therapist. While it’s ideal to include your teen, family therapists are trained to offer parental guidance and support. They can help you navigate difficult barriers and strategize different and more effective ways for you to communicate with your teen.

I think therapy could help, but everyone’s schedules are already so full.

You can talk with your BPS therapist about scheduling and figure out a time that accommodates everyone’s busy schedules. Although an hour a week may seem like a lot now, the work that your teen can do in therapy can actually lead to a decrease in stress. As your teen learns how to create more balance in his or her life and develops more effective ways to manage time, some of the stress that your teen may be projecting onto your relationship may be alleviated.  Also, think of how much time you and your teen spend on conflict issues right now. With help, family time can become less argumentative, more productive, and enjoyable again.

I’m afraid that I’ll be judged as a bad parent because my teen needs therapy.

The idea of being judged or exposed as a parent is a very common and understandable fear. Parenting may be the hardest job in the world and although many parents question themselves and their decisions, most are trying to do their best – which is admirable. Remember that every family and family situation comes with its own set of challenges. Therapy can help you identify these – as well as everyone’s strengths – which can lead to better communication and healthier relationships within the family. A “bad parent” wouldn’t invest the time and energy that you are right now, trying to do what you can to help your family.

To increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory which will help you to determine what your teenager’s specific issues are and ensure a good match between you, your teen and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.

Check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your child with a therapist who has expertise working with teenagers on parent-teen conflict issues.

karen-wildingBPS therapist Karen Wilding, LCSW helped create the content for this page. Karen has been working with teens and their families on conflict and communication issues since 1987.