Conflict is not a surprising topic when we mention the words parents and teenagers in the same sentence. Our (Mike) household did not miss any of the top conflicts we will discuss further along in this chapter. I remember a specific argument I used to have with my mother on a weekly basis. I was the fun-loving, active teenager who struggled with the idea of cleanliness. But I especially struggled with cleaning the day the cleaning person would come to detail our house. I never grasped the concept of why I had to clean the house before the cleaning person arrived. This made no logical sense to a teenager. In fact, I still struggle with the same issue with my wife! Although, that is another book. In this case, week after week my mother and I would do battle over me cleaning the day of the house-cleaner. You see in my mind, somewhat typical of most teenagers, I did not think she was the cleaning lady. To me, she was the JUDGE. She was the lady who went from house to house awarding families with the “Cleanest House Award”. I wanted to know where our ribbon was!
We all recognize that parents and teenagers are going to have conflicts, even the so called “experts”. At this point, we understand why parents and teenagers experience conflict, and we know the specific conflicts teenagers rated in our research. We want to make one important point before we unveil the top conflicts as rated by parents.
First, and this is so important in regards to the initial steps to learning how to cope and resolve conflicts with our teenagers, conflict is normal. Mr. and Mrs. K. arrived early for their appointment. I noticed their uneasy faces as I passed them in the hall of my counseling clinic. Along side Mr. and Mrs. K was their daughter, seething about having to spend her Friday night in my office. Teenagers are rarely excited to work on family issues. I invited the K family into my office and like the beginning of a highly energized fighting bout, they each chose separate corners of my office. The parents in the red corner, and the unruly teen in the blue corner.
Like families before them, the K family looked nervous and even slightly embarrassed about being in counseling. After listening to the initial background of their presenting problem the mother asked a very common question. “Is this normal?” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that question in my office.
“Is this normal?” The million dollar question individuals and families alike ask when first entering counseling. The majority of people I see in counseling situations often feel that they are the only ones struggling with a particular issue. It is reassuring when I offer them the statement back, “You’re not the first ones to struggle with this”. You can see the relief on their faces, and I know what they are thinking because I’ve thought it myself, “Whew! I’m not different”.
We are not alone in our struggles with teenagers. Many families experience some or all of the top conflicts we will examine in this book. So do not be embarrassed, and do not be afraid. Because, like the many families who struggled before you, and made it to the other side, you can do the same.
The Top Ten Conflicts of Parents with Teenagers
We surveyed over 7,000 parents asking them the same question, “What are your biggest conflicts with your teenager?” Instead of the “experts” telling you what problems you encounter with your teen, we thought it might be nice to ask parents. We knew parents were struggling in the relationship with their teens, but in what specific ways. This book’s premise is to provide explicit help in dealing with concrete questions and concrete answers. It is not a book offering the reader a parenting theory in which to model their disciplining and child rearing strategies after. Theory is a wonderful tool in developing new and advanced thought, but sometimes theory is not easily understood or implemented; especially in the realm of child-rearing. This is why we are looking at the top ten specific conflicts parents rated as the most troublesome. We hope to offer easily understood parenting techniques to resolve the top conflicts. However, we do not want to limit the techniques discussed in this book to the top ten conflicts. The specific parenting methods will be able to work in many of the problems faced in raising a responsible teenager beyond the items in our list.
THE TOP TEN CONFLICTS
Talking/Communicating with your teen
Taking care of family property
Setting limits, enforcing rules, being too lenient
Spending time with family
The way your teenager speaks to you
Teenager not telling you how he “feels” or “thinks”
You are not alone with the difficulties you might be facing at this very moment with your teenager. Interestingly, the list does not contain major conflicts like teen pregnancy, alcohol, or drug abuse. The list contains common, everyday struggles of living in a family. It shows families striving toward intimacy, acceptance, understanding, and validation. It is within these conflicts that the game of parenting is won. Not the spectacular, but the common is where great parenting lurks for any unsuspecting teenager. In fact, it is when parents lose sight of the ordinary, everyday conflicts, that families suffer the toughest consequences of parent and teenager friction.
Tears flowed down the cheek of the seventeen year-old girl sitting across from me in my office. Broken and ashamed of her life at just seventeen, she shared openly of her troubles. The drugs, the sex, the alcohol were all part of her weekly routine. She had lost the innocence of childhood because of poor choices and even poorer parenting. I will never forget what she told me one day near the end of her session.
“If they just cared about the little things”, she said looking away to avoid eye contact with me. “The little things”. What a powerful statement. We both realized through the course of therapy that her pain did not start at the point it was now. It started because, she and her parents, allowed her to get away with the little things. Her parents had allowed the normal, more easily handled conflicts, to slip through their fingers into bigger, more painful issues.
This is why the common, top ten conflicts, is so important when it comes to parenting. We are writing this book because our prayer is that parents and teenagers can solve the less serious issues before they turn into life altering events.
With that in mind, what can we accomplish with the knowledge of the list? Working with families for a living has allowed us to see that some parents feel their child is different, or even more misbehaving. The list shows that parents all over the country are facing many of the same concerns and difficulties with their teenagers. Let the knowledge of the list free you from undue embarrassment, loneliness, and frustration.
Also, let the list open up opportunities to talk with other parents in your community. Too often our Western culture values individualism and privacy over community and support. Remember, some of the best advice out for parents is from parents. Especially parents who have traveled down the road of raising adolescents and survived! Look for peers in your neighborhoods, schools, and churches to seek guidance and encouragement.
Remember when Moses was leading the Israelites in battle and every time he let his arms down they would start losing. Moses learned a valuable lesson that day. He learned that we can not always do things on our own. Sometimes we need a friend to help us along the way. The Israelites might have lost the battle if it were not for Moses’ willingness to accept help from others. Parenting is not the time for pride. Pride will only eat away at the core of security so important to the family unit. We all need to be enthusiastic about seeking wisdom from others. Like Proverbs says, “Only the wise seek counsel”. There is great truth found within that verse. Because when we are willing to seek counsel, we are willing to listen and to allow God to work miracles through his greatest creation, US! And unquestionably, you do not want to miss out on the opportunity of learning from mature adults who have the time and desire to help young families avoid and recover from the inevitable hardships of parenting. Grandparents are sometimes accused of offering unwarranted advice when it comes to raising children. “I wouldn’t have done it that way”, or “You’ll regret that move”. Maybe if we asked for advice more often, they wouldn’t be accused of tampering so much.