Communication Tips for De-escalating Conflict with Difficult Teenagers

There are some simple ways to improve communication with teens. The catch is, your teen has to want to communicate with you. If you have a difficult, defiant teen, who is itching to fight with you, communicating with them can be far more challenging.

To help you overcome communication barriers with your combative teen, our staff here at Liahona Treatment Center have some tips to help your next discussion with your teenager.

Determine When Things Go From Conversation To Conflict

Talking with a difficult teenager can feel like you are defusing a bomb. Without the right tools to handle a touchy teen, it can be easy to set your teen off, and the conversation between you two becomes a fight. Often, teens will rely on a handful of tactics to blow up a conversation you are trying to have with them.

Read through the list below and check off which of these sabotaging conversation-ending tactics your teen engaged in.

  • Hostile - In order to keep the conversation from happening at all, some teens will become hostile, often resorting to harmful words and other types of verbal abuse.
  • Exaggerate - Adding extra details, skirting the edge of a lie, and magnifying perceived wrongs are all ways that teens use exaggeration to blow up a conversation.
  • Lie - Outright lying is a conversation ending tactic that your teen may utilize. Some teens will lie just because they can, not because they need to hide something.
  • Avoidant - Some teens will treat others to the silent treatment or just avoid their company to prevent a conversation happening in the first place.
  • Know-it-all - Shutting down a conversation by pretending to know everything is another technique teens use to silence those who would give them advice.
  • Tantrum - Much like a toddler who doesn’t want to nap, some teens will rage and scream at their parents to get their way and destroy any meaningful conversation.
  • Pitiful - Overindulging in self-pity can make the conversation alter to being one where parents have to build up their teen rather than talk about the real issues.

By recognizing these conversation-ending tactics, you can more easily cut through them to have the conversations that need to happen with your difficult teen.

Practice Focusing Techniques To Calm High Emotions

Conversations with high-conflict teens can make emotions run high and turn discussions into unproductive fighting. To help reduce friction between you and your teen, there are techniques you can use to help keep yourself calm and the conversation on track.

Avoid over-explaining and justifying yourself - Many parents get into the habit of over-explaining themselves to their teens and justifying discipline. While it is important to be clear with your teen, over-explaining and justifying yourself can make it appear that your teen can argue with you. Instead, make yourself clear and stay firm.

For instance, say your teen broke curfew. They knew their curfew was 11 pm but didn’t get home until after midnight. You had previously established the rule that breaking curfew, your teen loses phone privileges and is grounded for a week.

It is likely your teen will protest when you enforce the consequences, saying that you’re being unfair, they hate you, and other tactics. Instead of explaining why what they did is wrong—because let’s face it, your teen knows what they did was wrong—just firmly tell your teen that they knew the consequences for curfew breaking, and it’s time to hand over their phone.

Practice open-mindedness - It is common for teens and parents not to see things the same way. While, as a parent, you have years of experience and learning to offer, it is important to be open-minded and allow your teen to have their own opinions, especially if the difference of opinion isn’t life-threatening.

An example of practicing open-mindedness would be if your teen wants to dye their hair blue with money they earned from their job, and you think it will be damaging to their hair and send the wrong message. But think about it. What does it really harm if your teen dyes their hair blue, especially if there is no conflict with your teen’s school and job?

The teenage years and much of a person’s twenties is a time of exploration and learning, and exploring hairstyles is a pretty harmless way to engage in self-discovery. You should feel free to say something like, “I am concerned that blue hair will send the wrong message to others and damage your hair. But this is your choice, and I just wanted you to know my concerns.”

Your teen may still go and dye their hair blue, but at least your teen is aware that you respect their growing autonomy, making your teen more likely to confide in you when more important issues arise.

Validate your teen and explore statements - Sometimes, your teen just needs to feel heard by you. By you validating your teen’s feelings, rather than contradicting them, you can explore your teen’s statements and have a richer conversation.

A conversation where you should validate and explore may look like this:

Teen - “My friends all hate me. I want to change schools so that I never have to see them again.”

Parent - “I’m sorry you feel that way. Did something happen that lead to you feeling that way?”

Teen - “They all hung out together this weekend, and now I have to see all the pictures on Instagram. My so-called friends didn’t even try to invite me.”

Parent - “Well, our family was out of town for a funeral. Maybe your friends were trying to give you space and didn’t want to rub it in that you couldn’t come?”

Consider Alternatives For Troubled Teens

Sometimes there are troubled and difficult teens who require more help than what you can provide at home with your local resources. For these struggling teenagers, a therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens may be the best option.

At a therapeutic boarding school like Liahona Treatment Center, each student receives an individualized care plan that covers their academic, therapeutic, and physical needs. With this level of care and the immersive therapeutic help difficult teens can receive at a therapeutic boarding school, they will finally have the tools to allow them to make permanent, positive changes.

If you are considering Liahona for your teenage son, feel free to contact us. We work with teenage boys from 13-17 years old, and our program advisors are ready to consult with you concerning your son’s—and the rest of the family’s—needs.

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