Relationship Conflict: Being a Parent and Dealing with Teenagers

Raising teenagers can place an extreme amount of stress on a marriage or relationship. Teens are developmentally attempting to learn about being their own individual and are developing their own identity. The role of parents is to protect and to help guide their child to become a functional and productive adult in the world. However, parents may have their own conflicts about setting boundaries and appropriate behavior. Conflicts about discipline, boundaries and teen issues may escalate between parents to the point where they no longer understand what they are conflicted about; they just know everyone is miserable and their child needs attention. This is where a professional marriage & relationship counsellor, psychologist or therapist can help.

Where Are Teens Developmentally?

Developmentally, teenagers are going through probably one of the most confusing and difficult periods of their lives. Physically, they are becoming adults, with adult drives and adult impulses. Unfortunately, their brains haven’t quite caught up to their bodies, however, and their ability to understand, or even think about, the long term consequences of their behaviours has not fully developed. In fact, we now know that the decision-making portion of the brain does not fully mature in humans until around the age of 23 to 25. For parents, this can be quite a scary prospect because they want their children to be safe and make good decisions.

During this age, teenagers are testing out different parts of their personality. They are feeling their way to figuring out who they really are and testing out various attitudes and peer groups. For parents, it can be a bit baffling watching their child transform into a stranger one moment and then turning back into that delightful child they remember from just a few years ago. Teens are testing their own sense of independence, but at the same time parents are still responsible for their children and the actions of their kids.

Parenting approaches to teenagers vary from very laidback parents who are willing to let their teens experiment with clothing, hair styles and alternative lifestyles to parents who rigidly expect their children to adhere to their own values and rules without question. Parents who have differing approach to raising their teenager may soon find themselves in conflict with each other about how best to handle their child and how to help their teenager through the road into adulthood. Unfortunately, those conflicts can not only lead to dramatic differences in parenting, but can also cause significant family conflict that become even larger if a child steps into the fray and becomes caught up with parents who are sending confusing and conflicting messages about where the boundaries lie in the household and what the rules are for acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Without these boundaries, children and teenagers often feel adrift and will end up seeking solace in even more destructive behaviors with the potential for long term consequences.

How Can a Marriage & Relationship Counsellor Help Parents with Teens?

A qualified marriage or relationship counsellor can help parents reconcile and reach common ground when it comes to making rules and boundaries for their teenage children. Although parents may have vastly different opinions about what is acceptable behavior for their child, the foundation is that they love their child and want what is best for him or her.

A relationship counsellor, psychologist or therapist can help by:

  • Helping parents negotiate the parent/child relationship. With the help of a counsellor or psychologist, a couple can come to some kind of compromise or agreement and agree to stand by those decisions. Sometimes this may include working with a family counsellor who can include the child in the discussion, providing your teenager with an opportunity to have some level of empowerment and responsibility for their own behaviors.
  • Improving communication skills. Very often, the root of relationship problems is a lack of ability to talk about needs, wants and feelings. A qualified couples or relationship counsellor or therapist can help couples and families learn active listening skills, so that they really feel they are being heard and true communication can occur to resolve problems and issues.
  • Reestablish the family structure. Unfortunately, very often when family conflict arises, the family structure becomes distorted. Children may ally with one parent over the other or parents may unconsciously work to influence a child against a parent. None of this is healthy. A skilled couples or marriage counsellor can help a couple come back together and establish appropriate relationship boundaries and structures in dealing with their teenager, which can support both the child and the parents.

There is no question that raising teens can be a stressor on a couple – even on with a very strong relationship. When teens get into issues and activities that challenge our own sense of values of what is right and what is wrong, what is appropriate and what is not, we find ourselves outside of our comfort zone.

The great thing about raising a teenager is that they can open an entirely new world for adults and encourage us to meet new challenges and learn about new things. Teenagers have a certain fearlessness and curiosity about the world and its endless possibilities that can be contagious if parents will allow their teens to explore.

How to Get Help on Parental Conflict about Teens

If you or someone you know is having problems with their teenager or how to set boundaries and limits for their child, a counsellor, psychologist or therapist may be able to help. They can help teach couples to work together to set agreements, help parents find common ground and reach parenting agreements, and improve communication skills for the entire family.

If you or someone you know is struggling with these or similar problems and would like to book a consultation with a qualified counsellor or psychologist, or would like to obtain further advice please contact:

Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney