In the article “How to Help Tweens and Teens Manage Social Conflict,” author Lisa Damour describes the difference between a conflict and what is defined as bullying. She suggests multiple ways parents can address these problems. Also in her book “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls,” she references how you as a parent can deal with stress and anxiety from experiencing a conflict with your child and another tween or teen.
To begin with, Damour illustrates that middle school and high school are the prime times for bullying and conflict to occur. In school, “social friction and hurt feelings often come with the territory, with the risk of causing intense emotional stress both for the tweens and teenagers themselves...” (Damour).
“Conflict is unavoidable and can be a point of growth,” says Andrea Shaffer, a teacher and coach for conflict cases at the private preschool-grade 12 Chicago Waldorf Schools. Although conflict can be very mentally draining, once teens work out their conflicts, it is very rewarding. With friendship comes conflict. Each friendship endures a hardship that tests their friendship. As a teenager conflict is very hard to deal with alone. It is in these situations when parents are recommended to step in. Not only will parents help diffuse the situation, but also through the process, children will learn how to communicate clearly and express how they are feeling about the situation in a calm, non-blaming tone of voice.
Parents are most helpful to their children when they take conflict seriously and “have strategies to coach them along as they work to resolve things on their own” according to Damour.
Don’t Confuse Conflict With Bullying
Damour alludes that “when our [a] child suffers a social injury, it’s easy to conclude that he or she has been bullied.” However, experts suggest that this word is commonly misconceived. Bullying is a term that is used frequently when aggression is in the eye.
Social discord “rarely involves bullying,” explains Phyllis Fagell, a counselor at the Sheridan School, in Washington, D.C., and the author of the forthcoming book “Middle School Matters.” “Most commonly, conflict stems from anything ranging from a misunderstood comment to a spilled secret, to a lopsided friendship.”
When this occurs, it is difficult for many to diagnose when to intervene. Sometimes teenagers just need to work it out, while other times require adult, teacher, coach or counselor supervision. In either of these situations, it is important to remember that each child is emotional. Although one may be the main cause of the problem (the bully), they should both be treated fairly. As a parent, Damour explains that “you’ll want to take a measured, evidence-based approach to the problem” if your child is being bullied. This way you can develop strategies to help manage the situation such as sitting down and having a conversation, separating the two who are in the conflict, or taking it up to a more authoritative figure at the school.
Teach Healthy Conflict
In order to diffuse conflict, parents should coach and practice what their teen should say and do. From there, teens and tweens can decide their next move based on how comfortable they feel with the whole thing. It is dire to measure how serious the situation is. Either way, it is important “to stand up for yourself while being respectful of others” (Damour).
At any age, most people go directly to an unhealthy response and source of action when it comes to being upset with someone. Damour suggests that when “advising adolescents on how they might handle a disagreement, I first teach them about reactions to conflict and allow them to daydream their way through a bulldozer, doormat or doormat-with-spikes response.”
Most people want to get back at the person who caused them pain. Some people verbally rake someone while others post an unflattering image of the “friend” on social media and write a nasty comment about them. With this being done, the “friend” might respond. There is no telling how or in what tone they will respond in, but the whole goal of the picture on social media is to get a reaction out of the other person. By doing this, the two friends are forced to talk because one caused a commotion that needs to be dealt with.
“Kids may need to be reminded,” says Ms. Fagell, “to keep arguments offline. Because once they’ve waged war in a group chat at one in the morning, it becomes much harder to achieve a peaceful resolution.”
Let Them Pick Their Battles
When it comes to two teens who are in an argument, it is best to either decide to guide your child in the right direction by diffusing the situation in a civil way or deciding not to engage at all. Although you may feel the urge to help your child or tell them what to do every step of the way, “conflict, even when handled well, takes time and tremendous mental energy” (Damour). In these types of situations, it is best to help your child weigh out the costs and benefits of engaging in conflict. Damour states that it is important to ask you and your child questions that will help them determine their next step: “Do they care about the relationship enough to want to work on it? Do they expect their pillar overture to meet with a similar response?”
“Contrary to conventional wisdom,” adds Ms. Fagell, “kids aren’t always looking to restore friendships. They may need permission to move on or need help creating a more comfortable, if distant, interpersonal dynamic.” They just need to find some closure.
Teaching your child to pick their battles is a risky step. In detail, they could go the easy way and just cut off their “friend” or they could do everything to hurt that “friend.” Either way, most tweens and teens will want to emotionally hurt the other person and make them feel the burden that they felt. But that’s not the goal. As Ms. Shaffer notes, “we don’t have emotional Bubble Wrap for children, but we do have ways to help them develop the emotional agility to navigate through difficult situations.”
For more information on friendships, teens, and tweens and conflict resolution, please contact us. To learn how we can help you or your child who may be struggling with being successful managing the social world, contact us or visit our website. For more information on therapy, visit Hilber Psychological Services.
- Written by Lily Schmitt and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD
Damour, Lisa. (2019, Jan 16). How to Help Tweens and Teens Manage Social Conflict. The NY Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/16/well/family/how-to-help-tweens-and-teens-manage-social-conflict.html.
Damour, Lisa. (2017). Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Damout, Lisa. (2019). Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.