Conflict seems almost inevitable in the homes of teenagers. You and your parents struggle for control over issues like music, dating, friends, curfews, chores, and homework. And if step-parents are involved, or if the issues are more serious, the battles may be even more explosive. Conflict, however, does not need to lead to all-out war. When the United States has a conflict with another country, we attempt diplomatic solutions before we resort to military solutions. It would be foolish to use violence and bloodshed to solve problems when we could just as easily work out our differences peacefully. This same principle applies to the home. Most of the students that I have met admit that they would really like to make peace in their homes. The problem is that they don’t understand how to resolve conflicts with their parents by negotiating with them instead of yelling or fighting. By simply applying a few basic principles of negotiation, you can greatly improve your relationship with your parents – and dramatically improve your chances of actually getting what you want from them.
A Different Perspective. Just as there are always two sides to every story, there is always another way of looking at a disagreement you’re having with someone else. As a teenager, your role is to explore, to take chances, to make mistakes. Your parents’ role is to protect you and guide you to maturity. Being a parent isn’t easy. You didn’t come with an instruction manual. Your parents don’t have their PhDs in parenting yet. They are learning through on-the-job experience. The world is a dangerous place and your parents are concerned about helping you grow to maturity with the least amount of ancillary damage possible. The next time your parents tend toward being over-protective, realize that they are acting out of fear, and that parenting you is their God-given responsibility. Remember that your parents are not perfect. As they try to help you through this stormy period of life, they are dealing with problems and hurts of their own which only complicates their job of parenting. You let your parents know that you are really trying to understand their perspective, they are far more likely to go the extra mile to understand yours. (By the way, this principle works with your friends, co-workers, and others as well.)
Win-Win. As much as possible, look for solutions for your differences in which both you and your parents come out ahead. An all-or-nothing, every-man-for-himself, me-first attitude is the biggest cause of relationship problems in families. It is normal for you to be more self-centered during your teenage years than at any other age, but you will get more from your parents if you try to find solutions that make them happy as well. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Sometimes it’s useful to sacrifice small skirmishes in order to win the larger war.
Communicating. When your parents are explaining their reasons for their position, listen carefully (Proverbs 1:8, 23:22). If they say something that you don’t understand, ask them to clarify what they mean. Don’t just give one-syllable answers to your parents’ questions. Learn to express your feelings rather than keeping everything bottled up inside. Talk about things that need to be discussed. Think before you speak, though. Words should be used to build people up, not to tear them down (Ephesians 4:29). Avoid using generalities that probably aren’t true anyway (“You never let me do anything!”) and blaming everything on your parents (“It’s all your fault.”). These responses cause you to lose credibility, because they aren’t true, and reveal your immaturity to your parents. Finally, don’t respond to your parents angrily, even if they are angry with you (Proverbs 15:1).
Honor Roll. The Bible commands us to honor and respect our parents (Exodus 20:12, Deut. 5:16, Ephesians 6:1-3). This literally means to treat them like VIPs (very important persons). How would you treat your favorite sports, music, or movie celebrity if they came to your house? If you treated them the way you treat your parents would they ever come back? In negotiating, respect is essential. If one person doesn’t respect the others, they will always be trying to take unfair advantage. This leads to a lack of trust – and an unsuccessful breakdown in the negotiation. Let your parents know that you appreciate them. The USDA says it costs about $300,000 to raise a child from birth through high school. Have you ever told your parents that you’re grateful for their investment in you? When was the last time you told them you love them? If you really want to improve your relationship with your parents, honor them.
Building Trust. Be honest with your parents. When you get into trouble, let them find out about it from you and not from someone else. Besides being a biblical principle (Colossians 3:9), this is also just smart human relations. Trust is essential to any relationship. If you lose your parents’ trust, you will lose your ability to negotiate anything with them – and they will probably revert to treating you more like a little kid than a teenager. Don’t cover up your mistakes. It doesn’t work for politicians, and it won’t work for you! Admit to your parents that you messed up, ask for their forgiveness, accept the consequences, and watch your trust account grow.
You can make peace with your parents. The inevitable teen-parent conflicts don’t have to turn into a war in which neither side really wins anything. Lay down your weapons, start practicing these biblical negotiating tactics, and give peace a chance.
(For more biblical principles on conflict resolution in the home, check out Resolving Conflict in Families.)