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Teaching Teens to Deescalate Conflicts

by Chelsea Fitzgerald

Your teens can encounter conflict anywhere. Drama often seems to follow teens, which is often due to their immaturity and lack of problem-solving skills. Teaching teens how to handle conflict and help the de-escalate a problem situation instead of escalating to a point of danger is imperative. This skill is something they can use their entire lives.

Recognizing an Escalating Situation

Teaching your teen how to recognize when a potential situation is about to erupt into a treacherous battle of wills is one of the first steps in handling conflict. Talk with your teenager when you have his undivided attention. Explain to him that not all conflict is negative. When people discuss differing opinions and ideas without it resulting in anger or violence, it can be a positive experience. Make it clear that since your teen knows you and his siblings quite well, he can likely recognize when he is about to push buttons that may escalate into an argument. According to the National Crime Prevention Council website, body language and tone of voice are often key factors in determining if a discussion is about to get out of hand. Make sure your teen is aware of this by explaining that even if he doesn’t know an individuals well, if he watches and listens carefully he can decipher cues, like when someone tenses his body and raises his voice, which can indicate that the discussion is about to intensify. These cues are called triggers.

Identifying the Issue

Calmly explain to the teen that sometimes people feel that if someone disagrees or invalidates their opinions, it's a personal assault. Help him learn ways to explain to his peers that he's merely disagreeing with a point another individual is making, not the individual himself. For instance, he might say, “Hey man, I just don't agree with your point of view, I'm attacking your intelligence or saying that you don’t have a right to your opinion.”

Setting the Ground Rules

Topics that are often integral parts of teenage conflicts are teasing, jealousy, bullying and teens who act tough in an attempt to impress their peers, according to the High School Mediator website. Tell your teen that to help avoid conflicts, she and her peers should set ground rules for themselves, such as refraining from name-calling and interrupting each other. Other effective ground rules are to ask everyone to refrain from placing blame or shouting.

Talking It Out

You should tell your teen that it is often helpful to allow people to explain what their needs are when handling conflict. Your teen can help his peers resolve conflicts -- and this way, they might follow his example and do the same, taking on the role of peacemaker. For instance, if two of your teen's friends are involved in a conflict, he can say to one, “Dude, what is it that you want here?” Then he can ask the other person involved what he wants as well. He can point out that there are ways to solve the problem just by talking, without resorting to violence and shouting. Having a reasonable and calm third party point out ways to resolve the conflict helps everyone see it through with a fresh perspective. Once they reach an a agreement, a handshake or even a hug, puts the situation to rest. If the conflict goes unresolved, your teen should encourage the involved parties to go together to talk with a trusted adult, teacher, coach or school counselor, who can help mediate the conflict in a peaceful manner that works for everyone.

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