How to Handle Conflict

Many parents of teenagers feel like they are constantly yelling at their teens for something. According to Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?, “Of course, the reason for so much conflict is that we make requirements for teenagers—take out the trash, clean rooms, get up on time in the morning, be home by a particular time—and very often they don’t do it.” Conflict sometimes happens because, although they’d never admit it, teenagers don’t want to grow up. An excellent way to keep connections with parents is to have constant battles. 

As parents of teenagers, you must learn to avoid getting trapped in this unpleasant and potentially harmful dynamic. The secret is to know how to end such “discussions.” 


“Gavin, clean your room.”

“I can’t. I’m busy. (He’s watching Sports Center on ESPN.) Quit hassling me.”


“Lexi, we expect you home at your usual curfew.”

“No way! I’m not leaving this party early.”

The parent wants one thing, and the teenager wants something else. In order to get what they want, teenagers are prepared to fight with you. They will keep it going as long as you will—or until you give in and let them have what they want. 

“Gavin, do it now.”

“Lexi, I expect you to be home at midnight.”

This needs to be your last line. No matter how much you want there to be more to the script, you must stop now.

“Get off my back! I’m not doing it!”

“You can ground me for the rest of my life! I will not be home by midnight tonight!”

Stop! Squelch your desire to reprimand this defiant display of willful disrespect. Everything in you may be screaming for you to verbally let your child have it. You have a lot you know you could say. Force yourself to turn your back and leave the battlefield.

If you make a requirement and your teen expresses her intent to disobey, saying, “I will do it anyway,” or “No way will I do that,” don’t keep this battle going either. Your teen is willing to risk saying she will or will not do something. Carrying out the disobedient act is another matter. Dr. Wolf advises, “Having already stated their position, parents need say no more. They should deal with disobedience only when and if it happens. They should ignore all mere threats of disobedience.”

Even as adults, we want to get the last word in. It’s extremely difficult to just drop it. Usually our reasons have to do with our desire to “not let them get away with it.” “But,” according to Dr. Wolf, “if our aim is not to get caught up in lengthy battles, if our aim is to have them learn something positive, then, almost invariably, the greatest wisdom is simply to shut up. By going on, we teach them only one thing: we want to be in control. And the scene invariably switches from the issue at hand to a battle of wills.”