Conflict Management

Helping your tween resolve peer issues

by Carole Davenport

Tweens are in an emotional time of self-identity that often results in conflict between them and the world they’ve grown up with. Family relationships tend to suffer in these transition years as the tweens are notably vulnerable to losing trust in their parents and losing interest in family activities. As tweens realize there is life beyond the family, questions about their future loom menacingly. Peers become more influential and tweens tend to lean more toward popularity than morality. In other words, to a tween it seems that the safety net of their past is no longer there—or worse—that it is no longer needed.

Especially in the critical years of 10 to 12, most kids are undergoing huge changes with all the related challenges of growing up. Self-image is probably in its most fragile state of life. This is one of the most critical times for parents to make sure they stay connected and accessible to their kids. In spite of what is said or demonstrated by your tween, home is still where most feel safe.

It is vitally important for parents to understand what the source of the conflict is in order to help manage their tween through the rough waters of life at this age. Most stability and security that individuals experience in life is a result of a healthy family environment and strong relationships that withstand pressures. Much like a caterpillar struggling to be free from the cocoon, tweens are trying to break away from their childish past. They are searching for individual identity even as they resist the idea of standing out. What they perceive as fitting in with their peers becomes the focus of every moment of their existence. And unfortunately, because of the identical struggles their peers are experiencing, stress and anxiety force fears to the surface like a volcano ready to erupt. Rather than risk conflict with their volatile peers, tweens will unload their frustrations in the environment where they feel the safest—home.

Helping your tween work through conflict starts with open communication. Asking questions--though they may perceive it as “prying” still relays the message “I care about you”. Stay calm while trying to keep conversations (one-sided as they might be) light hearted. Providing information to your tween about what they are experiencing is also crucial to their well being. We all fear the unknown things that we don’t understand. By presenting your tween with a realistic idea of what they will be facing during these years helps to minimize the question “am I the only one around here who is scared?”

For example, I took each of my three children out for a private time (milkshake, walk, and dinner respectively) when I began to recognize signs of the self-identity struggles. By simply providing them with knowledge that they were not alone, that their feelings were common, and that I too experienced what they might be feeling when I was their age, helped to alleviate the fear factor. Tweens just want to fit in and be considered ‘cool’. A scared tween is not a ‘cool’ tween—so help them out with informative and helpful conversation. Even if they don’t throw their arms around your neck while smiling and gushing ‘wow, thanks mom! I feel so much better now’! The information you’ve provided to them will help immensely in giving them a dose of confidence.

Also, by helping them with their identity changes in a positive way, rather than through frustrated angry accusing words, you become their ally not their enemy. Help them discover who they are and who they want to be. Even short-term goals are a positive step that will help them learn the importance of managing changes. The more you can do to give them a platform of stability in their identity, the greater you diminish opportunities for conflict in your tweens relationship with you and the family.

Continue to enforce your belief that they will have a great life. Speak to them about their future often. Bring up dreams and goals that they’ve shared with you, in a positive manner. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with their goal, recognize that by showing your support for their ideas keeps you on the same team. And naturally, most goals they have for their future will change and change again as they grow older. Being receptive to their goals isn’t necessarily giving your endorsement. For example, my daughter wanted desperately to be a super-model. Though this goal wasn’t one that I would have chosen for her, I honored her ideas and whenever we talked about it I remained positive toward her future. Did I enroll her in modeling classes? No. But I did help her understand the ins and outs of the industry so that the dazzling star-studded ideals were combined with reality. Today she is a happy reading teacher who helps struggling kids overcome obstacles. So don’t let yourself get too upset by the dreams your tween shares with you. If you have them talking to you, it demonstrates they trust you with their heart—and that is the greatest sign of tween stability there is. Keep them talking by allowing them the freedom to disagree and to be their own individual person.

Help guide them in their choices but definitely take a stand when you feel they are on a dangerous course. They still are your children that need your parenting skills—so maintain your position as you allow them room to breathe on their own. Allow them to make decisions that don’t have dangerous consequences. Look for opportunities to show that you trust them. Continue to show how much you care about them without smothering them. (What worked when they were five or six probably isn’t going to work now) Avoid anything with childish overtones. Remember, that’s the identity they are trying to run away from.

Parents that devote themselves to understanding their tweens inner conflicts are investing in a strong relationship that will weather this storm together. Providing opportunities for your tween to grow takes effort but the return on this investment is well worth your patience, tongue biting, and in letting small issues go. The importance of family intervention cannot be overstated. Lead the way and they will most likely follow if you don’t make it obvious that you’re still directing their steps. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel even when they cannot. Staying steady and calm in every conflict while maintaining your parental responsibilities isn’t easy but you can do it! SFM

Carole Davenport is President of Hidden Heart Ranch, a Montana non-profit healing center. Carole is mom to three adult children and their families.