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Key Takeaways:

  • Although there are many theories that differ in how they explain conflict in teens, most, if not all, posit that conflict in adolescence is prevalent because of pubertal timing and changes in perspective and personality.
  • Youth conflict resolution follows a six-step process, requiring the use of one or a combination of the following conflict resolution strategies: submission, standoff, compromise, withdrawal, and third-party intervention.
  • When left unresolved, interpersonal conflict can lead to mental health problems; however, when resolved, conflict can also have beneficial outcomes.

Marked by the beginnings of puberty and self-discovery, adolescence can be a turbulent time for teens. During one’s teenage years, rebellion and experimentation are common occurrences, which can lead to conflict. Thus, conflict resolution for teens is an important skill to learn so that they can navigate this period in their life with relative ease.

With that said, reading this article may help you understand teenage conflict—including its causes and impact—and several ways to assist them in resolving conflict and managing their emotions while in the middle of a conflict across different settings.

Understanding Conflict in Teens

Interpersonal conflict occurs when there is a clash of opposing viewpoints and behaviors or when there is a disagreement between two or more parties. Sometimes, conflict can even escalate to fights or violence. In fact, a 1999 survey reported that one in three high school students have engaged in a physical fight in the past year [*].

From a psychological perspective, there are several theoretical models explaining interpersonal conflict in adolescence, among which are the following [*]:

  • Psychoanalytic models: According to this family of theories, conflict is a part of life, serving as an avenue for relationships to recalibrate. Because teens undergo numerous changes, relationships become disrupted. Conflict also occurs because adolescents have yet to learn how to manage their libidinal urges.
  • Cognitive-developmental model: These models posit that because teenagers experience a shift in perspective and ideology, this impacts their behavior. Moreover, because everyone behaves differently, conflict is unavoidable.
  • Social relational models: In this set of approaches to understanding conflict, it has been observed that conflict is hinged on what the relationship is like and what the circumstances are surrounding the issue causing the conflict. Because the need for people to be aligned with one another in terms of goals and behaviors is often unmet, conflict arises.

Common Causes of Conflict Among Teens

According to researchers, there are many causes of conflict among teens, all of which can be categorized into five factors, as follows [*]:

  • Informational factors: Conflict can arise because of a lack of communication of clear, accurate facts or because of miscommunication between the parties involved. Moreover, there is also a tendency for teens to either spread or be subjected to rumors, which in turn, causes conflict. To learn more about how to avoid causing this type of conflict, check out our worksheet on improving your communication skills.
  • Systemic factors: Differences in social status is one example of a societal factor that can cause interpersonal conflict among teens. Another is rejecting social norms or being in opposition with authority figures.
  • Value-related factors: When the values of two or more people are incompatible, conflict can occur as well. In addition, one person may be inclined to impose their values on another, which produces undesired conflict.
  • Attitude factors: Conflict can likely be caused when encounters and communication with others are unsatisfactory. Attitude-related factors that contribute to conflict can involve a person’s behavior not meeting another person’s expectations or standards.
  • Behavioral factors: Sometimes, certain circumstances can negatively impact one’s self-esteem or even just pose a threat to self-esteem. Reactive behavior to such situations can thus lead to conflict.

Impact of Unresolved Conflicts on Individuals and Relationships

Sometimes, conflict may be left unresolved for several reasons, ranging from a lack of conflict resolution skills to the inability to regulate one’s emotions revolving around the issue at hand. The impact of unresolved conflict can vary in terms of duration; the absence of a resolution can have short-term effects, changing a teen’s behavior, emotional state, and their interactions with others. Meanwhile, long-term effects of unresolved conflict include higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety.

In general, unresolved conflict is one of the leading causes of mental health problems among adolescents [*]. Family conflict has been associated with behavioral disorders and juvenile delinquency, whereas peer conflict has been shown to predict a decrease in academic performance and a lack of interest in school.

Although recurring conflicts can lead to the deterioration of relationships, there is a bright side to experiencing conflict with others—that is, among teens, it can offer them the chance to reflect on their beliefs, attitude, and behavior. Moreover, once resolved, interpersonal conflict can revitalize relationships and enhance one’s understanding of themselves and other people.

Important Conflict Resolution Skills for Teens

Conflict resolution refers to a set of strategies employed to dissolve a disagreement that has caused problem, stress, and suffering. But how can conflict resolution take place? There are several conflict resolution strategies available out there, but for this article, only the most common ones will be discussed.

Conflict Resolution Strategies for Teens

Conflict resolution entails using one or a combination of the following conflict resolution strategies [*]:

  • Submission: When a person submits, they concede in the argument or try to meet the needs of the person with whom they are in conflict.
  • Compromise: Compromise typically involves negotiating with the other party to arrive at a solution that will at least partially meet the needs of those involved in the conflict.
  • Standoff: A standoff entails a derailment from the issue at hand by, for example, changing topics or engaging in another activity.
  • Withdrawal: If you have ever walked out of a room to clear your head after fighting with someone, then you used the strategy of withdrawal.
  • Third-party intervention: Involving an impartial mediator can also help resolve a disagreement when the parties involved in the conflict agree to abide by the proposed action to take.

Although arriving at a compromise seems to be the most desirable strategy for all situations, youth conflict resolution should not employ a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, if a teenager is in conflict with a bully, it wouldn’t quite make sense to try to meet some of the bully’s needs when the victim of the bullying is the one whose needs should be predominantly met. Likewise, submission would not be an appropriate strategy either because submitting to the bully would imply that their actions are acceptable. In this specific example, perhaps a third-party intervention would be most useful; a good alternative would also be to withdraw from the conflict. Regardless, consider the conflict resolution strategies you have at your disposal and think about the possible positive and negative outcomes that utilizing each strategy would produce.

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the different conflict resolution strategies, it’s time to discuss the step-by-step process to conflict resolution for teens as described in the next sections.

Steps to Conflict Resolution

Although this process doesn’t have to be followed to the letter, the following steps can serve as a guide to youth conflict resolution [*]:

  1. Set the stage. Establish that you both want to resolve the conflict in a peaceful manner. If necessary, set some ground rules as well. An example of a ground rule would be to use “I” statement, such as “I feel . . .”
  2. Gather perspectives from everyone involved. In this stage, each affected party discusses their involvement, thoughts, and feelings about the conflict without being interrupted. As this is happening, everyone else should practice active listening; if the message being communicated is unclear, they should ask for clarifications in an unprovoking manner. Finally, it is important that listeners understand not just what the other person needs but also why they need it satisfied.
  3. Find a common interest. Conflict arises from both subjective perceptions and an objective turn of events. With that said, it is possible to find a consensus on the circumstances that led to the conflict and the feelings brought about by the conflict. Aside from finding a common ground, it is also important to determine why each individual involved weighs an issue with more importance than other related issues in the conflict.
  4. Create options. This step involves each individual working in collaboration by brainstorming possible ways to resolve the conflict. This is where the different conflict resolution strategies come into play. However, keep in mind that it is possible that some proposed solutions may work against another person or offend them, so when enumerating possible solutions, try your best to assume a nonjudgmental and noncommittal stance.
  5. Evaluate options. For each proposed solution, each party involved in the conflict should feel free to discuss their feelings about it. After this discussion, everyone affected by the conflict should be prepared to negotiate. Sometimes, what you need may just be what you want, and other times, what you need may not be as critical as what the other person needs. With that said, consider that in some conflicts, agreeing to disagree is also an option for conflict resolution.
  6. Create an agreement. Each party should explicitly state the conclusion or understanding they have arrived at. If needed, they can also write this agreement down.

To teach your kids about how to be more of a peacemaker (as opposed to being a peacebreaker), you can view our product about peacemaking. Additionally, you can help teens acquire and develop other conflict resolution strategies by using this conflict resolution poster as a supplementary teaching tool.

Tips to Help Teens Manage Emotions During Conflict Resolution

When conflict arises, things can get heated. A simple disagreement can even escalate into physical violence. Thus, teens should learn early on how to regulate their emotions to avoid exacerbating the conflict and destroying their relationships with others. Some emotion regulation skills you can teach for youth conflict resolution are the following:

  • Take a step back. Give yourself the time and space to breathe so that you can express your emotions in a healthy and appropriate way. If needed, you can practice muscle relaxation exercises or breathing exercises to calm your mind.
  • Name your feelings. There are many possible emotions that you may be feeling about a conflict or problem, but usually these emotions can be boiled down to either anger or sadness. Identifying your emotions will allow for the clear and open expression of emotions once they are communicated to the person you are having a conflict with.
  • Exercise anger management techniques. Would walking out of a tense situation help relieve your anger? Or would it be more helpful if you could have someone to talk to? Figure out which techniques will work for you, and then use them before you lose control of your emotions.
  • Think about the consequences. It is always helpful to think a few steps ahead. If you approached the conflict with anger, would you feel better in the long term, or would that feeling of satisfaction be temporary?
  • Use humor when appropriate. Joking around can be a useful tool in thawing the situation, as long as the jokes you make don’t offend or insult anyone or make light of the problem.

The Bottom Line

Because one’s teenage years can be fraught with conflict and interpersonal problems, it is important to understand why that is so. There are different models and theories to explain adolescent conflict, but regardless of what causes conflict, it is paramount that teens learn how to resolve conflict in a healthy and constructive manner.

Fortunately, as was discussed in this article, there are many approaches and strategies to youth conflict resolution. These should be taught early on to teens so that they can not only know how to resolve their conflicts with others but also know how to prevent them in the future. To further their understanding on how to have more effective interpersonal interactions, you can check out our collection of social skills worksheets and use them as needed to improve your teen’s relationship-building skills.

References:

  1. National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center. Fact for teens: Conflict resolution. 2002.
  2. Lauren B and Collins WA. Interpersonal conflict during adolescence. Mar 1994.
  3. Iroda R, Boboxon T, and Sobit T. Psychocorrective analysis of conflict situations during adolescence in interpersonal relations. 2022.
  4. King R. How unresolved conflict impacts mental health. 11 Jan 2023.

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