Communication – Dads and Teens

ages & stages treeWe can hardly avoid friction when living in close quarters with others. Differences in personality can be a source of constant conflict, yet every family also experiences the ‘growing pains’ associated with the changing needs and habits of children as they mature.

Where teenagers battle with balancing new freedoms and responsibilities, parents struggle with changing the way they relate and persuade. Dads with teens can work successfully at keeping the communication channels open and two-way.

Issues that cause conflicts

Teens themselves cite many sources of conflict with their dads. Notably, some of the most common issues that result in explosive situations are:

  • “I have no freedom.”
  • “Dad’s being negative and unreasonable.”

An article in The Asian Parent [1]  lists similar top responses from a group of fifteen year-olds on what they wished their parents would stop doing:

  • “Treating me like a child.”
  • “Restricting me from doing what I like.”
  • “Judging my friends and choosing them for me.”

Engaging with Love and Understanding

01In a conflict, it’s helpful to know that the first thing a teen really wants is: “I want him to cool down.” When we’re angry, our natural tendency is to attack and zoom in on what’s ‘wrong’ with the other person. This only fuels the argument and makes any real progress impossible. Instead, both parties should slow down their responses, or have a time out to calm down. When things have cooled, take  time to identify and share your trigger points with each other.

While it may be gratifying to be the undisputed winner in an argument, teens also need their dads “to listen to my side of the story.” Teens want to get through to their dads. Dads, as the mature adult and figure of family authority, can proactively extend a bridge by learning to listen effectively.

04Listening effectively involves displaying genuine interest and openness, and suspending your own opinions to better see your teen’s point of view. This also means not assuming the worst of their intentions, but clearing the deck of past frustrations and giving the benefit of the doubt. The fact is most teens value their fathers’ opinions, and it is not uncommon to hear them say, “I want him to respect my views; to help me analyse the situation so that I can make a good decision.”

Your teen’s receptivity to your guidance is influenced greatly by how it is delivered. Dads can advise and even chastise in a way that is measured and communicates respect. Modelling an even keel also builds a bridge of trust that helps your teen stay open, where comments are no longer seen as a personal gripe, but the studied observations of a coach’s eye. If teens are strong-willed and appear not to listen, it is vital to signal that you are interested to understand them and the underlying reasons for their actions. Persist in a gentle but firm approach, and resist using unhelpful labels such as ‘rebellious’ or ‘stubborn’.

Making a Conflict Beautiful

Conflict is part and parcel of a healthy interpersonal relationship and the absence of it can often indicate poor communication or a stone wall of avoidance. Teens describe such distancing in this way: “My issue is there is no issue…we seldom talk.”

Dr John Ng, a mediation expert and behavioral coach, writes in his groundbreaking book Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon [2]: “Conflict itself is not the problem. It is how we manage and recover from it that will determine if it will turn out for the better or worse.”

Conflicts between fathers and teens are not often resolved well. Many teens prefer to just let things subside and move on. Without talking through issues however, anger becomes a boundary marker of where not to tread. Soon the conversation space begins to resemble a minefield, and it becomes easier to disengage from communicating, than to risk an explosion.

Instead, conflicts can be opportunities for talking on heart issues and sharing life perspectives that deepen the family relationship. The key to this, as Dr Ng highlights, is to have a climate of mutual trust and shared values that also appreciate personality differences. Open communication between dads and teens are created in turn through the practice of some golden rules:

  1. avoid personal attacks
  2. assume responsibility
  3. apply listening skills
  4. focus on the issues
  5. adopt the right issue
  6. attend to one issue at a time
  7. agree on an appropriate time to discuss

Like their dads, teens don’t usually set out with the intention to be disagreeable or unreasonable family members. Often it is the inability to communicate and find acknowledgement for needs and emotions that result in poor and abrasive communication. When dads listen better, children listen better. And then the change both parties were hoping for happens in a heartwarming and forthcoming way:  “I want him to know that I’m wrong too and I’m sorry for that.”


[1] Parent-Teen Conflict. (September 22, 2009). Retrieved July 8, 2012.

[2] Ng, J. (2012). Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Managing Conflict @ Work and Home. Singapore: Armour Publishing

First published on 14-08-2012.


Categories: 5 Dads of Teens, Ages and Stages

Tags: , , , , , ,

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