Parenting During Times Of High Adolescent Conflict:Knowing When To Seek Help


Many people question the parenting skills of parents that have children involved in support service like counseling, rehabilitative programs or the courts system. These  parents may feel a social isolation when the community discovers their child (juvenile or adult) is in need of metal health care, substance abuse services, or institutional/residential placement. The assumptions of the public can cause a parent to question themselves and lead to unnecessary apologies. Studies indicate that the majority of troubled youth come from homes that are stable and nurturing. They also disclose that most children from abusive and neglectful homes do not have a tendency to become abnormally troubled or delinquent. This does not mean there is no impact regarding parenting skills and positive child development. Parents that abuse or neglect their children cause great harm to the child and their ability to cope in their future. They will struggle in some way. Self-esteem will be lessened and hope will be decreased causing social struggles that could impact their ability to maintain relationships, employment, and households successfully. Thoughtful and active parenting is one of the most important factors in setting a child up for independence.

Predictors of high-risk behavior or criminality in youth include a wide variety of circumstances of which the youth would only need a few. An individual can inherit certain genes and when combined with the right environmental and life stage factors can lead them to engage in antisocial or criminal behavior. Certain life circumstances like divorce, witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event, loss of housing or financial security can create great stress in the family system. This in turn will cause a child to develop reactions according to individual personality traits and their developmental stage in life. A child experiencing divorce and the subsequent loss of a parent in the home at the age of 9 will react differently than a fourteen year old. The support needs of these children will be different due to their genetic make up, personality and developmental stage in life.


All children need to be nurtured, guided, and educated by their parents. No parent is perfect and all make mistakes. Most children not only survive parenting but thrive as a result of thoughtful guidance from their parents. I often tell parents who are are experiencing teen/young adult conflict that their children may seem like a reflection of the parents’ worst traits. I also explain this is normally a temporary time and one that should be approached with an eye of reflection and wisdom. Unfortunately, the best efforts to help some of these teens/young adults may fail. Some of these parents may find themselves their child’s first victim. Problem behaviors are probably a result of a combination of factors mixed at just the right time in the adolescents growth stage. High levels of conflict between parents and adolescents should be viewed as a symptom of personal, family and or peer struggles. They should not be ignored. Adolescents may lack the mature skills needed to deal with certain life circumstances and parents will need to understand exactly which circumstances are troubling the youth.

Parents experiencing high conflict with their teen/adult are often taken off guard initially. A gradual increase in questionable behaviors and reactions accumulates into crisis. At this point parents must turn their attention to their child as if they were an toddler again. Taking time off work or decreasing commitments in the community would be wise. Making changes in family system approaches is a must to offer the proper support. Eventually the parent may need to consider when the problems have reached a state of crisis and would they be considered criminal. I am often asked by parents if they should involve the police or courts in serious domestically disruptive situations instigated by their children. This is a question a parent must approach with caution and deep reflection. Determining when or if to involve authorities or asking for support from community agencies should be done by the parent according parents’ personal concerns. Making a list can be useful. Not addressing this concern could lead to a detrimental community reaction if the problems continue to escalate. An unaddressed underlying condition will eventually cause behaviors to end up in the community arenas of the child’s life.

Requesting help from service providers

Child will hear another adults view regarding inappropriate actions of child                      Child may understand long term and legal ramifications of negative actions
Child may try to control their behavior
Parent may feel a sense of security/relief knowing someone else is involved
Support services can be identified and put in place
Household and community may be safer if child is receptive to interventions
Child could receive criminal charges
Child could be removed from the home
Parent will not know what child is experiencing when away from home
Child could be negatively influenced by other peers
Child may become depressed
Child will be absent from school and experience educational changes when out of home
Parents or child may be frowned upon by community and family
Parents may have to pay for services
Parents or child may be scrutinized by the government agencies or courts

Not requesting assistance from others

Child won’t receive criminal charges
Child won’t be removed from the home at request of parent
Parents will know what child is experiencing
Child won’t be exposed to negative peer influences outside the family/child arena
Child will remain in school setting when they attend
Parents won’t have to pay for services
Parents and child won’t be scrutinized by the government agencies or courts by the choice of the parent
Child may not understand long term consequences or legal ramifications of negative actions
Child may become uncontrollable and hurt self or others
Parent may feel a sense of insecurity and embarrassment
Support services will not be identified and put in place
Household members and community are at risk of harm

If parents find their child is displaying repetitive negative behaviors in the home that would be considered criminal in the community a list should be completed. Considerations should be given regarding recent exposure to heightened stress or traumatic experiences like death of a loved one or close friend, witnessing or experiencing violence, someone in the family receiving a serious diagnosis, moving, separation/divorce, sudden severe financial struggles. While these type situations do not justify bad behavior they can cause a child to act out abnormally for a brief time. I would say if the behavior is not improving after several months the parent would need to recognize there may be and underlying cause that is unresolved or they are unaware of. Evaluating the child regarding possible precursor to the behavioral change is imperative for obtaining the best support system possible. Educating the youth about the next steps the parents and family members will take is also very important. Parents should include the child in the plan regarding how to move forward in order to protect the child, family and community.

Support services for the child could include mentoring, counseling, getting involved in community service projects, involvement in teen programs, support groups, specialized camps for unique circumstances, learning something new (language, hobby, instrument, sport, etc). Psychological evaluations by a licensed professional and or court involvement would be an alternative response for unresolved negative behavior problems that have already been addressed through new support attempts.

Parents should consider finding support for themselves during high conflict times. Support groups, parenting education, counsel from a trusted mature adult or service provider, marital counseling, on-line discussion boards are all ways parents can find support while they navigate this season of their life.


Farrington D.P. (1998). Predictors, causes, and correlates of male youth violence. Crime and Justice Vol. 24,421-475.

Montymayor, R. (1983). Parents and adolescents in conflict: all families some of the time and some families most of the time. Journal of Early Adolescence, 3, 83-103.

Schmitz, M. F. (2003). Influences of race and family environment on child hyperactivity and antisocial behavior. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 65, 835-849.

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