Playing fair

. February 8, 2013.

Frustration combined with poor verbal communication can result in conflict when dealing with teenagers. Frequently, arguments begin over trivial matters, escalate out of control and end without resolving the issues. Establishing rules for "fair fighting" can go a long way, soothing the bumpy road of adolescence. Here are seven steps to improve communication, prevent
conflict and find compromise with your adolescent.

1. Go it alone. Keep the discussion between you and your teen. Do not have an audience of friends or siblings. You do not need to bring in others to offer testimony, provide evidence or take sides. Assume your teen is being truthful and remember, this is a discussion, not a
court appearance.

2. Set a time limit. Within 30 to 40 minutes, the problem should be identified, each of you should have expressed your feelings, and entered into discussion. Set a timer and stop when it rings. If more time is needed, decide and mutually agree when you can meet again to continue. If you cannot get back together before the end of the day, be sure to do so before the week is out. This will provide time for both of you to think about the situation, consider the other's point of view and suggest positive alternatives.

3. Be nice. Agree ahead of time, neither of you will "sting" each other. A "sting" is any comment, insult or threat that is hurtful, sarcastic, or that either of you find offensive. Both of you have the right and the responsibility to walk away if a "sting" is thrown your way. A "sting" is unfair and should not be tolerated. Negative remarks do nothing to improve the situation and make it more difficult to have a
productive conversation.

4. Pick your poison. Choose only one problem; identify what you are going to discuss and stick to it. Don't get lost in what happened yesterday or last month. Don't bring up past problems unless it pertains to the current situation. Don't get carried away in response to a "smoke and mirrors" defense by your teen. He or she may attempt to drag in other issues to avoid dealing with the matter at hand.

5. My feelings versus your feelings. Take ownership of your feelings; don't blame each other for how you feel. Use the "I" word not the "you" word when talking about emotional responses you have to each other.

6. Listen up. Each person needs 10 (uninterrupted) minutes to present his or her side of the issue. Listen for things you can agree with in the other's statements. This will provide a basis for negotiation, compromise and agreement. It will also demonstrate you actually heard and listened to each other.

7. Win/win. Find a solution satisfactory to both of you. Neither of you may get entirely what you want, but each of you should feel the compromise is mutually beneficial. The goal is to make progress in communicating with your teen, regardless of the issue discussed.

Use these seven strategies to engage your teen in conversation in good times and in bad. It will set the pace for improved communication, preventing conflict and developing positive resolution.

Dr. Valerie Allen is a child psychologist. She presents seminars for parents and professionals in the field of child development and has published a children's book, Summer School for Smarties. Oh yes, she has also raised six children!