7 Techniques to Managing Teen Conflict

Think back to your high school days and what comes to mind? Raging hormones, tested friendships and competing with fellow classmates for your crush’s attention are just a few of the milestones experienced in the tumultuous age range of 13-18. As if high school isn’t hard enough, now imagine placing all the same people within close living quarters at a drug rehabilitation facility where emotions and nerves are running even wilder than before. Close living quarters, adolescent hormones and drug cravings combined are a perfect recipe for adolescent conflict. The key to managing teen conflict at your treatment center is to instill your clients with conflict resolution skills as well as anger management techniques.

Here are 7 tools to give to your clients in the occasion that a conflict arises:

1. Bring in a Third Party

The majority of the time, adolescent conflict escalates very quickly from a disagreement to an all-out physical brawl. So while many of your clients may claim they can handle their disputes amongst themselves, it is important to emphasize the importance of taking an escalating issue to a staff member. Be sure to highlight the fact that should a client choose to come to you, that their identity will be kept confidential and that the handling of the conflict will be done so discreetly. Nothing turns an adolescent away more from reaching out to an adult for help than the possibility of their reputation being stamped with the label of a “tattletale.” By bringing the issue to a staff member, the two disputing clients can engage in a one-on-one counselor-facilitated mediation in order to come to a resolution regarding the issue at hand.

2. Consider the Other Person

The overall goal of mediation is for the two disputing clients to reach a compromise. In order to do so, it is helpful to introduce your clients early on to the idea of putting yourself in another person’s shoes. The ability to do so will no doubt help your clients in dealing with many other forms of pain or conflict in their lives. Should the clients be successful in coming to a compromise and ending the dispute, make sure you follow up with the individuals with lots of positive reinforcement so the behavior will be inclined to continue in the future.

3. Set Boundaries

Reaching an agreement is an ideal case but sometimes there is just no compromise in certain situations. In these cases, the only other solution to keep the peace is to set strict boundaries. Certain adolescent clients will always clash with one another and if they are repeatedly disturbing the peace and order of the daily routine, one solution is to place these particular clients on a speaking ban. Emphasize that violation of the speaking ban will result in loss of privileges such as phone time or extra chores.

4. Take a Deep Breath

One of the most common anger de-escalation techniques for clients is deep breathing. For this tactic to work, the client needs to focus all of their attention and concentration on the in-and-out rhythm of their breath. By slowing down their breathing and inviting air in to expand their lungs, it produces a calming effect on the body as well as the mind when their focus is being directed elsewhere from the problem at hand.

5. Step Away

Another technique to teach clients, often coupled with deep breathing, is learning to take a time out. Clients will learn to recognize when they are getting heated and choosing to walk away from the situation is a far healthier alternative than engaging in conflict. In that time spent separated from the situation, clients are usually able to gather themselves and reenter the space when ready.

6. Get Active

In other instances, adolescents will want to do anything other than sit still and breathe when they are angry. In these scenarios, it is best to advise the clients to work it off. You may recognize a client in need of this particular technique by their body language such as clenched fists or pacing. Tell them immediately to go outside and run some laps or shoot some basketball hoops if you have any sort of outdoor activities available at your facility. Many overactive adolescents will need to physically exhaust themselves of all their rage and nervous energy. In time, they will begin to equate anger with physical exercise and will know on their own what they have to do when they become irritated.

7. Break Bread

If all else fails, offer the aggravated client a glass of water or a snack. If you engage in this technique, you as the staff member should also engage in snack eating. Food will not only soothe a hungry and irritated client, but the sharing of a snack also fosters camaraderie and often opens the gateway for communication.

Above all else, it is important to follow up on a client’s actions either with positive reinforcement of their successful behaviors or with loss of privileges for their negative behaviors or emotional outbursts. In this way, you are conditioning clients towards positive behaviors as well as giving them the gift of techniques to help manage their emotions, which for many teens, is a gift they have never been given and will no doubt carry into a healthy adult lifestyle.

M. Lujan has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Tulane University. She now works with adolescents in drug rehabilitation centers providing recovery support and teaching life skills.

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