As children near adulthood, their interpersonal relationships become more complex. If you are reading this, it is likely that you have or know a teenager whose relationships have become complex to the point where fights break out. Although fights may be common in the teenage years, that does not imply that such fights are normal or good. Teaching a teenager to avoid fights is possible, with the proper guidance.
Reasons for Fighting
The reasons for fighting during the teenage years are myriad. It could be that one child wants to vie for dominance. It could be that a child is easily angered. It is also possible that a child suffers from a mental or personality disorder that lowers the threshold for a fight. In addition, according to psychologist John Gottman, author of "Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting," even a divorce could motivate a child toward violent behavior with his peers. Regardless, the reason for fighting usually does not preclude the ability to avoid a fight.
Children with better social skills tend to be better at avoiding fights. For example, children who have poor eye contact may attract bullies who are simply looking for someone to pick on. Children who are socially proficient can use body language and other cues to pick up on aggressive motives and thereby avoid or walk away from children who may be looking for a fight. According to Gottman, parents, especially fathers, can help their children in picking up these cues by spending more personal time with their troubled teens.
When your child is the aggressor, it is likely that the fight began with a spark of anger. Through emotional coaching, you can help your teen understand and cope with his anger in appropriate ways. Emotional coaching is easier than it sounds: Have your teen explain the situation to you while you agree not to judge or label his behavior. Ask specific questions that will allow your teen to explore the emotions of the situation himself and later arrive at the consequences, making the connection between his emotions and fighting. Ask questions such as, “What made you angry?” or “How do you think this fight has affected me?” and “What could you have done to avoid the fight?” Letting your teen come to the answers on his own shows him that you respect him and that you will not intrude on his social life.
Dealing with School
In extreme situations, it may be necessary for you to contact the school. This is especially true, if you feel that your child is the victim and the fights are of a near-unavoidable extent. Contact the school administrators and let them know what is going on. Often, the school may not know that a fight has occurred. Schools, especially those with anti-bullying programs, take fights seriously and will do whatever it takes to stop them before the next step -- which is often legal action -- occurs.