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Section 11
Parent–Child Conflict and Adolescent Conduct Problems

CEU Question 11 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Parenting
Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

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In the last section, we discussed the three key steps involved in writing an effective Family Agreement Contract.  These steps included:  streamlining the problems; creating concrete rules; and creating a well-written consequence.

I often asked my client Shirley if she ever felt that her daughter Kelly won more arguments.  Shirley stated, "I don't know how she does it, but somehow she always seems to be able to get me to lose my temper.  No matter how much I tell myself 'Don't fall for it', this girl will almost always be able to push the right buttons.  Once I explode, I already know I've lost the argument."  One communication skill that most parents of oppositional defiant teens overlook is the skill to stay calm.

In this section, we will examine ways to help parents like Shirley Keep Their Cool.  Keeping Cool involves:  discovering parental triggers; discovering teen triggers; and busting the trigger.

3 Ways to Keep Your Cool

♦ #1. Discovering Parental Triggers
The first step in Keeping Cool is discovering parental triggers that tend to set off a parent client. I have found that teenagers are much more attune to their parents than vice versa.  Because of this, parent clients do not even know that they are being "set up" for an altercation. 

I explained to Shirley, "Kelly's way of getting under your skin is the way she feels she can win an argument.  If you can become conscious and prepared for Kelly's button-pushing, you might be able to sustain the argument."  I then asked Shirley to make a list of triggers that she notices will set her over the edge. 

Shirley stated, "I guess my big one has to be when she rolls her eyes and says 'whatever', as though my opinion doesn't matter. I feel like I'm not reaching her and when that happens, I think that by shouting, I can get her attention better."  Now that Shirley had uncovered one of her triggers, I asked her to go on and think of any more that Kelly might attack her with.  Clients such as Shirley who are parenting instigative teens like Kelly more likely than not have more than one trigger, and the teen knows this. 

6-Point List of Top Triggers
I gave Shirley a List of Top Triggers made up by other parent clients I had had in the past:

1. "You never let me do anything!"
2. "You don't love me!"
3. "I hate you/this family!"
4. Swearing or verbal abuse.
5. A disgusted look, improper gesture, or whiny voice.
6. Lying.

After reading over the list, Shirley noted that another one of her triggers was lying.  Shirley stated, "When she doesn't want to hear me talk anymore, she lies to my face.  I know she's lying, but it doesn't feel like there's anything I can do about it."  Think of your Shirley.  Does he or she have more than one trigger?  Would listening to this section in a session be beneficial?

♦ #2. Discovering Teen Triggers
Now that we’ve discussed parent triggers, the second step in keeping cool is discovering teen triggers.  Like their parents, teens have pressure points, although they may be more subtle than their parents realize.  Often, parents find their teens triggers by trying to do what's best for them.  The Top Triggers for Teens include the following:

1. Preaching and using clichés.
2. Ranting.
3. Labeling.
4. Extrapolating.
5. Instant problem-solving.
6. Questioning your teen's resistance and discontent.
7. Not tolerating experimental behavior.
8. Collecting criticism.

Lauren and Jake, parents of Trevor age 16, were constant lecturers.  Trevor stated, "They always say the same thing, I'm lazy; I'll never amount to anything; I'm flushing my life down the toilet.  I'm actually starting to believe it.  Once they start in on that shit, I get real pissed.  I mean, who are they to tell me that I'm lazy?" 

Lauren and Jake had triggered several reactions.  First, they labeled their son "lazy," then they extrapolated by saying that he'll never amount to anything; and lastly they used clichés such as "flushing your life down the toilet."  Eventually, the only thing Trevor thought of his parents was that they were unoriginal and incapable of understanding their son.  Once that trigger was pushed, all their lecturing became useless and the argument escalated from there.  Would it be beneficial to discuss teen triggers with your teen client as well as with your clients who are parents?

♦ #3. Busting the Trigger
In addition to discovering parent and teen triggers, the third step in keeping cool is busting the trigger.  This involves creating shields between the parent and the teen.  To help clients like Lauren and Jake, and Shirley, I give them several techniques for them to use when they know that their son or daughter will be pushing a trigger.  To help Lauren and Jake with their son Trevor, I gave them the "Exit and Cool" strategy discussed in section 9.  Replay section 9 for more information.  

♦ Technique: Distinguish Trigger from Attack
The technique I gave to Shirley was "Distinguish 'Trigger' from 'Attack'".  I explained to Shirley that Kelly's indifferent attitude was not disrespect but a way to entice her anger further on.

I told Shirley, "Whenever you think to yourself, 'why is she doing this to me?' you are taking trigger pulling as a personal attack.  In fact, Kelly may actually respect you, but because you can't see beyond her trigger pulling, you are hurting your mother-daughter communication when you escalate an argument into shouting.  By not taking anything Kelly says out of anger personally, you will better be able to understand the ways in which she is just trying to win her own piece of confidence." 

When Shirley came in a few sessions later, she stated, "The next time Kelly rolled her eyes, I didn't get mad.  I realized that it wasn't her trying to hurt me, but rather her way of trying to win the argument."  Through "Distinguish 'Trigger' from 'Attack'" Shirley could better understand her daughter's motives behind the actions.  Think of your Shirley.  Is he or she having trouble distinguishing "trigger" from "attack"? 

In this section, we discussed ways to help parents Keep Their Cool.  Keeping Cool involved:  discovering parental triggers; discovering teen triggers; and busting the trigger.

In the next section, we will present strategies that can help parents get their teens to stop alcohol abuse.  These strategies are:  Determining Frequency; Family Meeting; and The Alcohol Talk.

- Lyon, L., & Hobson, K. (2009). Helping Teens Steer Clear of Trouble. U.S. News & World Report, 146(1).

Positive Parenting Strategies for the Teenage Years

- LifeCare, Inc. (2011). Positive Parenting Strategies for the Teenage Years. Department of Health and Human Services.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Amemiya, J., Mortenson, E., & Wang, M.-T. (2020). Minor infractions are not minor: School infractions for minor misconduct may increase adolescents’ defiant behavior and contribute to racial disparities in school discipline. American Psychologist, 75(1), 23–36.

Bonnaire, C., Liddle, H., Har, A., & Phan, O. (2020). Searching for change mechanisms in emotion-focused work with adolescents and parents: An example from multidimensional family therapy. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 9(2), 100–121.

Forcino, S. S., Nadler, C. B., & Roberts, M. W. (2019). Parent training for middle childhood conduct problems: Child opposition to timeout and token fines. Practice Innovations, 4(1), 1–12. 

Klahr, A. M., McGue, M., Iacono, W. G., & Burt, S. A. (2011). The association between parent–child conflict and adolescent conduct problems over time: Results from a longitudinal adoption study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120(1), 46–56.

Vieira, J. M., Matias, M., Ferreira, T., Lopez, F. G., & Matos, P. M. (2016). Parents’ work-family experiences and children’s problem behaviors: The mediating role of the parent–child relationship. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(4), 419–430.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 11
What are the three steps involved in Keeping Cool during an argument? To select and enter your answer go to CE Test.

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