- How to talk to a teen
- Staying connected with your teenager
- Active listening
- Negotiating with your teenager
- Difficult conversations with your teenager
- Problem-solving with your teenagers
- Conflict management with your teenagers
- Family relationships in the teenage years
- Teenagers, parents and family relationships
- Building positive family relationships with teenagers
- Shifting responsibility to your teenager
- Independence in teenagers
How to talk to a teen
The teenage years can be difficult for parents and teens alike. The combination of hormonal changes, new academic and social challenges, emotional volatility and shifting family dynamics can feel overwhelming. Your teenager is going through massive changes – they’re figuring out who they are, what they stand for, who they love, and what they want out of life. Their hopes and dreams might be very different to what you’d imagined for them. Although your teenage son or teenage daughter might want more privacy and more time with friends, family love and support are still very important. They help your child learn how to make responsible decisions and build caring relationships. Part of helping your teenage son or teenage daughter develop into an independent adult is respecting their choices – providing support and guidance, but also space for them to work things out for themselves. This means the way you communicate together also has to change and this shift is often just as hard for parents and guardians as it is for teenagers.
Here are top tips for communicating with your teens:
- Make talking part of your routine. Make time to chat with your teenager about their day and what they’ve been doing. Try to start conversations with them at times when they appear most open to chatting. If your teenage son or teenage daughter wants to share something, give them your full attention and listen without judgement.
- Be a good listener. As a general rule of thumb, listen twice as much as you speak. Let your teenage son or teenage daughter give his/her perspective before jumping in with advice. If you are curious about what’s going on in your teen’s life, asking direct questions might not be as effective as simply sitting back and listening. Kids are more likely to be open with their parents if they don’t feel pressured to share information. Remember even an offhand comment about something that happened during the day is her way of reaching out, and you’re likely to hear more if you stay open and interested — but not prying.
- Control your emotions. It’s easy for your temper to flare when your teen is being rude, but don’t respond in kind. Remember that you’re the adult and he is less able to control his emotions or think logically when he’s upset. Count to ten or take some deep breaths before responding. If you’re both too upset to talk, hit pause until you’ve had a chance to calm down.
- Ask open, curious questions, not loaded ones. This gives your teenage son or teenage daughter confidence that any issues are theirs to solve. Being judgmental – either in what you’re saying or your tone – is one of the quickest ways to shut down a conversation and get your teen on the defensive. Examples of open questions might be “What were you hoping would happen?” “How do you feel about what did happen?” “What ideas do you have for what to do next?” ”What can we take from this for next time?”
- Let your young person talk about whatever interests them. Show respect for their opinions, even if you disagree with them.
- Validate your teenager feelings. It is often parents tendency to try to solve problems for your kids, or downplay their disappointments. But saying something like “She wasn’t right for you anyway” after a romantic disappointment can feel dismissive. Instead, show your teenager that you understand and empathize by reflecting the comment back: “Wow, that does sound difficult.”
- Show affection. Your teenager might threaten to dissolve in a puddle of embarrassment every time you show affection, especially in public. But it’s important to keep showing affection and telling your teens you love them and how much they mean to you – even if it’s met with a monosyllabic grunt.
- Show trust. Teens want to be taken seriously, especially by their parents. Look for ways to show that you trust your teen. Asking him for a favor shows that you rely on him. Volunteering a privilege shows that you think he can handle it. Letting your kid know you have faith in him will boost his confidence and make him more likely to rise to the occasion.
- Reinforce that you’re there for them whenever they need it and that they can talk to you about anything, even difficult issues.
- Respect your teen’s privacy. Have sensitive discussions in a quiet space; ask if there’s a good time to talk; don’t barge into their room uninvited.
- Don’t be a dictator. You still get to set the rules, but be ready to explain them. While pushing the boundaries is natural for teenagers, hearing your thoughtful explanation about why parties on school nights aren’t allowed will make the rule seem more reasonable.
- Give praise. Parents tend to praise children more when they are younger, but adolescents need the self-esteem boost just as much. Teenagers might act like they’re too cool to care about what their parents think, but the truth is they still want your approval. Also looking for opportunities to be positive and encouraging is good for the relationship, especially when it is feeling strained.
- Do things together. Talking isn’t the only way to communicate, and during these years it’s great if you can spend time doing things you both enjoy, whether it’s cooking or hiking or going to the movies, without talking about anything personal. It’s important for kids to know that they can be in proximity to you, and share positive experiences, without having to worry that you will pop intrusive questions or call them on the carpet for something.
- Share regular meals. Sitting down to eat a meal together as a family is another great way to stay close. Dinner conversations give every member of the family a chance to check in and talk casually about sports or television or politics. Kids who feel comfortable talking to parents about everyday things are likely to be more open when harder things come up, too. One rule: no phones allowed.
- Be observant. It’s normal for kids to go through some changes as they mature, but pay attention if you notice changes to her mood, behavior, energy level, or appetite. Likewise, take note if he stops wanting to do things that used to make him happy, or if you notice him isolating himself. If you see a change in your teen’s daily ability to function, ask her about it and be supportive (without being judgmental). She may need your help and it could be a sign she needs to talk to a mental health professional.
- Extra support: If you feel that your family really isn’t connecting, you might find a family counselor or other family support service helpful.
When things get tough
Relationships between parents, guardians or carers and young people can become strained at times. Conflict and tension can develop, and open lines of communication may be broken. It’s also quite common for young people to avoid parents or guardians when things get difficult, closing loved ones off from their life and problems.
Your young person may not always want to turn to you for help, but it’s important not to give up and keep reinforcing that you’re there for them.
- Be persistent. Continue to try and talk to your teenage son or teenage daughter to find out what’s bothering them.
- Reinforce the message that you care. Let your teenage son or teenage daughter know that you’re concerned and are there to help.
- Be understanding – even if you don’t agree or even quite comprehend where they’re coming from. This will help your teenage son or teenage daughter feel validated.
- Try to connect with your teenage son or teenage daughter in the best way you can. This might mean involving other family members or friends who can help.
- Change it up – if you feel you’re not getting anywhere, try a different approach. If you’re hard, try softer. If you’re soft, try be more firm.
- Give your teenage son or teenage daughter hope that there are solutions to their problems.
When your teenager shares their feelings:
- Be an attentive listener – sit in a relaxed position and use appropriate eye contact
- Ask open ended questions to try and get them talking rather than asking questions with yes/no answers that won’t really tell you how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking
- Acknowledge their feelings – try not to minimize or down-play how a young person may be feeling
- Don’t jump in immediately and give advice – be calm and let them do the talking. Ask questions, but try not to bombard them!
- Try to keep your reactions in check – if your young person gets a judgmental, critical, shocked or angry response from you, they’ll be much less likely to come to you with issues in the future
- Remind your teenage son or teenage daughter that they’re not alone – let them know that you’re there to support and help in any and every way that you can
- If you’re not sure what to say, it can help to do a little research. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to help. Don’t suggest that they just “cheer up” or “pull themselves together”
- If teenage son or teenage daughter don’t feel like talking, try writing a note or sending a supportive message via text or Facebook
- Help your teenage son or teenage daughter improve their confidence by acknowledging and building on the things they do well
- Be respectful of teenage son or teenage daughter privacy – make sure your young person is comfortable with you telling others about their experiences, whether they are family, friends or teachers etc.
- Respect your teen’s privacy. Talk with your teenage son or teenage daughter about what information can be shared and what they would prefer to remain private.
Staying connected with your teenager
You can stay connected and build your relationship with your teenager by using unplanned, everyday interactions – for example, a casual chat over the washing-up. Or connecting can be planned. This is when you make special time to do things together that you both enjoy.
Here are some ideas for planned and unplanned connecting:
- regular family meals
- fun family outings
- one-on-one time with your child
- family meetings to sort out problems
- simple, kind things – a pat on the back, a hug or a knock on the door before entering your child’s bedroom.
Actively listening to your teenager is more than just simply hearing him. Active listening is a skill. Listening isn’t the same thing as agreeing. You can understand and respect another person’s point of view without agreeing with it. Good listening is the best way to show your child that you’re genuinely interested and that you really care. It also helps to avoid conflict caused by misunderstandings.
Active listening can be a powerful tool to improve communication and build a positive relationship with your teenage child. This is because active listening is a way of saying to your child, ‘Right now, you’re the most important thing to me’.
You can actively listen by:
- Getting close to your child when she’s speaking
- Stop what you’re doing, and give your child your full attention.
- Look at your child while she’s talking to you.
- Allowing your child to talk and not interrupting her. Listen without interrupting, judging or correcting.
- Avoiding questions that break your child’s train of thought
- Focusing on what your child is saying rather than thinking about what you’ll say next.
- Concentrate hard on what your child is saying.
- Looking at your child so she knows she’s being heard and understood
- Show interest, and show your child that you’re trying to understand.
- Showing your child that you’re interested by nodding your head and making comments like ‘I see’, ‘That sounds hard/great/tricky …’ and so on.
Improving your active listening skills
- Get into the here and now: This means really paying attention. If you notice your mind has wandered, bring it back to what your child is saying. When your child is talking to you, it can help to turn off the TV, your mobile phone and other devices. If you give your child your undivided interest and attention, it sends the message that your child is the most important thing to you right now. It says that you’re available and interested in what she’s thinking, feeling and doing.
- Try to understand: Concentrate on what your child is saying rather than thinking about what you’re going to say next. Are you missing his point while you think about your own? What is he trying to tell you and why?
- Show that you’re trying to understand: Summarize your child’s main points and how you think she might be feeling. Try repeating what your child is saying in your own words. For example, ‘Let me see if I’ve understood. You’re feeling angry because I didn’t talk to you before making plans for this weekend. I can understand that’. Try to avoid making judgments when you summarize what your child has said. For example:
- It’s judgmental to say, ‘You want to stay out too late’.
- It’s nonjudgmental to say, ‘You want to stay out until midnight’.
Often when you use active listening and repeat back your child’s words, it’s like an invitation to say more, because your child feels heard. It can encourage him to explain further or say more about what he’s thinking.
Benefits of active listening
An essential ingredient of strong, healthy relationships is good communication. And successful communication depends a lot on how you listen.
By using active listening, you can strengthen your communication and improve your relationship with your child. This is because active listening shows your child that you care and are interested. It can also help you learn and understand more about what’s going on in your child’s life.
With active listening, you don’t have to talk too much. It can take the pressure off you to come up with answers and solve problems. Active listening can also make it more likely that your child will ask you what you think.
Talking to you is good for your child’s thinking processes too. It can help him to think more clearly.
Negotiating with your teenager
Negotiating with your child is about trying to find common ground and a win-win solution.
When you negotiate with your teenage child, you help him learn how to make good decisions as part of his journey towards becoming an independent, responsible young adult. Negotiating can also help you find a compromise that you and your child can both be happy with.
It can be hard to let go of your authority and let your teenage child have more say in decision-making. But your child needs to do this as part of her journey towards becoming an independent, responsible young adult.
If you use effective negotiation techniques, negotiating can help your child learn to think through what he wants and needs and then communicate this in a reasonable way. It also helps him understand other viewpoints, make good decisions, follow through with those decisions, and learn from the consequences of his decisions.
There’ll also be times when negotiating doesn’t work out, and you and your child disagree – this is normal. Dealing with conflict effectively can make your relationship with your child stronger. It also helps your child learn some important life skills.
Before a negotiation
Sometimes you might know that a negotiation is coming. For example, your child might have been talking about a party her friends are going to. In this situation, you can get ready. You could discuss the issue beforehand with your partner or a friend, or write down what you want to say.
But sometimes you might not be ready for the negotiation, or you might need time to think about what you will and won’t compromise on. For example, your child might say, ‘I want to go to the movies on Saturday night’. Or if your child is older or more assertive, your child might say, ‘I’m going to the movies tonight’.
If this happens, it’s OK to set a time to talk later. But make sure it’s soon. This will help your child trust that you’ll keep your word. It also tells him that coming to a compromise is important to you.
Negotiation techniques to use with your child
Successful negotiating with teenagers has a lot to do with the negotiation techniques you use. Here are some negotiation techniques to use with your child.
Talking and listening during a negotiation:
- Use a calm, warm and firm voice to set the tone. The idea is to avoid getting into a conflict with your child. For example, you could say, ‘Let’s talk about this’.
- Actively listen to your teenage son or teenage daughter’s views first without interrupting. For example, ‘So you’re saying that you really want to dye your hair pink for the dress-up party, even though it will stay that color for a long time. You also know that it might wreck your hair a bit’.
- Express your views, and ask your child to tell you more about hers. For example, ‘I want you to have fun and see your friends, but I also need to know where you’ll be and that you’ll be safe. So tell me more about the bike ride’.
- Take a break if things get tense. For example, ‘I need some time out, so let’s work this out after dinner’.
Reaching a decision you can both accept:
- Be clear about what is and isn’t negotiable. Understanding your child’s personality and maturity will help you decide on this. The level of trust you have in your child based on past events is also important. For example, ‘I don’t want you to travel home from the cinema on your own. How about I pick you up?’
- Think of a range of options. For example, ‘I don’t want you to paint your room black because it makes the house feel too dark. Is there another colour you’d be happy with, or perhaps you could just paint one wall black? Do you have any other ideas?’
- Show that you’re willing to compromise and that you want to agree on something that you can both accept. For example, ‘I know you want to keep checking social media, but I’m concerned about you getting your homework done and getting enough sleep. How much social media time do you think is OK after you allow time for homework and sleep?’
- Be firm about your non-negotiables. For example, ‘It doesn’t matter what other people are doing. I’ll pick you up after the movie finishes’.
When you’ve reached a decision:
- Clearly state the decision that you and your child have agreed on. For example, ‘OK. You can go to the party with your friends. I’ll pick you up at 11 pm’. Your child might be unhappy with the decision. Give him time to accept it without trying to convince him of its benefits.
- Discuss and agree on the consequences if the agreement is broken. For example, ‘We’ve agreed that you can paint one wall in your room black. We’ve also agreed that if you paint any more than that, you’ll have to buy the white paint yourself and paint the walls white again. OK?’
- End on a positive note even if the negotiation wasn’t perfect. For example, ‘Thanks for talking that through with me. I appreciate that we were able to work things out in the end. It shows me that you’re a mature person’.
When you’re using these negotiation techniques with your child, if there are two parents in the family, it helps to support each other’s views and show a ‘united’ front. This gives you a stronger position and keeps the negotiation simpler. You might need to negotiate with each other to come to a joint decision first.
Using your authority when negotiating
As your child develops, using your authority and influence in a respectful and positive way will help keep your relationship strong and open.
As your child moves into older adolescence, it’s still important to use your authority to protect your child’s safety and wellbeing. For example, it’s OK for you to stand firm on knowing where your child is going, when she’ll be coming home and when she needs to call you about changes to arrangements.
You might find that your child is challenging your authority more as he gets older. For example, he might say, ‘I am going to do that and you can’t stop me’. The way you respond might depend on your child’s age.
For example, if your child is 12 years old, you might say, ‘I’m still your parent and I make the decisions, but I want to help you get what you want too. Let’s talk more and try to work it out’.
But if your child is 16 years old, you might say, ‘I want to support you in doing what you want, but I’m still responsible for your safety. So I need to know where you’re going and who you’re with. Can we talk more about this to see if we can find a solution we’re both happy with?’
Your own style of parenting can also influence how you negotiate with your child.
Difficult conversations with your teenager
Sometimes you and your teenager might need to have difficult conversations. Sex, sexual orientation, masturbation, alcohol and other drugs, academic difficulties, mental health, work and money are all topics that families can find difficult to talk about. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable talking to your teenage child about topics like sex or drugs. But difficult conversations can give you the chance to guide your child towards sensible and responsible decisions and to talk about your family values.
Difficult conversations cover any topic that might be embarrassing, upsetting or controversial for either you or your child. It could also be something that might cause an argument or a conflict between the two of you.
Tackling difficult conversations together is a sign that you and your teenager have a healthy relationship. It also helps to keep your relationship with your teenager close and trusting.
Here are some tips for handling difficult conversations:
- Try to stay calm. If you need a bit of time to calm down or gather your thoughts, make a time to talk later on in the day.
- Reassure your child that you do want to discuss the issue.
- Let your child know you’re happy that she wants to talk to you.
- Actively listen to your child.
- Avoid being critical or judgmental, or getting emotional.
Your teenager might avoid difficult conversations. If this is happening, you could try setting aside some time each day to talk with your child. Ask your teenager open-ended questions, and let him know that whenever he does want to talk, you’re happy to listen.
Managing difficult conversations
There are no scripts for difficult conversations and tricky topics.
But it’s a good idea to think about these topics before your child asks. If you work out a few key points about sex, alcohol, parties and so on beforehand – and even practise them – you might not be caught so off guard when your child asks a tricky question about sex while you’re driving!
And when you’ve had a chance to think about these topics, it’s also a good idea to raise them before your child asks. For example, early conversations about things like sexting can help keep your child safe.
Here are some tips to help you manage difficult conversations.
- Try to stay calm. Be honest if you’re shocked by the topic, but reassure your child that you do want to discuss the issue. This can help your child feel he can talk to you about anything.
- Make sure the first thing you say to your child is something that lets her know you’re happy that she wants to talk to you. For example, ‘I’m so happy that you trust me to help you with this’.
- Listen to your child. This means giving your child a chance to talk through what’s going on, without you trying to fix the situation. Often, teenagers aren’t expecting you to fix things – they just want you to listen.
- Avoid being critical or judgmental, or getting emotional. If you need to let off steam, choose another adult to talk to when your child isn’t around.
- Thank your child for coming to you.
- If you need a bit of time to calm down or gather your thoughts before you talk, set a time to talk later. Make sure it’s soon – don’t wait until the next day. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Your child might go ahead without your input in the meantime.
- If your child has some specific issues he wants your help with and you’re not sure how to advise him, say so. Offer to work with your child to find out what he needs to know – for example, about contraception, sexuality, alcohol and so on.
- If your child wants your help with a tricky situation, a problem-solving approach can help you work together to find a solution.
- If your child wants your opinion, let your child know how you see the situation rather than telling her what to do. For example, ‘I would prefer it if you don’t have sex until you’re older. But if you’re going to, let’s talk about making sure it’s safe’.
When your teenager won’t talk
It’s common for teenagers to avoid talking about embarrassing or upsetting topics, especially if you raise them first. Sometimes you might not even realize a topic is upsetting or embarrassing until you raise it.
If your child doesn’t want to have difficult conversations with you, you could try the following:
- Try to set aside some time each day to talk with your child. Ask him open-ended questions, and let him know that if he does want to talk, you’re happy to listen. This will help you stay connected with your child and might help him feel more comfortable to come to you in future.
- Keep up to date with your child’s interests. This gives you things to talk about and shows that you’re interested in your child’s wellbeing.
- If your child won’t talk to you, it might help to find another adult she can talk to. You could suggest a relative, teacher, counselor or neighbor. But tell your child that you’re happy to listen any time she wants to talk to you.
Benefits of difficult conversations with your teenager
Tackling difficult conversations together with your child is a sign that you have a healthy relationship.
It helps to keep your relationship with your child close and trusting. If you’re warm, accepting, non-judgmental and uncritical, and also open to negotiating and setting limits, your child is likely to feel more connected to you. Your child is also more likely to discuss issues with you in the future.
And if you know what’s going on in your child’s life, you’re better placed to help him manage difficult situations. Discussing tricky topics with you gives your child the opportunity to explore his choices and work out whether they’re the right ones for him.
Try not to avoid difficult conversations with your child. If you do, your child might end up making choices that have negative consequences. For example, a sexually active teenager who doesn’t ask for advice about contraception might end up with an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection.
Problem-solving with your teenagers
Everybody needs to solve problems every day. Problem-solving is an important life skill for teenagers to learn. You can help your child develop this skill by using problem-solving at home. But your teenager are not born with the skills they need to do this – you have to develop them. Calm communication, active listening and compromise will help you to solve problems with your child.
When solving problems, it’s good to be able to:
- listen and think calmly
- consider options and respect other people’s opinions and needs
- find constructive solutions, and sometimes work towards compromises.
These are skills for life, they’re highly valued in both social and work situations.
When teenagers learn skills and strategies for problem-solving and sorting out conflicts by themselves, they feel better about themselves. They’re more independent and better placed to make good decisions on their own.
You and your child can solve most problems using six key steps.
Six steps to problem-solving
Often you can solve problems by talking and compromising.
The following six steps for problem-solving are useful when you can’t find a solution. You can use them to work on most problems – both yours and your child’s.
If you show your child how these work at home, he’s more likely to use them with his own problems or conflicts with others. You can use the steps when you have to sort out a conflict between people, and when your child has a problem involving a difficult choice or decision.
When you’re working on a problem with your child, it’s a good idea to do it when everyone is calm and can think clearly – this way, your child will be more likely to want to find a solution. Arrange a time when you won’t be interrupted, and thank your child for joining in to solve the problem.
1. Identify the problem
The first step in problem-solving is working out exactly what the problem is. This helps make sure you and your child understand the problem in the same way. Then put it into words that make it solvable. For example:
- ‘I noticed that the last two Saturdays when you went out, you didn’t call us to let us know where you were.’
- ‘You’ve been using other people’s things a lot without asking first.’
- ‘You’ve been invited to two birthday parties on the same day and you want to go to both.’
- ‘You have two big assignments due next Wednesday.’
Focus on the issue, not on the emotion or the person. For example, try to avoid saying things like, ‘Why don’t you remember to call when you’re late? Don’t you care enough to let me know?’ Your child could feel attacked and get defensive, or feel frustrated because she doesn’t know how to fix the problem.
You can also head off defensiveness in your child by being reassuring. Perhaps say something like, ‘It’s important that you go out with your friends. We just need to find a way for you to go out and for us to feel you’re safe. I know we’ll be able to sort it out together’.
2. Think about why it’s a problem
Help your child describe what’s causing the problem and where it’s coming from. It might help to consider the answers to questions like these:
- Why is this so important to you?
- Why do you need this?
- What do you think might happen?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
- What’s upsetting you?
Try to listen without arguing or debating – this is your chance to really hear what’s going on with your child. Encourage him to use statements like ‘I need … I want … I feel …’, and try using these phrases yourself. Be open about the reasons for your concerns, and try to keep blame out of this step.
3. Brainstorm possible solutions to the problem
Make a list of all the possible ways you could solve the problem. You’re looking for a range of possibilities, both sensible and not so sensible. Try to avoid judging or debating these yet.
If your child has trouble coming up with solutions, start her off with some suggestions of your own. You could set the tone by making a crazy suggestion first – funny or extreme solutions can end up sparking more helpful options. Try to come up with at least five possible solutions together.
Write down all the possibilities.
4. Evaluate the solutions to the problem
Look at the solutions in turn, talking about the positives and negatives of each one. Consider the pros before the cons – this way, no-one will feel that their suggestions are being criticised.
After making a list of the pros and cons, cross off the options where the negatives clearly outweigh the positives. Now rate each solution from 0 (not good) to 10 (very good). This will help you sort out the most promising solutions.
The solution you choose should be one that you can put into practice and that will solve the problem.
If you haven’t been able to find one that looks promising, go back to step 3 and look for some different solutions. It might help to talk to other people, like other family members, to get a fresh range of ideas.
Sometimes you might not be able to find a solution that makes you both happy. But by compromising, you should be able to find a solution you can both live with.
5. Put the solution into action
Once you’ve agreed on a solution, plan exactly how it will work. It can help to do this in writing, and to include the following points:
- Who will do what?
- When will they do it?
- What’s needed to put the solution into action?
You could also talk about when you’ll meet again to look at how the solution is working.
Your child might need some role-playing or coaching to feel confident with his solution. For example, if he’s going to try to resolve a fight with a friend, he might find it helpful to practise what he’s going to say with you.
6. Evaluate the outcome of your problem-solving process
Once your child has put the plan into action, you need to check how it went and help her to go through the process again if she needs to.
Remember that you’ll need to give the solution time to work, and note that not all solutions will work. Sometimes you’ll need to try more than one solution. Part of effective problem-solving is being able to adapt when things don’t go as well as expected.
Ask your child the following questions:
- What has worked well?
- What hasn’t worked so well?
- What could you or we do differently to make the solution work more smoothly?
If the solution hasn’t worked, go back to step 1 of this problem-solving process and start again. Perhaps the problem wasn’t what you thought it was, or the solutions weren’t quite right.
When conflict is the problem
During adolescence, you might clash with your child more often than you did in the past. You might disagree about a range of issues, especially your child’s need to develop independence.
It can be hard to let go of your authority and let your child have more say in decision-making. But she needs to do this as part of her journey towards being a responsible young adult.
You can use the same problem-solving steps to handle conflict. And there are more tips on managing conflict. When you use these steps for conflict, it can reduce the likelihood of future conflict.
For example: Let’s imagine that you and your child are in conflict over a party at the weekend.
You want to:
- take and pick up your child
- check that an adult will be supervising
- have your child home by 11 pm.
Your child wants to:
- go with friends
- come home in a taxi
- come home when she’s ready.
How do you reach an agreement that allows both of you to get some of what you want?
The problem-solving strategy described above can be used for these types of conflicts.
1. Identify the problem
Put the problem into words that make it workable. For example:
- ‘You want to go to a party with your friends and come home in a taxi.’
- ‘I’m worried there will be a lot of kids drinking at the party, and you don’t know whether any adults will be present.’
- ‘When you’re out, I worry about where you are and want to know you’re OK. But we need to work out a way for you to be able to go out with your friends, and for me to feel comfortable that you’re safe.’
2. Think about why it’s a problem
Find out what’s important for your child and explain what’s important from your perspective. For example, you might ask, ‘Why don’t you want to agree on a specific time to be home?’ Then listen to your child’s point of view.
3. Brainstorm possible solutions
Be creative and aim for at least four solutions each. For example, you might suggest picking your child up, but he can suggest what time it will happen. Or your child might say, ‘How about I share a taxi home with two friends who live nearby?’
4. Evaluate the solutions
Look at the pros and cons of each solution, starting with the pros. It might be helpful to start by crossing off any solutions that aren’t acceptable to either of you. For example, you might both agree that your child taking a taxi home alone is not a good idea.
You might prefer to have some clear rules about time – for example, your child must be home by 11 pm unless otherwise negotiated.
Be prepared with a back-up plan in case something goes wrong, like if the designated driver is drunk or not ready to leave. Discuss the back-up plan with your child.
5. Put the solution into action
Once you’ve reached a compromise and have a plan of action, you need to make the terms of the agreement clear. It can help to do this in writing, including notes on who will do what, when and how.
6. Evaluate the outcome
After trying the solution, make time to ask yourselves whether it worked and whether the agreement was fair.
By putting time and energy into developing your child’s problem-solving skills, you’re sending the message that you value your child’s input into decisions that affect her life. This can enhance your relationship with your child.
Conflict management with your teenagers
During the teenage years, you might find you clash more often than you did in the past. It’s normal for you to disagree, but it’s also important to find ways of dealing with conflict. For example, you might disagree about things like what your child wears, what he does with his time, or whether he follows your cultural traditions. And when you use conflict management strategies yourself, you can help your child learn these important life skills too.
Some conflict is normal and healthy, as your child becomes an independent and responsible young adult. Also, you and your child are individuals with different opinions and views, so you can expect to disagree sometimes. But too much conflict isn’t a good thing, so you need conflict management strategies and skills.
Dealing with conflict with your child can help to reduce family stress levels. It can also make your relationship with your child stronger. And if you deal with conflict in effective ways, you help your child learn some important life skills.
It’s worth picking your battles. Conflict can often be about small things. So even if you dislike your child’s dyed hair, think about whether it’s really worth arguing about. You might want to save your energy for important things like safety.
Getting ready to deal with conflict:
These tips can help you get ready to deal with conflict with your child:
- Try to think back to your feelings and experiences as a young person. This can help you relate to your child.
- Remember that teenage brain development means your child might not be able to see the risks and consequences of a situation. Your child might not be able to see things from your perspective either.
- Try to be flexible about little issues. This might mean your child is more willing to listen and discuss bigger issues.
- Go easy on yourself and don’t expect to be perfect – you’re human too. If you overreact or lose your self-control a bit, just say sorry and start again when you can.
- Avoid dealing with conflict when you and your child are feeling upset or angry. Wait until you feel calm instead.
- Prepare what you’re going to say, and think about the words you want to use.
- Try to make sure that not every conversation with your child is about difficult issues. Spend some time enjoying each other’s company if you can.
Talking through conflict:
- Stay calm, stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, listen, and treat your child with respect.
- Let your child have her say. Be open to hearing your child’s point of view. When she has finished, you can talk.
- Be open about your feelings. This can help your child understand why you want him to do or not do something. For example, ‘I feel worried about your safety when I don’t know where you are’, or ‘I feel that it’s important for our family to celebrate some of our cultural traditions’.
- Explain your view simply and briefly, making it clear that your main concern is for your child’s wellbeing, now and in the future. For example, ‘I need to make sure you’re safe if you’re out at night. It helps if you tell me where you’re going and who you’re with’.
- If you can, be prepared to negotiate with your child and compromise. When you compromise, you demonstrate problem-solving skills. For example, your child might want to paint her bedroom black, and you hate the idea. A compromise might be painting one wall black or two walls in a dark colour.
- If you have to say ‘no’, try to do it in a calm, understanding and respectful way. For example, ‘I understand that you want a tattoo. But you’re 13 and you’ve got a lot of time to think about it. So right now, the answer is no’.
Dealing with conflict aftermath:
Despite your best efforts, it might take a while for you and your child to calm down after a conflict. Also, your child might feel really disappointed if you’ve said no to something. These tips can help you both feel better and move forward.
- Help your child to calm down by showing your understanding, letting him express his disappointment, or giving him space if he needs it.
- Look after yourself – talking to someone you trust can help you feel better about the situation.
When your child avoids conflict
Your child might try to avoid conflict by doing things ‘behind your back’ or lying to you.
If you want an open and honest relationship where you and your child can talk about tough topics, you need to be ready to manage your own feelings and reactions when you hear something you don’t like. It can help to plan for difficult conversations about things like broken curfews, alcohol and other drug use, cyberbullying and so on.
Handling anger in conflict management
As part of conflict management with teenagers, you might need to be ready to deal with anger from your child.
It might help to know that teenagers are still learning how to express feelings and views. Your child might feel she needs to express her views very strongly for them to be heard. Teenagers are also learning how to handle strong feelings.
So if your child gets angry or uses an angry tone with you, here are some things that can help:
- Stay calm.
- Take a break to let things calm down, if staying calm is hard.
- Let your child know you’re listening.
- Show your child that you care about his thoughts and feelings.
- Try to stick to the issue you’re in conflict about, rather than getting onto past events or other issues.
After you’ve heard what your child has to say and you’ve shown understanding, you can try these steps:
- Take your time to express your feelings, thoughts and wishes as best you can.
- Keep it simple and short – this can encourage your child to listen.
- Try to negotiate a decision that you can both live with, or at least try to be clear about why you can’t agree.
If your child is angry at you about something you did that hurt her, show that you understand how it affected her, say you’re sorry, and then try to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again.
If you feel angry, take some time to pin down what the feeling is about – even if you’re in the middle of a conversation with your child. You might even need to take a break so you can work out how you’re going to deal with your feelings. This isn’t always easy and takes practice, so be kind to yourself and your child as you learn better ways of dealing with conflict.
There is a difference between conflict and violence. Conflict, disagreement and some anger are OK – but violence is not OK.
Teenagers are still learning about what’s OK and what isn’t. They might still be learning where the line is between conflict and violence – for example, in fights with siblings. You can help with this.
But if your child is damaging property, yelling or swearing excessively, hitting or making threats to harm something or someone, you need to set clear boundaries. It’s important to show him that he has crossed the line and his behavior isn’t acceptable.
If your child is showing early signs of violent behavior, it can help to:
- give her a clear message that the behavior is not OK
- tell her that you won’t speak with her while she’s in that state
- let her know that you’re willing to talk to her and work things out together when she has calmed down
- let her know that that there will be consequences for the behavior
- make sure your own behavior is respectful, and that you’re managing your own emotions and modelling self-control.
If your child has experienced violence from another adult or child, he might need professional help to feel safe, to deal with what he has experienced, and to learn new ways to behave. If you find it hard to control your own anger or violence, you might also find professional help useful. A school counselor, family relationships counselor or your doctor might be good places to start.
Family relationships in the teenage years
Family relationships change during adolescence, but they tend to stay strong. In fact, your child needs your family’s love and support as much as she did when she was younger. Teenagers need love and support from parents at a time when lots of other things in their lives are changing. You can keep your relationship with your teenage child strong through ordinary, everyday activities.
At the same time, your child will want more privacy and more personal space as he gets older. This doesn’t necessarily mean your child has something to hide. It’s just a natural part of adolescence.
Children also need more responsibility as they grow towards young adulthood. How quickly you hand over responsibility to your child depends on many things – your own comfort level, your family and cultural traditions, your child’s maturity and so on.
To learn how to make safe and responsible decisions for themselves, teenagers need your advice, support and monitoring. The best monitoring is low key, although there’ll be times when it’s OK for you to ask your teenage daughter (or teenage son) for specific information about where she’s going and who she’s with.
Trust is the key to finding a balance between your child’s need for privacy and responsibility and your need to know what’s going on. If you and your child trust each other and stay connected, he’ll be more likely to share what he’s up to, stick to the rules, and try to live up to your expectations.
Teenagers, parents and family relationships
Many people think that families become less important to children as they move into the teenage years. But your teenage daughter or teenage son needs your family and the support it offers as much as she did when she was younger.
It’s true that family relationships change during adolescence. When your child was young, your role was to nurture and guide him. Now you might be finding that your relationship with your child is becoming more equal.
Most young people and their families have some ups and downs during these years, but things usually improve by late adolescence as children become more mature. And family relationships tend to stay strong right through.
For teenagers, parents and families are a source of care and emotional support. Families give teenagers practical, financial and material help. And most teenagers still want to spend time with their families, sharing ideas and having fun.
It’s normal for teenagers to be moody or seem uncommunicative, but they still need you. Your child still loves you and wants you to be involved in her life, even though at times her attitude, behavior or body language might seem to say she doesn’t.
Why your teenager needs you
Adolescence can be a difficult time – your child is going through rapid physical changes as well as emotional ups and downs. Young people aren’t always sure where they fit, and they’re still trying to work it out. Adolescence can also be a time when peer influences and relationships can cause you and your child some stress.
Supporting each other can be vital to getting through these challenges.
During this time your family is still a secure emotional base where your child feels loved and accepted, no matter what’s going on in the rest of his life. Your family can build and support your child’s confidence, self-belief, optimism and identity.
When your family sets rules, boundaries and standards of behavior, you give your child a sense of consistency and predictability.
And believe it or not, your life experiences and knowledge can be really useful to your child – she just might not always want you to know that!
Supportive and close family relationships protect your child from risky behavior like alcohol and other drug use, and problems like depression. Your support and interest in what your child is doing at school can boost his desire to do well academically too.
Strong family relationships can go a long way towards helping your child grow into a well-adjusted, considerate and caring adult.
Building positive family relationships with teenagers
The ordinary, everyday things that families do together can help build and sustain strong relationships with teenagers. These tips might help you and your family.
- Family meals: Regular family meals are a great chance for everyone to chat about their day, or about interesting stuff that’s going on or coming up. If you encourage everyone to have a say, no-one will feel they’re being put on the spot to talk. Also, many families find that meals are more enjoyable when the TV isn’t invited and when mobile phones and tablets are switched off!
- Family outings: Try setting aside time for fun family outings – you could all take turns choosing activities. A relaxing holiday or weekend away together as a family can also build togetherness.
- One-on-one time: One-on-one time with your child gives you the chance to stay connected and enjoy each other’s company. It can also be a chance to share thoughts and feelings. If you can, try to find opportunities for each parent to have this time with your child.
- Celebrate your child’s accomplishments: Celebrating your child’s accomplishments, sharing his disappointments, and supporting his hobbies helps your child know you’re interested in him. You don’t have to make a big deal of this – sometimes it’s just a matter of showing up to watch your child play sport or music, or giving him a lift to extracurricular activities.
- Family traditions: Family traditions, routines and rituals can help you and your child set aside regular dates and special times. For example, you might have a movie night together, a favorite meal or cooking session on a particular night, a family games afternoon or an evening walk together.
- Household responsibilities: Agreed household responsibilities give children and teenagers the sense that they’re making an important contribution to family life. These could be things like chores, shopping or helping older or younger members of the family.
- Family rules: Agreed-on rules, limits and consequences give teenagers a sense of security, structure and predictability. They help your child know what standards apply in your family, and what will happen if she pushes the boundaries.
- Family meetings: Family meetings can help to solve problems. They give everyone a chance to be heard and be part of working out a solution.
Shifting responsibility to your teenager
During the teenage years, children’s need for responsibility and autonomy gets stronger – it’s an important part of their path to young adulthood. To become capable adults, teenagers need to learn to make good decisions on their own.
The process of helping children take responsibility and make decisions is a key task for parents. You have an important role in training and supporting your child to be ready for more responsibility. This means you need to plan when and in what areas to let your child start making decisions.
How quickly you hand over responsibility to your child is up to you. It depends on things like your own comfort level, your family and cultural traditions, and your child’s maturity.
Ideally, you and your child should both feel comfortable with the shift of responsibility and the pace of change. Too much or too soon might leave you both feeling overwhelmed. Too little or too slow might end up with your child feeling impatient or rebellious.
How to start shifting responsibility your teenager
Shifting responsibility to your child is a gradual process. It starts with letting your child make her own choices in some areas, or asking her to take on responsibility for certain things. You might not like all your child’s choices, but learning to be responsible helps your child develop skills for life.
When you’re thinking about whether to give your child more responsibility or to ask him to take on more responsibility, you have three options – yes, no and maybe.
The ‘YES’ option
This is for issues or activities that you feel your child:
- is ready to take on – for example, walking or riding to school by herself
- should be expected to take on – for example, cooking a family meal once a week or paying for her own clothes from her pocket money
- should be up to your child – choosing her own hair cut or clothes.
When you put something in the ‘yes’ basket, you’re saying that you’ll accept your child’s decision, even if it’s not what you would prefer, or you’ll expect him to take on the task.
If your child handles the responsibility in a way you like, you can show your approval. If you don’t like the decision, stand back and try not to step in, unless you think your child is in danger. These are opportunities for your child to learn from experience.
The ‘NO’ option
You might say ‘NO’ to decisions that relate to potentially dangerous activities.
For example, these might involve things teenagers aren’t yet legally allowed to decide for themselves, like drinking alcohol. Or they might be things that could have a negative impact on other members of the family – for example, if your child’s decision would cost a lot of money.
Making the ‘NO’ option work is about good communication and setting clear limits on behavior. For example, the way you say ‘no’ matters. Giving the impression you absolutely forbid something might not be as helpful as saying, ‘I am not going to agree to this at this stage because …’.
The ‘MAYBE’ option
This is the grey area. You and your teenage son or teenage daughter might be able to negotiate a way to turn a ‘NO’ into a ‘YES,’ depending on the circumstances. This might involve letting your child try something new to see how it goes – for example, letting your teenage daughter go to the skatepark with her friends one afternoon a week.
Negotiating is where the growth happens. When you turn a ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ into a ‘yes’, your child gets the chance to show you that he’s ready for more responsibility.
Potential problems with shifting responsibility
- Too little: If you don’t let your child have any responsibility, she has no chance to make decisions and learn through experience.
- Too much: When responsibility comes too fast, teenagers might end up making bad decisions and undermining their confidence by doing things they’re not quite ready for. If you and your teenager aren’t sure about a new responsibility, you could use problem-solving to work out whether your child is ready for it.
- When rules are broken: Staying connected to your child is the best way to ensure that rules you’ve agreed on are respected. But most teenagers will challenge the rules at some point. It’s one of the things that teenagers do as part of testing boundaries. You might want to decide and agree on consequences for when rules are broken.
- When decisions go bad: Decision-making is a learning experience for your child. Not all of his decisions will be good ones. Problem-solving can help you work with your child to make better decisions and learn from mistakes.
Deciding when you and your teenager are ready to shift responsibility
Everyone is different. You might need to experiment to work out when and in what areas your child is ready for more responsibility.
A good way to start is to use family meetings to give your child a real voice in important decisions. This helps your child feel valued. It’s also a good way for you to learn more about she deals with choices.
Here are some other things to consider.
- Level of maturity: Some teenagers are more mature than others, and their ability to act responsibly varies from situation to situation. Think about your child’s skills when deciding whether he’s ready for responsibility. For example, a teenager who asks to go to the city with friends might be allowed to go if he has been responsible when going out with friends at other times.
- Learning from experience: Teenagers need the opportunity to work some things out for themselves. If there is no immediate danger, life can be an effective teacher too. This approach also has the benefit of giving you more time to manage and enjoy your own life. It gives your child the chance to show you how responsible she can be too.
- Legality: With drinking, smoking and education or employment, for example, there are legal issues to think about, as well as your child’s health and wellbeing:
- The Minimum Legal Drinking Age in the United States is 21 years. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 say that young people under the age of 21 should have no alcohol at all, and health experts recommend waiting until 21 years. The age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age saves lives and improves health 1).
- Fewer motor vehicle crashes: States that increased the legal drinking age to 21 saw a 16% median decline in motor vehicle crashes 2).
- Decreased drinking: After all states adopted an age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age, drinking during the previous month among persons aged 18 to 20 years declined from 59% in 1985 to 40% in 1991 3).
- Drinking among people aged 21 to 25 also declined significantly when states adopted the age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age, from 70% in 1985 to 56% in 1991 4).
- Other outcomes: There is also evidence that the age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age protects drinkers from alcohol and other drug dependence, adverse birth outcomes, and suicide and homicide 5).
- Drinking by those below the age of 21 is also strongly linked with 6):
- Death from alcohol poisoning.
- Unintentional injuries, such as car crashes, falls, burns, and drowning.
- Suicide and violence, such as fighting and sexual assault.
- Changes in brain development.
- School performance problems, such as higher absenteeism and poor or failing grades.
- Alcohol dependence later in life.
- Other risk behaviors such as smoking, drug misuse, and risky sexual behaviors.
- These things need to stay in the ‘no’ category, regardless of what other teenagers do and other parents allow.
- The Minimum Legal Drinking Age in the United States is 21 years. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 say that young people under the age of 21 should have no alcohol at all, and health experts recommend waiting until 21 years. The age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age saves lives and improves health 1).
- Level of risk: Teenagers don’t always think about long-term consequences, and they sometimes want to do things that put their safety and wellbeing at risk. You might decide that going to an all-night party involves more risk than benefit, but going to a late movie screening might be fine.
- Impact on others: If your child’s choices are unfair or hurtful to others, you might choose to keep some control. For example, if your child chooses to play loud music late at night, you might not let him make that decision if it disturbs other members of the family. Ground rules like ‘Music gets turned down after 9 pm’ also help when your child wants to make choices that affect others.
- Your family values: Are you willing to let your child make decisions or behave in ways that clash with your values? For example, parents who believe kindness and tolerance are important probably won’t let their child behave disrespectfully towards others.
- Looking after yourself: Parents also set boundaries to protect their own rights and needs. You might say ‘no’ if your child’s request is unreasonable or places an unfair burden on you – for example, driving children around all day, or paying for lots of expensive equipment.
Your ultimate aim is to give your teenager autonomy in more important areas, like going out unsupervised or making decisions about future study or employment.
Independence in teenagers
Achieving independence is an essential part of your child’s journey to adulthood. To make this journey successfully, children need freedom to try new things. But they still need your guidance and support too.
To become a capable adult, your child must learn to:
- depend on you less and take on more responsibility
- make decisions and solve problems
- work out life values
- form her own identity.
But it’s common for parents and teenagers to disagree about independence – how much a young person should have and when. It’s natural to worry that if you give your child too much independence too early, your child might get involved in risky behavior. And it’s normal to want to keep your child safe.
But your child needs to make some mistakes, to explore and have new experiences. This will help him learn life’s lessons and continue to shape his brain’s development.
So how do you strike a balance between your child’s needs and your own concerns? A positive relationship with your child is a great start. It also helps to have open and positive communication in your family.
Raising independent teenagers
Show your child lots of love and support. Your love and support are essential for your child’s self-esteem. Young people who feel good about themselves often have more confidence to discover who they are and what they want to do with their lives.
Your child might not always want physical affection from you. But you can show your love and support by:
- taking a genuine interest in your child’s interests, hobbies and friends
- making time to listen when your child needs to talk
- giving your child space and privacy
- regularly saying, ‘I love you’.
Respect your child’s feelings and opinions
Try to tune into your child’s feelings. It might help to remember that your child could be confused and upset by the physical, social and emotional changes of adolescence. Your child needs your emotional guidance and stability during this time.
Taking your child’s opinions and ideas seriously gives an important boost to her self-esteem. Your child’s opinions might be different from yours, and more like those of her peers. This might be hard to handle, but exploring opinions and ideas is one of the ways your child works out where she fits in the world. And if you have a difference of opinion, it’s a good chance for you to talk about how people often have different perspectives and that’s OK.
Talking about your own opinions and feelings calmly can help to keep the lines of communication open, and model positive ways of relating to others.
Establish clear and fair family rules
Clear family rules about behavior, communication and socializing will help your child understand where the limits are and what you expect. Rules will also help you be consistent in how you treat your child. Once the rules are in place, apply them consistently.
Your family rules are likely to change as your child develops. As children get more mature, they can make a bigger contribution to the rules and the consequences for breaking them. Involving your child in developing rules helps him to understand the principles behind them. Every family has different rules. You can talk with your child about this and explain that his friends might have different rules, or a different number of rules.
If you set the limits too strictly, your child might not have enough room to grow and try new experiences. This period is a learning curve for both of you. Be prepared for some trial and error.
Treat your child in a way that’s appropriate for her stage
Younger teenagers might think they’re ready to make their own decisions, but they often haven’t developed the decision-making skills they need to handle significant responsibility without your help. It can be a good idea to explain to your younger child why younger and older children are given different amounts and types of responsibilities.
It’s likely that the independence your child wants – and the amount of independence you want to give – will change as your child goes through the teenage years. Be prepared to adjust and keep negotiating as you move together along the learning curve.
Help your child develop decision-making skills
When your child needs to make a decision, a problem-solving approach can help her develop independent decision-making skills. This involves:
- finding out about different options
- talking about the pros and cons of different actions
- weighing up the pros and cons to make the best decision
- brainstorming what to do if things don’t go according to plan
- giving your child feedback on how she handles the process.
You can also include your child in family decision-making. This is another chance to boost your child’s self-esteem, and show that you value his input.
When it comes to big decisions that affect your child, try to make those decisions with your child, not for her. These might be decisions about school, further study, staying out late and so on.
Your teenager’s brain continues to mature into the early 20s. In particular, the decision-making part of the brain is still developing, and your child is still learning to control impulses. Teenagers, especially younger teenagers, might be less capable of understanding the consequences of their behavior.
Provide safe opportunities for your child to exercise independence
Activities that are safe and supported, but that give your child freedom and time away from you, can help your child:
- learn new skills and test new abilities
- take positive risks
- foster a sense of belonging
- build resilience.
For example, there might be a youth group or sports club in your area that your child would like to be involved in. When your child is old enough, a part-time job is a great way for him to develop independence.
Managing conflicts as your child gains independence
Young people are working out their own identities, and finding where they fit in the world. Your child is likely to want more control over things like socialising, behavior and appearance. As part of this process, your child might test boundaries and question people she sees as authority figures – especially you.
This might look like a recipe for conflict, but it doesn’t have to be. A positive approach to managing conflict with teenagers can strengthen your relationship as well as help your child develop important skills for independence.
Many people think that adolescence is always a difficult time, and that all teenagers have bad moods and behave in challenging ways. In fact, some studies show that only 5-15% of teenagers go through extreme emotional turmoil, become rebellious, or have major conflicts with their parents. Good family relationships help teenagers develop the skills they need for adulthood.
Independence in children with additional needs
If you have a child with additional needs, your child’s growing independence might seem like an extra challenge.
For these teenagers, reaching full independence might take a bit longer than for other children. Achieving independence can be harder if children have spent many years being dependent on others, being cared for and having decisions made for them. But encouraging your child to become gradually more independent is good for both of you.
For children with chronic health needs, there’ll come a time when you’ll begin to share responsibilities with your child, like responsibility for managing medications. Knowing when and how to do this can be challenging. If you’re trying to work out whether your child is ready to take on some of these responsibilities, consider whether your child can:
- solve problems
- make planned decisions, rather than impulsive ones
- understand the possible consequences of actions
- recognize when advice or guidance is needed – and accept it
- care about and plan for the future.
For younger children, it’s important to explain these issues clearly. This is better than saying, ‘You’re too young to look after things by yourself’.
You, your child and the health professionals managing your child’s care will all be involved in deciding when and how your child will begin to independently manage health decisions. Speak to a health professional about any concerns you might have.
References [ + ]
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