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October 12, 2020

Embracing Healthy Conflict with Gen Z

As parents, it’s our goal to raise our kids to the best of our ability so they can shape and influence the world around them in positive ways. But as they grow up and form their own viewpoints, many of our kids will establish opinions that may be different from our own. This can feel pretty scary, but remember: helping teens develop and take ownership of their own opinions is good. In fact, it’s healthy for them to develop their own individuality as they discover the world around them.

When an idea conflicts with our own values, it can get personal. Especially when the idea comes from someone you care deeply about in your family. But by understanding Gen Z norms and what helps your teen feel heard and cared for, we can approach our teens respectfully, even when in conflict. 

Gen Z voters

What we may see as “new and unfamiliar” is integrated in Gen Z’s foundation as normal. So far, the year 2020 has been filled with civil unrest, a global pandemic, and now, a tense election. Knowing and understanding how Gen Z views these things is an important way we can bridge the gaps in our relationships with them. According to Pew Research Center, 

“Among registered voters, a January Pew Research Center survey found that 61% of Gen Z voters (ages 18 to 23) said they were definitely or probably going to vote for the Democratic candidate for president in the 2020 election, while about a quarter (22%) said they were planning to vote for Trump.”

The younger generation is primarily Democratic, sharing very similar viewpoints with Millennials. And according to Pew, Gen Z is more likely than any other generation to want an activist government, which starkly contrasts with the generations preceding them, who are more likely to believe the government is too heavily involved in private affairs. 

Now, these statistics won’t reveal everything about your teen’s political worldview, but they can give us an idea of how to approach them. Whether your reaction to these statistics is “Yes! That’s great!” or “Wow, that’s terrible…” they can help us understand what we could be facing with our teens and their peers. 

Disagreeing with your teen well 

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” –David Augsburger

Opening the door for healthy conflict can help your teen feel safe to speak their mind, no matter what the topic may be, and turn a distant relationship into a close one. Having different opinions can be good, and can promote our teens’ sense of individuality. Here are some ways we can “agree to disagree” with our teens: 

  • Start with a clean slate. Often in arguments, we assume certain things from the other person, especially when we are drawing on past experiences. In order to have a healthy conversation with your teen, try to start with a refreshed mindset and openness. For example, if you know your teen is a Democrat, try not to assume that they completely agree with everything that party endorses. Then ask that they do the same. 
  • Listen actively. Some of the worst arguments happen when we feel misunderstood or misrepresented by the other person. Before we know it, our teens are saying “You don’t understand!” or “That’s not what I meant at all!” Taking the time to listen carefully while actively trying to understand where our teens are coming from can pave the way to true understanding of each other. So before you respond, we encourage you to simply listen, then ask questions to further clarify the perspective of your teen. Questions can do a world of good in difficult conversations, as it makes the person speaking feel both heard and respected. Then, once you’ve shown your appreciation for their thoughts, feel free to share your own viewpoint.
  • Set boundaries. If you find that tensions are too high for productive conversations, you may need to set up boundaries to guide you. This can range from taking a break from the conversation to excluding certain topics that push you too far off the edge. Simply put, you must decide with your teen which conversations are worth having, and which ones only seem to fan the flames of hurt feelings, resentment, and anger. 

As Romans 14: 17-19 says, 

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” 

Let’s remember that we are more than merely the opinions we hold. We can both disagree but still live and love each other in a way that is acceptable to God. So, no matter what happens, let your teen know that you’re there to understand and respect them before and after any disagreement you have. Even if their beliefs drastically differ from your own, always make sure they know that your disagreements won’t take away from the love you have for them. 

Discussion questions 

We understand that navigating through disagreements can be difficult, especially when tensions are so high. But by confronting our kids with patience and love, we can have informative conversations that bridge the gap of understanding and promote respectful relationships. When you’re ready to sit down with your teen and talk about your differing opinions, here are some questions to consider: 

For political conversations: 
  1. What are you most passionate about when it comes to politics? 
  2. What political party do you associate with the most? Why? 
  3. Have you ever researched how other political parties explain their views? 
  4. Do you enjoy learning or engaging in political issues? Why or why not? 
  5. What are your honest thoughts about Donald Trump and Joe Biden? Why do you feel this way?
  6. How do you view those who have different political views from you? Why? 
  7. What can we do as a family to create a safe space for each other when we disagree about politics?  
For general disagreements: 
  1. What is your opinion on [insert topic]? Why?
  2. What is the root of the problem?
  3. What does the Bible say about this issue? 
  4. How do you feel when people disagree with your opinion? Why? 
  5. What is something we can agree on when it comes to this issue? 
  6. How can we continue to love and support each other while also acknowledging our disagreements? 
  7. Is this a topic that you want off the table for discussion? If so, why? 
  8. What compromises can we both make in order to help our conflict?

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