Aggression and violence are not just for boys anymore. According to a 2010 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), while one in three boys aged 12–17 have been involved in a serious fight (individually or as part of a group) or attacked someone intending to do physical harm, the figures for girls in the same age range were almost as bad: 26.7%, or more than one in four. And that’s just a single-year average.
Simply assuming that “my daughter would never do a thing like that” is not the answer. Few teenagers are naturally immune to peer pressure or to the stretched tempers of modern stress. Parents who take it for granted that their kids are inherently “too good” to get into trouble, are all too likely to get unpleasant surprises down the road.
What is the answer? Well, according to Pamela S. Hyde of SAMHSA: “We need to do a better job reaching girls at risk and teaching them how to resolve problems without resorting to violence” (AP January 15, 2010). Particularly “at risk” demographics include teenagers who become involved with binge drinking or marijuana use, who come from low-income families, or who are doing poorly in school and/or habitually truant.
Whether or not any of these higher-risk factors exist in your family, your daughter needs to learn appropriate conflict management with your support. Success in conflict management can be boiled down to a three-step process. Practice the steps regularly yourself, and teach them to your daughters by word and example.
Step One: Strengthen your self-awareness and self-control. In conflict situations, the only variable you can fully control is yourself. Preparation for effective conflict management is based, first and foremost, on realistic self-study. By knowing your own strong and vulnerable points, you increase your self-control; by strengthening your self-control, you learn to respond effectively to situations, instead of simply reacting.
Step Two: Manage your own anger. Letting your outrage erupt in a hot situation only fuels the fire, perhaps to the point of explosion. To master emotional control, learn what pushes your personal buttons, how your feelings develop, and how that leads to anger. Once you know your own anger buttons, you can control them instead of letting others manipulate you into violent behavior.
Step Three: Learn to confront anger in others. Most people see, hear, and do what they want to see, hear, and do. In conflict situations, personal positions and perceptions automatically become even more rigid. Abandon the need to be right, or even logical. State how you feel—calmly!—but actively listen to the other person as well. Be persistently reasonable. This takes time and effort to master, but it’s the best way to prevent things from escalating into violence.
Even young girls can effectively manage their anger and aggression with this system, but they need support and instruction. Helping them build feelings of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-awareness is a great place to start.