One of the first things our middle daughter noticed when she began her middle school career this past fall is that kids fight. A lot. She’s horrified by the fighting – but not because she’s worried about their safety.
Kids fights annoy her because they ‘always fight in the middle of the walkway and I don’t want to be late for class,’ she said. Well…I do appreciate her punctual personality (insert eye roll here).
Our kids are not exposed to violent behavior at home or when they are with their friends and/or family, so it surprised us that she’s not more affected by the constant fighting she witnesses at school among the teens and pre-teens.
We pressed her about it, and she went on to explain that she knows some kids come from bad situations, and they don’t know how to handle themselves.
Apparently, she was listening all the times we explained to the kids that some kids lash out because they have less than ideal home or life situations their peers know nothing about.
My husband quickly agreed with her that the kids fighting likely were not taught proper problem-solving tools at home. I nodded my agreement and added that some kids are just a**holes, and not everyone should have kids (insert side-eye and almost imperceptible head shake from my husband here).
What? It’s not like I’m incorrect about that one.
My point, however, is that some kids get into fights. Some parents don’t care. Others do. Since you’re here, I’m assuming you’re on the ‘I cannot believe my child got into a fight OMG what do I do?’ side of things. And I’ll offer some suggestions (all professionally sourced, of course).
Why Do Teens Get into Fights?
This is the part where I’d assume it’s because these kids are being raised by assholes. A wise man once told me that if your kid is an asshole, it’s your fault. I don’t disagree.
However, I also know there are a myriad of other reasons a teen might get into a fight. Here are some of the common reasons teens get into physical altercations, according to the National Library of Medicine.
- Your kid is an a**hole who starts fights (well, it doesn’t say that, but it’s true)
- To gain or maintain respect from peers
- Your child has anger issues
- Peer pressure/peers instigated a fight
- They are standing up for someone they love
- They lack self-esteem
- Your child is trying to fit in with kids who are mean
- They seek attention
- Your child is being bullied by someone else
At the end of the day, there is no cut and dried reason teens fight. However, there are several reasons why they might. It’s up to you as the parent to figure out why your teen was involved in a fight. The most important thing you can do at this point is sit your teen down when you’re both calm and talk it through.
Let this be the point where we make it clear that one fight does not make for a bad child. One fight is not going to be an anger management/bad kid/bad home life type of situation.
If your teen gets into fights on a regular basis, however, you might consider these things. Take a moment to be honest: Have you been there for your child?
If you went through a period of depression, absence, substance abuse, etc. there is a chance you missed out on teaching your kids right from wrong and appropriate behavior.
No one is blaming you because you are here now doing what you can to right your wrongs and change course. We respect that. It’s never too late to make positive changes.
Teens Fighting in School May Face Legal Troubles
Here’s where I need you to pay close attention – at the risk of sounding preachy. If your child is involved in a physical altercation with another child, your teen could face legal trouble.
The law differs in every state, but I recently learned at a SAEC meeting at my daughter’s middle school (school advisory economic council) that parents can – and do – press charges following fights.
Assault occurs when a child feels threatened by another. Battery is the act of actually going through with the threat.
Understand this – your child could end up in legal trouble, charged with assault and/or battery for engaging in a fight with another teen…even if your child is not the aggressor.
There are many ramifications of violent behavior, but this one is the most important to understand. All it takes is one upset parent to press charges, and your child could have a record.
Though less serious than a legal record of assault and battery, your child also faces other consequences for violent behavior. Depending on the nature of the fight and the injuries sustained by the other teen involved, your child could end up suspended from school, removed from team sports, or even expelled.
If your child continues to fight after a suspension, expulsion is certainly on the table. These things on your child’s record can severely alter their future course.
What Do I Do if My Teen is Being Bullied?
Now let’s take a look at different scenarios. Your child is not a fighter, but he or she is involved in a fight, and it’s because of a bully. Handling a bully in middle or high school – the age of most teens – is a delicate situation, and it’s not always easy.
The single most important thing you will do in this situation is tell your teen they are brave for coming to you about a bully. Statistically speaking, most kids don’t tell on bullies for fear of worse treatment.
The next thing you do is reiterate to your child that this is not their fault. It is not their fault a bully is after them. They did nothing wrong. It’s also imperative you point out to your teen that he or she is not alone – millions of kids are bullied across the world every day.
Now ask your teen how they want to handle the situation. This shows a sincere level of trust, and it also tells your child that you are on their side and there to help.
It’s time to talk to authorities. If your child is being bullied at school, speak up. Talk to teachers and administrators. Present evidence, and follow-up.
It’s not always easy to prove bullying is occurring, but printing text messages, online messages, and documenting school incidents is helpful. Schools take bullying seriously, and your child’s administration is there to help.
They can offer suggestions, guidance, and protection.
What Do I Do if My Teen is The Bully?
This is where things get a little trickier, but also easier in a sense. You can’t make a bully stop bullying your child, but you certainly have the power to stop your child from bullying another.
First, please understand that learning your child is a bully is difficult. You will likely experience a plethora of emotions from shock to anger to sadness to heartbreak – and certainly everything in between.
It’s a conversation no parent wants to have with another. “Your teenager is a bully,” is not what you expect to hear. Take the time you need to process this information.
Next, it’s time for a difficult conversation with your child. Understanding what is going on with your child is imperative. Ask. Listen, and communicate.
Don’t interrupt or approach your teen with aggression or anger. This is a conversation that requires you are both calm, collected, and ready to talk. Is your child being bullied?
Is your child’s self-esteem so low that they only feel good when they are making others feel bad? Why is your child bullying another child? Find out, and then take the appropriate steps.
You will need to provide consequences for this behavior. Most importantly, your teen must make this right. The consequences and the way your teen will right this wrong are both highly personal to you and your situation.
Model Appropriate Behavior at Home
No one is accusing you of being a bad parent or not doing a good job. No one is perfect. Your situation is personal, and only you know what your child is dealing with at home.
However, it is imperative that you model proper behavior at home. Children who grow up in a hostile and aggressive household are more likely to take the same behavior to school.
When you model proper conflict resolution skills at home, your child is more likely to model the same at school.
This is the part where I advise you to look inward, and to take the appropriate steps. If it applies to your personal situation, there are many numbers you can call for help you may need:
National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – 1-800-662-4357
Open Your Lines of Communication
Your child was in a fight. No matter why, they were involved in a physical altercation with another person. It is crucial that you make sure your child is aware that you are available to them any time of the day or night to talk. If they have concerns, they can come to you. When it’s time to talk to them, here is what you should do:
- Put your phone away
- Do not interrupt
- Listen thoughtfully
- Do not judge
- Do not yell
- Ask your child to clarify anything you don’t understand
- Ask your child how they want to handle a situation
Each of these provides your child with the knowledge that you are serious about communication. When your teenager comes to you with a concern or a problem, you have the opportunity to prevent a fight from occurring. You also have the opportunity to get to know your child and what’s really going on in his or her life. This is a gift, and it’s not one you can squander.
Ask Your Child to Apologize
Whether your child was the aggressor or the victim in the fight, it is important that your child issues an apology. This apology does not have to be lengthy, and it doesn’t have to be to the child who came after them.
However, the apology should go to the teacher who had to break up the fight, the class it disrupted, and the administrators at your child’s school. It’s not required, but it does show good faith that your child takes responsibility for their actions.
Encourage Your Child to Take Responsibility
Teens, like many kids of all ages, tend to want to protect themselves in a situation that belies trouble. There is likely going to be a lot of ‘he started it,’ or ‘she did it,’ involved.
The key here is to teach your teen a valuable life lesson. It doesn’t matter who started it. What matters is that your teen takes responsibility for his or her actions, and they don’t place blame or try to seem innocent.
Here’s a personal example. The only one of our children who has ever gotten into trouble at school is our son. One time, and only one time. He was in first grade.
Another little boy dared him to pull down a girl’s pants on the playground, and he did it. When I received the call from his teacher, I promptly responded, “My husband and I support whatever disciplinary action you deem appropriate,” and she was shocked (don’t get me started on how many parents refuse to believe their kids do anything wrong).
When he came home and we asked him what happened – calmly – he explained that the other boy dared him, and he said no. The other boy shoved him to the ground and told him to do it or else.
He was terrified, so he did it. He didn’t tell his teacher any of that. She watched him do it, and he didn’t offer an explanation. We did share the rest of the story with her, and she pulled him aside to explain that it’s imperative he comes to her with things like that.
Being threatened and physically harmed is scary, and the other boy deserved discipline, too. He accepted his punishment, wrote apology notes to his teacher and the little girl and her family, and he learned a life lesson.
Every Situation is Different
Using the example of our little boy, I can tell you every situation is different. Did he make a good choice? No, he did not. He made a poor choice in a moment that scared him, but he’d never experienced anything like it and didn’t know what to do.
Our son knows now that he goes immediately to a teacher if he is threatened, and he never backs down to a bully. He also knows that even if his behavior is instigated by duress, he needs to own it and take responsibility.
It was a difficult time for him, but he learned a life lesson, and it’s stuck with him.
All kids are different. Every situation is different. Your child may have been in a fight, but that doesn’t mean any one thing. Only you know what it means, and that’s what makes parenting so difficult. There isn’t a guide, or a how-to, or a right or wrong way to deal with a specific situation. There is only instinct, and it’s up to you.
Additional Resources for Parents
- What to do when your teen hates you
- What to do when your teen is out of control
- How to handle your spoiled kids