College Prep for Parents: Dealing with a high-conflict young adult

College preparation. Back to school. Some parents, who deal with a high-conflict young adult, when hearing these words may begin to feel anxiety and, at the same time, relief.

The troubled 18-year-old off to college, perhaps the angry 20-year-old is headed back. No matter how old and how difficult, parents are beckoned to help prepare for their child’s departure. Many parents help prepare by buying dorm necessities but few use this time to prepare their child for “life” situations.

This can be ever more difficult when dealing with a high-conflict young adult. High-conflict young adults will often exhibit behaviors that render themselves blameless for their own actions and “hook” others into their drama. This can be extremely problematic in the university environment because the child is on his or her own for perhaps the first time in their lives; they will be expected to take ownership of their actions.

The National Institute for Health reports the 18-29 age group has a 36% incidence of personality disorders in the United States. This alarming statistic draws attention to the importance of learning to deal effectively with them. So, how does a parent, dealing with a high-conflict young adult prepare their child for the peer pressures of adulthood and remedy their own sanity in the process? The short answer is… there isn’t a short answer.

High-conflict dynamics are tricky and can easily consume one’s life if not taken care of most thoughtfully and directly.

The good news is the parent has options. Most commonly, outside assistance is needed to successfully complete this seemingly daunting task. I consult specifically on high-conflict persons and help each person understand how to manage and communicate effectively.

It’s helpful to understand

what drives their behavior
how “hooked” you are, i.e. your role in it (remember, it’s a relationship disorder and it takes two to make a relationship)
how to manage the relationship in the opposite way you manage relationships with everyone else
how to communicate by paying attention to the relationship
The NEW book, So What’s Your Proposal by Bill Eddy can

Preparing a child for college is a trying enough task without having to deal with a young adult who exhibits high-conflict responses. This additional piece cripples the relationship and could makes college readiness less likely.  However, high-conflict behavior can be managed, both, sensibly and successfully. There is a term called mentalizing with which you might wish to be familiar. Here is Dr. Alan Fruzzetti discussing mood management and mentalizing, super useful information for parents and families.


Megan Hunter is a speaker, trainer, consultant and CEO at Unhooked Media. She is co-founder of High Conflict Institute and was a Family Law & Child Support Specialist at the Arizona Supreme Court. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  

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