The following is a real world example of productive conflict.
It is late on a Thursday afternoon. Mr. Jones turns on the family computer and clicks on the internet. He checks the history and discovers several pornographic websites were viewed in the last couple of days. David, his preteen son, was using the computer during this time. His breath is taken away. “Oh, man, he is only 12 years old,” he thinks to himself.
Mr. Jones knows something needs to be said and done, but it is an awkward and uncomfortable topic to talk about. In maintaining a United Front, he discusses the issue with his wife. They develop a plan of action together. Given the nature of the issue and topic, it is deemed best for Mr. Jones to have a conversation with David.
Although feeling disappointed, upset, and concerned, Mr. Jones does not want the focus of their conversation to be on him and his emotions. He does not want to provoke a destructive conflict with his son. So, he takes a few moments to ensure he is calm, and meets with his son to have a private, yet meaningful, conversation.
He finds a quiet room and sits down face to face with David to address the conflict around healthy sexuality. After explaining what he discovered on the computer, David gulps nervously, looks toward the ground, and nods to confirm that it was he who searched those sites. Mr. Jones can tell that his son feels ashamed by his actions as well as vulnerable in addressing this conflict. He praises his son’s honesty and courage in facing this uncomfortable topic.
The father inquires if David sees his behavior as inappropriate or ungrounded. Again, David nods. In efforts to involve his son more, Mr. Jones asks David what was inappropriate or ungrounded about his behavior. David explains that the images and videos show sex in a bad way. Mr. Jones agrees, and further inquires what his son meant by “bad.” David shrugs his shoulders and remains quiet.
Mr. Jones asks his son about the experience of viewing the sexually explicit images and videos. In particular, he asks David if he felt torn—part of him liking it and part of him feeling it was naughty and wrong. David nods, and his eyes well up with tears. His father validates his son’s feelings, noting that sexuality often brings up conflicting emotion.
Continuing to take the lead in the conversation, his father explains that David’s curiosities and interest in sex are a natural and normal part of growing up from a boy to a man. Leaning into the value of humility, Mr. Jones also explains that dealing with sexual curiosities, thoughts, and feelings is tough, confusing, and not easy for a lot of guys, both boys AND adult men. He notes that a good number of guys struggle with various conflicts around healthy sexuality.
His father goes on to say, “Just because it is awkward and stressful to deal with, does not mean it is unhealthy or wrong to face it and talk about.” In fact, he explains that opening up conversation around healthy sexuality helps reduce stress and confusion as well as clarify appropriate versus inappropriate ways of managing one’s sexuality.
Continuing to practice humility, Mr. Jones goes on to say that he had his share of challenges, questions, and curiosities about healthy sexuality when he was David’s age. David now is making eye contact with this father, no longer looking toward the ground in a shame-based way. The conflict and challenge of dealing with his emerging sexuality is seeming less threatening and anxiety provoking and more inviting.
Mr. Jones explains that an important part of growing into a values grounded young man involves developing a healthy concept of (way of dealing with) sexuality. He notes that this conversation is one step toward that goal. Healthy sexuality involves understanding the purpose of sex and the beautiful intimacy that accompanies it.
Given the value of talking about healthy sexuality in supporting David’s emerging manhood, they both agree to discuss this topic on a regular basis. They make a father-son pledge to not let the stress or awkwardness keep them from talking about this important subject. The next step is to discuss the basic facts around sex. They agree to meet the following week.
The father also clarifies an expectation for David to manage his sexuality in healthy ways by practicing self-control in the face of temptation to search inappropriate websites. They both agree that it would be good to use adult controls and firewalls as an added boundary.
The example above reflects a process known as productive conflict. In a matter of a ten-minute values grounded conversation, the father and son engage the difficult and emotionally conflicted topic of sexuality in a productive manner, leading to continued learning and growth opportunities (an agreement for future conversations and discussions). By engaging the value of humility, the father helped normalize his son’s experience as well as shrink the shame around this hard-to-approach, and often, secret subject.
Within the values grounded framework, conflict is viewed as a natural part of healthy relationships. The goal is to deal with the emotions and perspectives around the conflict in values grounded ways. Even though conflict can move most people out of their comfort zone, it serves as a valuable tool to learn and grow. David and his father not only learned the value of talking about sexuality in a respectful way, but they also learned how to approach conflict in a manner that strengthens positive intimacy.
Productive Conflict is discussed in greater detail in the book, Values Grounded Parenting: A Framework for Raising Healthy Children. The book will be available by May 1, 2020 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.