Why is it so common for us to argue with our teens? I really want a home where arguing is not commonplace. I also have a teenager. These seems almost like things that can’t co-exist. And maybe on some level, they can’t. Teenagers are really in a rough spot. They feel immense pressures from all angles – school, homework, responsibilities at home, extra-curriculars, friends, relationships, perhaps they are even balancing a job… Then, they are attempting to juggle all these things with raging hormones (which create emotional responses that we regularly ask them to suppress), while being bombarded by the constant media onslaught dictating who they are supposed to be, what they should look like, and what defines ‘happy,’ ‘attractive,’ and ‘successful.’
I have high expectations for my daughter with regards to her character, and sometimes she falls short of my lofty ideals. I don’t want to lower my expectations, though. She is just 14 after all, and she has a long way to go before she’s ready for the world. I want the bar set high so she is well prepared for the beautiful thing that will be her life.
My good intentions are sometimes a bit out of focus, and I dwell on things that, in an eagle’s eye viewpoint of our life aren’t about character at all. These things fall on my list of things that make me too controlling, and don’t necessarily make me a well-meaning mom. Mostly, I think I need to look at the things we genuinely argue about, or that I am regularly nagging her about, and honestly seek out my motive. Am I concerned for safety, or do I worry about what people will think? Is this likely to cause problems for her when she is an adult, or do my personal tastes not line up with hers? We need to draw our metaphorical lines in the sand at the meeting point of ensuring well-being and safety, but well beyond our tastes and even our desires with regards to who our teens are.
We ask them to be independent. We ask them to be unique – not like everyone else. We ask them to be free-thinkers who are creative, and we ask them to be themselves – who they truly are. What would happen if we stepped back and actually allowed that to happen? It’s scary to consider, isn’t it? I spend a lot of time on the NYC subway system, and have been intentionally watching the teenagers on board recently. Most are not dressed perfectly – shoes that don’t quite match the outfit, articles of clothing that aren’t the most flattering, sometimes really bad hair dos… But none of these things seem to detour happiness. The kids have friends with them, are usually having fun, laughing and being silly, or sometimes they are reading or texting. They just look like kids. But NY moms seem to have figured out that there are bigger things to worry about that what our kids are wearing. Here, people are much more free to exist without judgement.
I want that. Not just for my daughter, but for me, too. So relaxing a bit about some of these things is the least I can do. Here are the places where I’ve moved my line in the sand towards my daughter a bit… and some reasons to override her and be insistent on things, as well.
When to give in: I am not a fan of t-shirts with words on them… quippy sayings or comments, or even advertisements for companies or bands. But my daughter loves them. And that’s just the beginning of our taste differences in clothing. But when I let her dress however she chooses, she is more self-assured. She actually looks more beautiful because she feels happier and more confident! So I don’t argue about a black pair of converse sneakers with her prettiest skirt, or t-shirts that say silly things on them. It makes mornings happier around here, and that’s worth giving in for.
When to stand your ground: It’s ok to put your foot down when clothes fail your dress code policy. If you don’t have one, make one. Keep it simple though, and stick to rules that have to do with character and modesty. In my house, stomachs can’t show except in bathing suits (which can’t be tied with strings) and tights have to be covered with shirts that reach her mid-thighs. Staying in style is important to my teen, but not at the expense of her dignity.
When to give in: No one had a messier room than I did growing up. Ask my mom – I’m sure she still has nightmares about it. I’m still not a neat freak, and my house gets messy, and then clean again… And we haven’t been featured on Hoarders yet, so I feel like we are doing ok. My daughters room is messy. And if I have her clean it up, it will be just as messy tomorrow. For me, the daily nagging to tidy up just isn’t worth the energy. So instead, we have some specific times that her room needs to be tidy. If she wants to have a sleepover, her room must be clean. (This has bit her in the past, like when she’s been out and asked if a friend could come back for the night, but her room was a mess!) If company is coming (even just a friend dropping in for a coffee) it must be cleaned up. Also, on laundry day, if she wants her washing done with the rest of our clothes, she’s gotta get organized. Otherwise, she’s on her own. It’s relieving to me to not worry about this everyday, and to just let it go. Every now and then, we attack the room together and make it sparkle. It lasts for a few days, and I know she enjoys the neatness. I can only hope she’ll eventually enjoy it enough to make it a consistent priority.
When to stand your ground: If your child’s room is a legit danger – like the mountains of stuff have become a tripping hazard, it’s time to put your foot down. Some basic rules to put into place: there must be a clear, unobstructed path from the bed to the door at all times. No food, dirty dishes, or garbage can be laying around. And regular cleaning is a must. Messy is one thing, but dirty is another.
When to give in: Allowing liberty in hair style is an easy way to give your teen the feeling of freedom over their bodies. A trendy cut or color might be just what your kid needs for a boost in self-confidence.
When to stand your ground: Look for a happy medium in style choices. Your long haired blonde wants to go pixie? Perhaps you can slowly shorten her hair over 3 or 4 cuts. Chances are she’ll find something in between she loves. Look at pictures online, consult your stylist before hand, and maybe try a site like taaz.com where you can virtually experiment with style choices. Try to remember that hair grows. Bad cuts aren’t permanent. In combat over color? Maybe you can compromise with red instead of green, or purple instead of blue! I’ve made both of these compromises!
Jewelry and Piercings
When to give in: Piercings can be permanent. Some will close over on their own, but most will leave remnants behind – small scars, or holes that never completely heal. Piercings are pretty common, and more and more workplaces are friendly towards those with nose rings and multiple earrings. But others are still fairly taboo in professional settings, so they will eventually need to be removed. It’s something worth considering, especially if your teen is applying for college, or a new job. There is also a risk of infection, so if your teen isn’t particularly responsible, or struggles with personal hygiene, piercings are not the way to go.
When to stand your ground: It’s more than acceptable to set limits on piercings – discuss what body parts you are comfortable with, and the age your teen has to be to make the decision. A waiting period is also a great idea, to be sure it’s a true desire, not just a short-term one. For example, you could say that if in six months, your child still wants the piercing, you’ll take them. Then, you must follow through. Research the best place to go. Be sure they are clean and friendly. Keep the dialogue open, because taking your teen to a reputable place (even if you aren’t totally down with the idea) trumps them going behind your back, and ending up somewhere less than desirable.
When to give in: All you can ask of your children is their best effort. So place great value in the process your teen uses as opposed to the end result. If you see your teen completing homework as assigned, studying regularly, and approaching the subject with a positive attitude, they are most likely exerting their best effort. If this still doesn’t yield the grade you want, you need to find a way to make peace with it. Perhaps a tutor might help, but it might not. If your student doesn’t have an aptitude for something, all the studying and tutoring in the world may not make a huge difference. Consider if whether or not this subject will be necessary for their future goals, and how legitimately important it will be in their future success. Chances are, if your teen has little aptitude for a subject, their career won’t revolve around it anyway.
When to stand your ground: When your child is clearly approaching the challenge with a defeatist attitude, or is failing to complete assignments, it’s time to step in. Having a good attitude and putting in their best effort are skills that will translate to every job or endeavor they have in their life, even if calculus or history aren’t their thing.
Future Goals and Plans
When to give in: Really listen to your teens when you discuss their future plans. I believe that if you do what you love, you’ll be fulfilling your life’s purpose, and the money will follow. Or it won’t… but either way, consider happiness and contentment as important goals for your child’s life. If they don’t want to be a doctor or lawyer, it’s okay! It really is! If they want to open a restaurant, or make music, or be an artist, trust their intuition and allow them to explore these avenues for themselves. With your support behind them, they’ll have the self-confidence to pour themselves into their interests, making their chances of success much greater!
When to stand your ground: It’s okay to insist your teens speak to guidance counselors, take aptitude tests, write their SAT’s and even go to college. With every potential career path, their are skills to learn.
When to give in: Many people feel that it’s important for their child to play sports, and maybe even more importantly, that they play a team or competitive sport. I agree – there is value in being part of a team, and even more value in having athletics as part of a well-rounded life. But if your child isn’t into soccer or hockey, or they aren’t coordinated enough for sports to be enjoyable, there isn’t a lot of point in torturing your teen into playing.
When to stand your ground: All kids need physical activity and regular exercise as part of a healthy mind and body. It’s also necessary to burn off excess energy and stress. Insist on activity, instead of a particular sport. An interest in biking, roller-blading or skateboarding can allow your teen to enjoy the benefits of activity without fighting about playing a team sport. Consider swim team, weight training, karate or a gym membership to keep your teen in good physical shape.
Every kid is unique. Mine and yours and everyone else’s. So we can’t all have the same rules. But hopefully we can all find some balance when it comes to the things we insist on with our teens. A little give and take can make all the difference in the world!