Parenting Teens: How to Pick Your Battles
Living in a war zone in your own home is not good. Home should be a place where you go to feel safe, protected, and cared for. When it becomes a place to go when you are tired of being nice to people, and your family can’t sit down for a meal without a fight breaking out, then it is time to strategize and make some changes.
Communicate Expectations, Rules, and Limits
Do your teens know what you expect of them? Many parents think that they have repeated something several times, but actual communication has never taken place. Getting it in writing can be a great way to prove what you said, when you said it, and to whom it was said.
Regular family meetings with parents and kids can be invaluable to make sure that communication is being received. Teens should be allowed a voice at family meetings, but they should not be allowed to take over. Parents need to be the authority, because a family is not a democracy. A functional family is more of a benevolent monarchy.
How often is regular? Once every six months is enough for most families. As children grow up, your expectations of how much they should be able to do should increase, while rules and limits (like curfew, for example) can decrease if they have proved themselves responsible.
Your teens need to know where the boundaries are, and you should expect them to test those boundaries because that’s what teens do. They may complain they are being stifled, and you may be tempted to make more rules and decrease the boundaries, but that route can lead to rebellion. Standing your ground is more effective than getting angry.
Ongoing communication of the boundaries you have set, and occasional tweaking of rules and limits as kids grow up will prevent many battles. It is much easier to silence the whining and avoid caving in when parent and teen both know exactly what the family rules are.
That being said, teenagers are under a constant barrage of hormones that drive them crazy, and you want to avoid joining them and having them drive you crazy. A good mantra to repeat to yourself is that teenagers act like children and want to be treated as adults. This does not sound logical or fair, but it will help you to keep your cool when you keep reminding yourself that your child’s brain is going through crazy right now, and you are the designated adult. Giving in to the temptation to argue with them at their level may feel good, but it won’t do much to give them an example of adult behavior, and it will ultimately harm the parent/child relationship.
There is no one set of rules that will fit every family, and even within the same family, treating everyone fairly may involve different expectations based on the abilities, character differences, and maturity levels of each child. If you have more than one child, let them know that they are each loved and valued equally, but that equally doesn’t mean that everything will be the same. This balance is tricky, but important.
Illegal, Immoral, or Life Threatening?
Not everything is worth fighting about. If you are fighting everyday with your teens, think about what is starting these battles. Are they over trivial matters? Think life or death situations. If you got the news that your teen was killed in a car accident, would you still think that having clothes on the floor in her room was a big deal?
Parenting guru Barbara Coloroso suggests saving your battles for anything that is life threatening, illegal, or immoral. Dyeing their hair green, leaving their beds unmade, or wearing too much make-up are examples of things that won’t matter in twenty years.
Every parent will have their own ideas of what constitutes ‘immoral’ behavior, but that’s okay. You are not Susie’s mother, and if you think that your daughter’s outfit is too revealing, it doesn’t matter what Susie’s mother lets her wear.
If you are dealing with teens whose behavior is life threatening or illegal, then you need professional help. That is another category of parenting altogether, and you may need to learn a whole new skill set tailor made for your situation.
The Bible says in Ephesians chapter six that children should obey their parents. The next verse, which is not quoted as often, says that fathers should not exasperate their children. The King James Version words this phrase as “ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.”
Our job as parents is first to love our children, nurture, and teach them. If most of our time spent with our teens is spent arguing about hair and clothes, we have missed the boat somewhere, and need to get back to showing that we love them, desperately!
Children grow up so fast! Even the teen years will soon be over. Love them, even if they have green hair.