Developing Independent Teens – Picking Your Battles

angry girlLiving with a teenager can make what was once a peaceful, joy-filled home seem like a battle zone. The inner struggle between childhood and adulthood that is raging inside a teenager often leads to conflicts between parent and child. These may leave either or both parties unable to see and think clearly.

Disagreements over things like clothing, hairstyles, cleanliness, and family values can easily become the main form of communication in a home. What starts off as a minor comment can easily escalate into a full-fledged screaming match as the battle of wills continues. In order to restore peace to the home front, it is imperative that parents pick their battles.

You may be thinking that this is easier said than done. In the heat of the moment, even the best attempts to “let things go” can fall by the wayside. A seemingly minor comment can spiral downward into additional issues of disrespect and unacceptable behaviors. Slammed doors and shouted words may never be avoided completely during the teenage years. Staircases will occasionally be stomped upon. But the battles can be minimized. Take some time to decide ahead of time what things are worth arguing over and what issues just aren’t worth it.

Discuss non-negotiable areas with the other parent. Decide what things are the most important to you as a family and in which areas you are beyond compromise. Exactly how these issues look will vary for each family, but generally they are within the categories of morality, respect, and safety. Anything illegal or life-altering is worth fighting for as a parent.

Teens are driven by a sense of fairness and justice. As they are learning to understand abstract concepts and think about things from other people’s perspectives, teens are usually willing to follow rules that make sense and seem fair. With that in mind, discuss your rules with your teenager and have them help develop the guidelines for your list of non-negotiable items. Discuss your values and listen to their input. An open dialogue with your teen about different issues can keep the battles to a minimum.

Try to let things go that don’t hinder personal development or really matter in the long run. Clothing, hairstyle, and messiness probably don’t have long-term ramifications on a teen’s development. Of course, when those things cross the line into safety or morality issues, it is time to intervene. For example, funky styles and ripped jeans may not really matter, but when a young girl begins dressing in very revealing or sexy clothing, it can become a matter of safety and morality. Again, what exactly constitutes “sexy” or “revealing” may differ between families so it is important to establish some clear personal guidelines.

Keep in mind that it is a teen’s job to develop into his or her own person — an independent, self-sufficient, adult capable of making his own decisions. The older your child gets, the less he or she is seen as a reflection of you and is seen more as an individual. Adults make their own decisions and face the consequences of those decisions themselves. It is important to give teens practice doing this in a safe and supportive environment.

Give teens more choices and freedoms as they show they are able to handle them. Compromise on issues where you are able and willing to do so. Deciding on your non-negotiable points ahead of time will help minimize the battles and keep the peace in your home.