by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
As a psychologist who has spent the last 30 years working with teenagers and their parents, I have often had a front row seat to a wide variety of battles parents have with their teens. Some of these altercations are over very serious issues that relate to drugs and drinking while others relate to untidy rooms, but both can leave parents exhausted and invariably raise the emotional temperature in the household.
Many parents express great relief when I tell them that a key parenting competency in 2017, is the ability to choose one’s battles. Of course many parents intuitively know this, but they simply don’t know which ones to pick. This is a common dilemma among the parents of teenagers today. At the Family Peace Foundation we strongly believe that there are certain issues on which parents should hold their ground, even though this may enrage their offspring, and there are other topics which can and should well and truly be left to go through to the proverbial wicket-keeper.
Here are two golden rules that might assist readers of this blog:
First, try and see the world through their eyes, and understand the intricacies of being an adolescent in 2017. This is arguably one of the most vulnerable generations in Australia’s history subjected to unprecedented challenges, social media, pressure to conform, anxiety about the future combined with a raft of personal insecurities all can produce significant levels of stress. The adolescent years are some of the most demanding years to handle, and the battles at home are often a reflection of their emotional state.
Second, prioritize the issues that relate to your child’s wellbeing and safety. Couples should draw up a list of which topics which fall in to the health and safety categories and agree that these are simply non-negotiable. Having reached a consensus around these issues, communicate these expectations should be clearly and calmly communicated to their offspring.
It is in the nature of adolescents to push the parental boundaries, however pre-emptive communication in early adolescence – before these issues actually arise and consistent and repeated reiteration of the family rules that are reflective of parental values, attitudes and beliefs will help defuse battles more quickly.
As a service to the Family Peace Foundation website redaers I have endeavoured to compiled a list of some battles to pick, some to avoid and some to defer. It is our hope at the Foundation that this list may form the basis of a discussion in your household as the year draws to an end.
Battles to pick
Issues contrary to the Law: including drinking and the consumption of alcohol underage, underage sex and failing to attend school under the age of 16
Rudeness and disrespect: It is normal for teenagers to develop a desire for independence and autonomy, but this does not mean they are entitled to treat you with disrespect or contempt. Such behaviour needs to be named early and met with consequences.
Health Concerns: Stand firm regarding legitimate threats to their wellbeing. Not sleeping, poor diet, tatoos, body piercings and not exercising all represent potential risks to their health and capacity to function at school. The brains of teenagers are a work in progress and many lack the maturity required to make good decisions about their wellbeing. Whether they like it or not, uner the age of 16 they are still legally minors and need you to monitor, supervise and advise them.
Technology: Technology is a new area of concern because it has the potential to open doors for dangerous behaviours including addiction which in turn may compromise the tackling of key developmental tasks. It’s important to set boundaries with online and digital activities such as social media interactions, online gaming, online gambling Internet browsing and text messaging.
Battles to avoid
Clothing, hairstyles and floordrobes: If a battle does not address an issue that would negatively affect your teen, consider letting it go. Your teen may have a room that looks like a bomb site, arrange or colour their hair in a way that displeases us or dress in an unusual style, but none of these issue are likely to hinder their personal development in the long term. The exception to this rule is if the hairstyle, clothing or jewelry is contrary to school rules.
Issues that reflect your own uncertainties or missteps: If you worry your offspring will make the same errors of judgement that you may have made, you may deny them the independence they actually warrant. It is often useful to think about your past experiences, and be conscious of battles you tend to choose that are based on emotions that arise from your own adolescence. It can be unhelpful to project your past mistakes onto your teen. When you recognize and process your own fears, the battles around those issues tend to resolve themselves.
Battles to defer
Issues that arise within a current conflict: When an argument arises with your teen, stay focused on one issue at a time. When multiple points of contention are brought into the same conversation, explain to your teen that you will discuss those other issues at a later time.
Decisions your teen wants immediately: Teenagers often struggle with delayed gratification and have been known to demand an immediate adjudication on a hot topic. It is often prudent to adjourn the discussion, as all parents should have time to talk to one another and arrive at a conclusion before handing down a decision to their teen.
Sticking to the Golden Rules makes choosing your battles much easier. It is all about ultimately creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding.