After raising a few teenagers, I’m more convinced than ever that those early childhood years (you know, the ones that involve the words “toddler tantrums” and “threenager”) were a necessary rite of parenting passage, if only because they taught us one thing — how to pick your battles with your kid.
I realized this when one day I found myself having a heated argument and trying to negotiate choices of colors of sippy cup lids with a three-year-old. Was this the parenting hill I was to die on? The one where if I don’t negotiate well enough, engage in this battle, and/or offer the green (and not blue!) lid he is wanting, I will be failing as a mother?
Even though that day I may have failed as a mother because I didn’t hold my ground, and my screaming toddler did in fact, get the green lid, that day was the beginning of a very hard parenting lesson. That lesson? It’s the one where we have to figure out what battles are worth having with our kids, and which ones we can and SHOULD, be skipping out on.
And at no time is it more crucial to know the difference than during the teen years, where on a daily basis, you will find yourself holding your tongue with such fierce restraint you fear your entire head may explode from the pressure. There is even a parenting book that goes into more depth on this subject, and it’s titled Duct Tape Parenting. Why the duct tape reference? It’s for putting over your mouth when you want to start a battle!
So what are some, ahem…teen disagreements that you may as well just stay out of, both for the sake of your sanity and theirs?
Do NOT Pick These Three Battles to Have With Your Teen:
1. Messy bedrooms, dirty bathrooms
With a thousand apologies to my own mother (because my teen bedroom looked like a tsunami met a hurricane and landed in my clothes hamper), I can now profess to let the messy teen bedroom go. Sure, you want them to respect your home and show some form of responsibility for their possessions. Still, in the disheveled mind of a teen, there is likely no room for developing and maintaining a cleanliness habit right now.
That in no way means they will be slobs for life, but at this point, if everything else in their life seems to be going fine, but their bedroom (and bathroom) is a nightmare, consider yourself lucky and just keep the door shut. Soon enough, they will be gone, and that room will be sadly perfect all the time. And yes, you will miss the mess.
2. Getting the silent treatment
If you haven’t experienced this yet, let me describe it for you; one day, your teen will be a talkative little delight, yammering away about all the things and enjoying your company. The next day (or the next hour, if we’re being honest), a switch will go off, and they will retreat into their heads like a spider in a wall and act like you don’t exist. This used to drive me batty until I read up on what is happening in the adolescent brain and learned that the mechanics (or lack thereof) are simply not operating at full development.
Some days demanding your teen interact and engage with you will just leave both of you frustrated and angry, so it’s better to allow them the time they need to simply process life. This may mean that days go by when you feel like you live with a disrespectful roommate. It just means their brains are working overtime and may simply need a rest from everything involving being over-parented or overstimulated. Moody, quiet teens are normal and not a reflection of your parenting.
3. The future
This will be the toughest battle to walk away from, but it’s probably the most important one, and you need to do just that, walk away. When your kid starts high school, they will be inundated with discussions about their future. They will be told as a freshman that the next four years are “make it or break it,” and they will be asked ad nauseam what they want to be when they grow up and how exactly they will achieve that goal.
Suppose your teen can answer those questions confidently, wonderful! But if you have one that is more exploratory with what they want to do with their life, let them do that! Resist the constant pressure and talk of career and college planning; instead, let them take the lead. Reserve your opinion wisely on what you think they should and could do as adults, and make an effort to offer advice and guidance, not must-do directives and demands.
Nagging them constantly to make decisions about their future when they’re just not ready can escalate into a knock-down, drag-out fight that will leave you more angst-ridden than when you started. Be supportive and encouraging, not dictatorial.
When in doubt, walk away from most arguments, even if it’s just for a day or so. With a little contemplation and reflection, you’ll soon realize that most teen battles are not worth having, or you’ll discover a new way to compromise with your teen. Stick with the discussions and things you can agree on (mostly), and let the rest go.
Deep breaths, parents of teens; this too shall pass. I promise.
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