Tweens & Teens: Picking your battles

“Pick battles big enough to matter but small enough to win” ~ Jonathan Kozol

The question of picking your battles is really answered in the first part of this sentence with the word “picking”.  That is to say, “You have a choice with all your battles.”

Rules, however, are different. When parents make “rules”, they are to be enforced. If not, then that undermines your authority.  My family will NOT make a rule that cannot be enforced. For example, “You HAVE to eat your broccoli” cannot be enforced unless you are willing to force feed your child. Not a good idea. A better rule would be, “You have to eat [insert name of food] or you cannot have dessert.”  That’s something that can be enforced.

The most common rules come from family morals and values. The way your tween or teen dresses is one issue that quickly comes to mind. “You have to have your shorts at least as long as the tips of your fingers when your arms are by your side” is one I’ve often heard. In order to do this effectively, you have to know your own set of morals and beliefs. It’s only then that you can pass them on to your child. So…take some time and think about what it is you truly want your child to incorporate into their life as they get older. It’s certainly true that strong roots assist you during times of storms.

Battles are essentially spontaneous ideas that, in the grand scheme of life, don’t usually matter. These include hair color and style. Does it really matter that your child has a blue Mohawk? Is that a set of moral values that you have in your family? If so, then make the rule: “No, they cannot have that hair color or style.” For most families, though, this is not the case. As for me, I would not engage in this battle, and I’d let them have their hair the way they want. (Yes, there’s probably an exception somewhere out there).

For example, my tween son’s hair has looked atrocious in the past. I told his mother, “His hair really looks awful” and when he asked me, I did as I usually do and asked him, “Do you want me to tell you the truth or do you want me to lie and make you feel good?”  He always says, “Tell me the truth”, so I did. That didn’t matter to him and he went on his way. Tha’is the style he really liked, even though he looked like something that fell out of a deck of cards; however, when his FRIENDS told him it looked bad, you better believe it changed quicker than a hiccup.

In my opinion, friends are what really drive battles. Peer pressure is very difficult to resist and you want your child to be able to come to you when they need to do so. That’s why communication is SO important. Also, by choosing NOT to fight certain battles, you are essentially saying, “I don’t really agree with what you are doing/wearing, etc. but it’s your choice.” You’re giving them some power and control over their own life. That way, when a “rule” is compromised, there will likely be less resistance on their part because you have not always taken power from them.

Curfew is a big thing for teenagers. This would be a rule in my book. True that I cannot MAKE them come home at a certain time, but I can certainly take away the car so they cannot go out again. I would, though, make sure that I increase curfew time as they got older. An extra hour per year seems reasonable. As such, on Friday or Saturday nights, I would say 10 p.m. is reasonable for a 15-year-old, 11p.m. for a 16-year-old, and midnight for a 17-year-old. Your rules may be different. Again, rules are based upon YOUR personal beliefs and not mine.

REMEMBER…you will only have your child for a limited amount of time before they soar off into the sky saving the world. You need to give them some freedom to make mistakes and fall down. That way, you can monitor and help pick them up. If you don’t give them this freedom by carefully picking your battles, then they will do God-knows-what once they’ve left your house. I would argue that it’s better to have your eye (even both eyes) on them now than to have them somewhere unmonitored and naïve about what the world is truly like.

One last thought…I’ve found that when I choose not to pick a battle, there are many times my child will not follow through with the initial request. I recently saw a parent whose child wanted some crazy hair style with some wild coloring. It sounded just awful, but I recommended they allow their teenage daughter to get it cut that way if she wanted. They agreed and, when they told her she could get it cut, she “miraculously” changed her mind. I wonder if our kids, at least sometimes, ask us something just to see if we will allow it? They have no intention of following through, but they’re testing the waters. Not unlike many adults will do, I might add. Hmmm. Interesting thought.

Feel free to comment by clicking the big orange button below as my homegirls (Gwen and Shannon) and I at Motherlode would love to hear what your “rules” are as well as what “battles” you’ve had to fight. Please share. I imagine it will be nothing short of pure entertainment. (Remember you can use your initials if you’d rather not have your name appear with your comment.)

Take care and I’ll see you next month.


Click here to read previous articles on Tweens & Teens. Got a question for Dr. Jones, a child psychologist for Mercy Health? Send it to us (we won’t use your name) and we may feature it in an upcoming installment of Tweens & Teens.