Choose Your Battles with Your Teens
This is an article I wrote a Christian parenting magazine. Maybe the ideas will help a parent decide what things are worth enforcing.
Parenting battles are part of life, and those battles change as children get older. An important part of parenting is choosing your battles carefully. There are many things you want your teen to do or not do, but trying to enforce all of them is overwhelming both to you and your child. Stand firm on those things that involve your teen's health or safety, are part of your values system and that will help your child become a productive citizen.
The same types of rules are important at each stage of your child's life, but the younger the teen, the more necessary it is that rules are spelled out clearly and the consequences in place.
Children of this age are starting to assert their independence from their parents, while imitating their friends' actions and styles. It's easy to get into battles over clothing and hair, social media or schoolwork. Although it may be hard to give in on these issues, choose to enforce rules that are about values, safety and learning to be responsible. Young teens need freedom within strictly set boundaries.
Respect is a must. This includes respect for parents, teachers and other authorities. It also includes respect for peers, siblings and property or possessions.
Young teens may feel they need to start dating, but interactions with the opposite sex at this age are best limited to group and school activities. Pairing off with little supervision isn't something they are ready for.
Young teens still need to be supervised. Friends shouldn't be invited over when there's no adult home, nor should they go to a friend's house where there is no supervision. Wandering the mall unsupervised also is not a good idea.
Limited screen time—computers, iPads and other media—allows your child time to interact with family, complete chores and school work and get enough sleep. Have your child's passwords so you can monitor his activity, and keep computers and iPads in an area of the house that is monitored. Collect cell phones before homework time or at bedtime.
At this age teens have the means to be more independent. They may have a part-time job and a driver's license. More of their time is spent away from home in places where parents don't control the environment. A balance of offering guidance and allowing them enough freedom to make their own mistakes and gains is important.
Avoid battles about clothing and hair styles but insist on modesty, cleanliness and decency. Hair that's longer than you'd like on your son or that has a streak of pink on your daughter isn't nearly as important as that it's clean and combed--as long as it doesn't represent an attitude problem or rebellion.
At this age, drivers are still inexperienced and having rules about passengers in the car and how late your teen can drive will help him have a better chance of being accident or ticket free.
Rules for dating and hanging out with friends need to be in place. The rules may vary by situation and responsibility—you can be out later because you're at a school event, or you've been home on time every night so you can stay out an hour later than usual. Make sure you know where your teen is in the evening hours. Even "good kids" can get into trouble when not held accountable. Completing chores and homework need to be a prerequisite for driving and dating.
Your older teen may suddenly decide he's adult and can do what he wants. But if he lives under your roof, he needs to be willing to follow the rules that will keep him safe and on the road to successfully living on his own.
Your older teen should be actively involved in making plans for his future. While you can guide him and help him find out where to get applications and when they are due, completing and submitting them are his responsibility.
If your teen seems more interested in hanging out with friends than filling out scholarship forms or applications, you may have to sit down and make a list of things that must be done and when.
At this age hopefully your teen will be abstaining from drugs, alcohol and wrong relationships not only because of your rules, but because it's part of his own personal values. If you see warning signs that things are going on that shouldn't be, don't be afraid to confront him. Help your teen understand both the pitfalls of wrong choices.
There are many parenting battles that will be fought over the years as your child journeys from infancy to adulthood. Trying to fight every battle will leave you exhausted. Focus on the things that are most important as you guide your child through life.