Teens crave peer acceptance and they get it through conformity. But, the idea of teens and conformity, often attributed to the dreaded peer pressure, makes most parents’ hair stand on end, if not fall right out on the pillow during sleepless nights.
I’ve seen the battles right in my office. Parent – “Think for yourself.” “Be yourself, not who you think other kids want you to be.” Teen sitting sullenly with no eye contact. Parent – “Who cares what other kids wear/think/do?”
Your child cares.
The Tribe Effect
What’s the deal?! Right? Well, here’s the deal. Developmentally, adolescents must see themselves as belonging to their greater tribe. (Good book on this). This is how they collectively develop their individuality. Together the tribe sets trends and individually each teen expresses their version. As your teen tries things out she gets very important feedback from the others.
“Cool.” = Approval. “You’re serious, dude?” = disapproval. And, this is generic language, but you get the point. It’s all self correcting within the age group. Individuality doesn’t necessarily come from being different, rather, it comes from making individual decisions about conformity and all its variations.
So, How Do You Parent That?
Non-negotiables do exist. Parents decide what these are for your family and a true non-negotiable means the teen does not get a vote. Maybe you need some discussion time on the topic, but the teen may still not get a vote.
Compromise opportunities also exist, though, so browse this list for ideas.
- Fashion Trends These youngsters use their bodies like a canvas, so work with them on this. Look at the clothes teens like. Hone your flexibility skills and meet them somewhere between “Heck no!” and “If you don’t let me have this I will buy it myself, hide it at my friend’s house, and put it on after I get to school!” While you may not love your teen’s sense of taste you will have scored points with her that will only do good things for your relationship.
- Piercing and Other Body Adornment Oh, such a hot one! I have seen a variety of piercing statements in my office but the most impressive yet was something I saw in an airport. A tall young man in his late teens/early twenties had a lip ring in the right half of his upper lip, and an eyebrow ring in his right eyebrow. And the double take was the chain that connected the two! Yikes! I felt the pain….! So, think about this. It’s not your body so what will you agree to that you both can live with? Have that objective discussion about permanence and find out what the attraction is for your youngster. Finally, don’t fall for “Everybody’s doing it,” because that just isn’t a good enough reason.
- Hair Color My thoughts? It’s just hair! I do wish I had invented those temporary hair dyes that all the kids love, though! I personally like Black Cherry, but I also like Smurf Blue! How about you? A big change in hair color or style gets noticed, so we can understand why teens love using their hair to express their individuality.
- Undergarments Yep. Who would have thought? Teens want that, too. If your daughter wants a bra, or starts talking about it, get her an appropriate one that matches her development, and make it pretty! Don’t forget, kids see each other’s clothes when they change for gym, or when they’re on overnight field trips and sports events. Cool underwear is cool!
- Facial or Body Hair Mostly for the guys and if your son wants to shave then set him up. The “You’re too young to shave,” mindset is the parent’s issue, not the child’s. Holding your child back can make them stand out as weird – a tough label to kick.
- Media Consider these points on this complicated topic: 1.Parental controls and other safety tools. 2.Financially and realistically what can you/your youngster afford? 3.What does your child want and what is at least one practical reason for having it? 4.Figure out your house protocols for using technology before anything ever gets purchased. Discuss it as a family and then be clear, stick to your plan, and know your non-negotiables. 5.Get ideas from your child first and don’t freak out. Just start an ongoing dialogue about it.
Communication for Hearing
That’s right. Hearing. Not listening. Some points:
- If you freak out over everything, your child will try to freak you out right back.
- Want a rebellious, unmanageable teen? That’s easy. Refuse to hear what she says and refuse to work with her. As a result she will get angry deep inside for disrespecting her and it will come out as oppositional behavior, drug use, sex, breaking rules, lying ……
- Develop your ability to be calm so that when your teen comes with a request, you can hear him out without lecturing or threatening. Tell him you will think it all over and discuss it more in a day or two, and then, do it. Don’t make him nag you and don’t put him off.
- Don’t act like you know more about life than your youngster because that’s a given. Rubbing it in just alienates and insults your young adult.
- Get good at this and enjoy the process!
Stop Negotiating with Your Teen by Janet Sasson Edgette. This book is about how to stop being manipulated by your teen and learning to negotiate respectfully instead. It has a lot of good information you might enjoy.
Getting to Calm by Laura S. Kasner and Jennifer Wyatt. A very good book for anyone raising a teen.