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Clashes between Parents and their Teens

Claire is furious with her parents because she thinks they're too strict. “They get on my case when I wear makeup. I'm 14, but they think that's too young,” she complains. “But I love the way makeup looks. Why can't my parents understand how I feel?”

Jason hasn't spoken to his mom and dad for two days. “They're making my life miserable with an ultra-early curfew,” he says. “I can't even go to 7:30 movie showings because my parents want me home by 9:00 p.m. – it's totally ridiculous.”

Claire and Jason are hardly the first teens to clash with their parents. You, the teen, are fighting for your independence. At the same time, your parents are fighting to guide and protect you, and it's hard for them to deal with the fact that their children don't need them as much as they used to.

“In some ways teens and parents almost have mutually exclusive agenda,” says Kathleen Galvin, Ph.D., associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University. “Parents are probably still focused inward in terms of what's going on with the family, and most teens are beginning to focus outward, paying a great deal more attention to their peer groups as sources of influence.”

As a result, teens clash with their parents about everything from parties and grades to how neat their bedrooms need to be and their choice of friends. You may think your parents are unreasonable when they tell you to get off the phone after you've been talking for only two hours, but it doesn't have to turn into a big blowup. Here are some suggestions for working out your differences.

Get to Know Your Parents

You can put an end to a lot of misunderstandings with your parents just by learning more about them.

Take some time to talk with your parents and get to know them better. Ask what it was like when they were teens. What did they do for fun? Did they have a lot of friends? What was school like? Discover if their past experiences are contributing to the way your parents deal with conflicts and rules. Try to find out where they're coming from and why they react the way they do. Any effort you make to learn more about your parents is going to be helpful in knowing how to interact with them in the future.

Give Your Parents a Chance to Get to Know You Better

Picture yourself at the dinner table. Your mom asks how school was today and you respond “Fine.” Your dad asks what plans you have for the weekend, and you say “I don't know.” Your mom asks how your friend is doing, and you say “All right.” While you may be tempted to respond to your parents' questions in this way, doing so, according to Galvin, “closes your parents out in terms of being able to make any kind of predictions about your behavior. Your parents will be much less likely to grant certain privileges or permission to do something, because they don't have much to go on to help them make a decision: they don't know how you feel about various issues or how you interact with your peers.”

Teens who relate best with their parents are those willing to talk about everyday happenings, so their parents have some sense of what their child's life is like. Tell your parents about school activities. Introduce them to your friends. Let them know what you think about current events. You may not want to share the most private details of your life, but at least your parents have some idea about what you're thinking and will feel as though you can be trusted.

Discuss Concerns Before They Turn Into Catastrophes

Set aside a time and place to talk when both you and your parents feel relaxed and stress-free. You may want to plan weekly or monthly meetings with your parents to share your concerns, discuss social activities you'd like to go to, privileges you'd like to work toward, what you'd like to do during vacation, etc.

Don't tell your dad Sunday afternoon that you want a later curfew that night and expect a positive response. “The key is to give your parents as much advance notice as possible,” says Mary Halpin, Ph.D., an adolescent psychologist in Illinois, USA. “If you spring things on your parents at the last minute, you will probably get a flat no with no compromises. Give your parents a reasonable amount of time, several days or longer, depending on what the event is, to think about your request.”

Try to see things from your parents' perspective and anticipate what questions they're going to ask. Think your proposal through ahead of time. You're going to have a better chance of getting a yes if you make your parents comfortable with your plans. If there's a lot of gaps and I'm-not-so-sures, you'll be less likely to ease your parents' concerns.

Be Willing to Negotiate

“After I got my driver's license, I asked to use my mom's car so I could drive some friends to a school party,” says Jenny, age 16. “When my mom asked which friends I planned to take, I didn't feel like telling her, so she wouldn't let me take the car, and I didn't go to the party. The next day at school everyone was talking about how much fun the party was, and I wished I'd been willing to give in a little with my mom.”

You will be setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect things always to go exactly the way you want them to. Learn to compromise and negotiate. “That means sometimes you may get most of what you want, sometimes you get some of what you want, and other times you get very little of what you want,” Halpin says. Seek a compromise in which both you and your parents come away feeling satisfied. Remind yourself that a partial solution is better than getting nothing at all.

Pick Your Battles Carefully

What are the issues most important to you? Using the family car? Going on a trip with your friends? Extending the curfew? A raise in your allowance? Dropping piano lessons? Not everything is worth fighting for. If you are constantly approaching your mom and dad with complaints, life at home won't be pleasant for you or your parents.

“Some teens go to the wall even on issues really not that important to them - it's like something triggers, and the teen thinks, I have a right, and the issue seems more important than it is,” Galvin says. Save your confrontations for the things that really matter and learn to put up with minor inconveniences and disappointments. Then when you do confront your parents about a problem, they'll know this is something that means a lot to you.

Don't Think of Your Parents as the Enemy

“When I told my mother about the party I wanted to go to, she instantly jumped on me with questions like Who's going to be at the party? Will a parent be there? How late will the party go? It's as if she doesn't want me to go and doesn't care if I have any fun. But I'm just trying to be like everyone else and have a good time,” says Billy, age 16.

While it may not feel that way right now, your parents are on your side. They're looking out for you and aren't getting thrills about telling you no. Says Halpin: “Teens tend to think their parents grew up in the Stone Age, back in the '50s and '60s. Yes, things are different now in the sense that it's probably a faster-paced world, and there are less-strict guidelines about what's appropriate behavior and what isn't. But teens are still teens, and even though they may seem more sophisticated on the surface, they're still not adults.”

Your parents are the people responsible for helping you make decisions until you're 18. They want you to enjoy your teenage years. They want you to grow up and become well-adjusted, successful adults. And sometimes their way of getting there may be different from what you'd like to do. Remind yourself that they're your parents and they care about you – even if their behavior sometimes seems foreign!

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