Kelsey is angry with her parents because she thinks they're too strict. "They get on my case when I'm up late talking on the phone," she says. "They think by 10 p.m. I should be in bed sleeping because it's a school night. But I just don't need eight hours of sleep every night. Why can't my parents understand that?"
Jason hasn't spoken to his parents in two days. "They're making my life miserable with an ultraearly curfew," he says. "I can't even go to 7:30 movie showings because my parents want me home by 9. It's totally ridiculous."
Kelsey and Jason are hardly the first teens to clash with their parents. You, a teen, are fighting for independence. Your parents are fighting to guide and protect you. They're acting from a perspective of wisdom, experience, knowledge and understanding, trying to show you the way until you can learn these things on your own.
"In some ways teens and parents almost have mutually exclusive agendas," 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. But, although you may think your parents are unreasonable when they tell you to get off the phone after you've been talking for only three hours, the resulting conversation they have with you about the proper use of the telephone doesn't have to turn into a big blowup.
Here are some ways to sort 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. "I thought Dad was horrible for not letting me go ice-skating on the pond," admits Melodie, age 14. "But then my father told me the story of how his best friend almost died when they were teens playing hockey on a pond that hadn't frozen over completely. Dad's friend skated over a thin patch of ice and fell in. Now I understand why my father was so concerned about me."
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? See if any of their experiences contribute to the way your parents deal with conflicts and why they set certain household rules. Try to find out where they're coming from, why they react the way they do.
Any effort you make to learn more about how your parents' lives are going will help you interact with them in the future.
Getting to know you
Picture yourself at the dinner table. Your mother asks how school was today and you respond, "Fine."
Your father asks what plans you have for the weekend and you say, "I don't know."
Mom asks how your friend is doing and you say, "All right."
Although you may be tempted to respond to your parents' questions in this way, doing so "closes your parents out in terms of being able to make any kind of predictions about your behavior," Dr. Galvin says. "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 your friends; they don't know how you feel about various issues or how you interact with your peers."
Teens who do best with their parents are those willing to talk about everyday happenings so their parents gain some sense of what their children's lives are like. Tell your parents about school activities. Introduce them to your friends. Let them know what you think about events in the news. Tell them what you enjoy doing and why. Ask questions, and listen to their answers.
In short, talk to them. The more they know and understand about you, the more your parents will gain some idea what you're thinking, making them more inclined to trust you.
To be trusted to make more of your own decisions—a goal of every teen—you have to show that you can be trusted. Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose, and irresponsible decisions and actions will show your parents only that you're not ready to make wise decisions. So, once you've shown your parents that you can be trusted, don't do anything to spoil the confidence they have in you.
Heading off catastrophes
Find a time and place to talk when you and your parents are relaxed.Share your concerns and discuss social activities you'd like to take part in, privileges you'd like to work towards and what you'd like to do on summer vacation.
Don't tell your father Saturday afternoon that you want a later curfew that night and expect a positive response. Instead, think ahead and make your request as far in advance as possible. You can almost guarantee a flat no if you spring things on your parents at the last moment. But, when you give them a reasonable time to consider your request, at least several days or more, depending on the event, you're more likely to elicit a positive response. When you show such courtesy and respect to your parents, they're more likely to show you courtesy and respect in return.
Try to see things from your parents' perspective and anticipate the 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 are a lot of gaps and uncertainties in your plans, 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 Mom's car so I could drive some friends to the school dance," says Breanne, 16. "When my mother 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 dance. The next day at school, everyone was talking about how much fun the dance was, and I wished I'd been willing to give in a little with my mother."
You will be setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect things always to go exactly the way you want them to.
Determine what's important
What are the issues most important to you? Use of the family car? Going on a ski trip with your friends? Extending curfew? A raise in your allowance? Dropping piano lessons? If you are constantly approaching Mom and Dad with complaints, life at home won't be pleasant for you or them.
Some teens are determined to exercise what they perceive to be their "rights" and can make a big deal out of things that really aren't that important. Learn to accept the inevitable minor inconvenience and disappointment. Then, when you do discuss a problem with your parents, they'll know this is something that means a lot to you.
They're on your side
"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 like 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." So says Brandon, age 16.
Although you may not feel that way now, your parents are on your side. They're looking out for you and aren't thrilled about telling you no.
Your parents are the people responsible for helping you make decisions until you're on your own. They want you to enjoy your teen years. They want you to grow up and become well-adjusted, successful adults. It's just that 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 you don't always see eye to eye. GN