Pick Your Battles


You only get a few opportunities to truly engage with your teen, so you need to pick your battles carefully.

Messy bedrooms drive me crazy.  I’m a bit neurotic in this regard because I like keeping my living spaces neat and orderly.  But, apparently, most teenagers don’t share my convictions.  Very few kids clean their room.  It’s not a priority.  It seems like a waste of time and it certainly inhibits freedom of expression.

So, where do you stand on this one?  When you walk by your teen’s bedroom and it looks like he detonated a bomb before leaving for school, how do you respond?  Ever feel your blood boiling?  I remember the feeling.  When my kids were growing up, I got frustrated by their inattention to cleanliness. The same emotions came to the surface when I found them procrastinating on homework or failing to finish up their chores.

It’s natural for us to respond in this way.  After all, moms and dads are commissioned to teach their teens the basic living skills and disciplines in life.  But, before overreacting, it’s important to take a deep breath and evaluate what’s most important.  You only get a few opportunities to truly engage with your teen, and every parent needs to pick their battles carefully.

Know Your Teen

Every teen is different.  None exactly the same.  So let me challenge you to think rationally, intentionally and with an age-appropriate strategy for each child.  Study the personality of your teen and how he or she responds to your direction.  Decide in advance what’s most important to teach your child at each age:  twelve, fourteen, sixteen and eighteen.  Each stage will require a different focus.

In addition, we can’t expect our teen to be magically transformed overnight.  It takes time.  So try not to see every misstep as your opportunity to pounce.  Recognize that your child is on a journey and in a process that requires time.

And we can’t assume our child will respond to conflict in a consistent manner or the same way as other teens.  If you begin looking at other families for your standard, it’s likely you will feel like a failure.  Don’t play the compare game.  Listen, none of us truly knows what’s going on next door.  Keep your focus on your child and his or her unique learning styles.

Yes, messy rooms drive me crazy!  But I don’t want to strain my relationship with my teen over a cluttered bedroom.  I would much rather allow the room to be unkempt and deal with an issue of greater consequence.  And when the big issues do come up – and they will – your strong relationship with your teen will give you an audience to deal with the tough stuff.

So, choose your battles carefully.  A teen’s capacity to learn is limited.  We only have so many disciplines we can teach a child before they stop listening.  Each conflict defines our relationship, and so it’s critically important to ensure we concentrate on the big stuff.

Define Your Values

It’s important for us to define our expectations.  Sometimes we exasperate our kids because they don’t understand our standard.  To them, it feels like a moving target.  And they get confused when we lash out or react with a zinger out of nowhere.

What’s the goal for your teen?  Mom, work with dad to ensure that the two of you agree.  Dad, address the same things with mom.  Synergy is important.  Don’t allow your child to manipulate you or drive a wedge between you.  Work together to define boundaries.  Explain the standards and talk about the consequences when they compromise your standards.

And it’s not just the negative consequences, but also the positive rewards.  If you want your teen to spend money wisely, for instance, come up with a plan to teach him how to be a good steward.  If you want your teen to be wary of dangers on the Internet, sit down with him to show him ways to navigate the web safely.  Spending time with your teen proves you care about helping him or her succeed.

Conflicts in families can stem from schizophrenic values.  Resist the temptation to flip-flop under pressure. When the goal is unclear, or when the response from mom or dad is erratic, it’s a crazy-maker for the teen.  Define your family values and make decisions and set boundaries based on those values.  Stick to the game plan.

Involve your teen in expressing these values.  If your decisions are being made out of frustration or control, your teen will sense the incongruity and will respond negatively to you.  However, if you know what your values are, personally and as a family, you will make consistent decisions.  In doing so, you become an example to your teen as they begin to wrestle with defining their own values and responding to conflict.

Justin Arnold, director of counseling at Heartlight, has developed keen insight on resolving conflicts at home. Justin shared his perspective on a broadcast of Parenting Today’s Teens.

If you are among the rare families enjoying peace and quiet at home, get ready!  Conflict is coming.  Become a student of your teen’s personality and character. Help him or her understand boundaries and family values.  Your careful investment will yield wonderful results as your teen learns to become independent, strong and discerning.

Choose your battles wisely. Become intentional about engaging with your child.


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