Avoiding Bedroom Battles

Smelly socks, half-eaten pretzels, scraps of Styrofoam, piles of jeans, muddy sneakers, strewn CD cases…Are these the sights that greet you when you open your teenager’s bedroom door? If so, you’re not alone. Conflicts over the state of that one little room are classic—one of the top battle-starters between teens and parents. There’s good news, though: You can get through these years without ever having a single battle over the bedroom.

This is but one arena in which you as the parent of an adolescent must choose your battles carefully. If you focus on every trivial infraction of the rules or each annoying dust ball on the floor, your home will become a virtual battleground. When teens feel chronically criticized or even attacked, they are more inclined toward rebellious behavior. Their thinking goes, “Since I can’t please my parents anyway, I might as well do what I want.” When you pick your battles, you preserve time, energy, and emotional resources for the truly important matters.

Many parent-teen battles fought in the bedroom are really about children’s growing autonomy and separation. It helps to empathize with how teens view their rooms: as their private refuge. This is the one place on Earth they can be truly themselves—without having to prove themselves to teachers, friends, or parents. In the sanctity of this room, your daughter sheds the self-consciousness she feels daily as she walks through the school hallways. She ponders conversations that took place or analyzes her new look in her mirror. When teens litter their floors with perfectly good, expensive clothes, play loud, cacophonous music, and hang strange posters, they are usually not purposely trying to irk their parents, but merely thinking, “It’s my room!”

How you handle your disapproval reflects your own values, tolerance for teens’ changing tastes, and respect for their individuality. The first step is thinking about what is truly important to you—and letting go of the rest. Consider one simple but effective strategy: Close the door. Figure out what you absolutely cannot tolerate. For example, are you concerned about issues of safety? If so, in a room littered with paper you may draw the line at your teen lighting candles. If hygiene is a problem, you may outlaw live animals. Some parents permit food in the bedroom under certain conditions, while others agree only to beverages. Do you object to messiness, or just filth? While you may endure your daughter’s temporary stage of clutter and disorder, you may insist on the room being cleaned at specified intervals. If, however, you are troubled merely by matters of taste, you may choose to step back. Although your sensibilities may be aghast at your daughter’s décor or collection of “treasures,” if they are not offensive or inappropriate or counter to family values it may be wise to support their evolving (and hopefully improving) sense of aesthetics.

When your priorities are clear in your own mind, it is time to discuss guidelines for the bedroom with your daughter. Explain your limits clearly and directly. Be open-minded about negotiation and compromise, whenever possible. Since it is your home, she needs to conform to your standards, whether or not she agrees with them. But your respect for the uniqueness and individuality reflected in her bedroom facilitates development of a strong sense of self and solid parent-child relationship. Plus, as experience proves over and again, teens are far more inclined to straighten up their bedrooms—and do it much better—when it’s their idea!

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