Ask Zoe is Aleteia’s weekly advice column. If you have a dilemma, question, or need some general advice for your life, email Zoe. All questions are given consideration and names are withheld.
I have teenagers now, and I’m wondering which "battles" are worth fighting with them: length of hair, attitude, bad language, friends who aren’t a good influence, clean rooms, proper attire at Mass? I care about it all, but I don’t like being a constant nag. What should I pay the most attention to?
Ah, the teenage years. We’ve all been there. (Unless you’re under 13 and reading this column and if so, you’re clerarly going to be a great teenager.)
As tumultuous as that stage of life can be, to assume the teenage years have to be marked by rebelliousness or defiance is untrue. Usually there are reason for such behaviors—anger, boredom, insecurity, pressure, whacked-out hormones, etc. Each of these things can be addressed to help a teenager feel more in control of themselves and think more of others, not just themselves.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint who died in 1821, once advised parents, to "take great care about the people with whom their children associate…Much harm may result from bad company…" Her advice is as good now as was then. The friends your teens spend a lot of time with will have a significant influence on them. But it’s tricky—if you try to break a strong friendship that’s already in place, you may find your child rebelling.
First, take a look at where your kids are spending their time. If any extracurricular activities, parties, or events seem toxic for them, change it. What if your home were considered the cool spot for your kids and their friends to hang out on evenings or weekends? It’s quite possible—I know a number of families who’ve made it happen. It can help on a number of fronts: You get to witness your children’s interactions with friends in the safe environment of your home, plus it tends to deter your children from inviting certain people over.
Also, spend more time with your teenagers. What are you doing on the weekends as a family? Allow your kids to invite a friend or two sometimes. Don’t just curtail their time with undesirable friends—replace it with other experiences: If you can travel with your kids or get them involved in projects that help others, it will expand their horizons and invite them to see their lives and concerns differently.
The other things that stand out to me in your list are bad language and bad attitude. Neither should be tolerated in your home. You can’t do much when your child is away from you, but you can and should set standards in your own house. Language is about respect, and so is attitude. Teens have a reputation for being moody, but there are ways to address that if it seems consistently out of hand (exercise, good nutrition, sleep, time in nature, and service projects, for example).
The other issues on your list—messy rooms, styles you’re not crazy about, etc.—can be annoying, but I don’t think they’re as important in the long run. I’d set limits for attire at Mass, but self-expression and identity exploration are part of the developmental work of the teenage years. As long as you set some boundaries, there should be some room for them to do their thing.
If you have a dilemma or question for Zoe, please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoe Romanowsky is the Lifestyle Editor and Video Curator for Aleteia. A freelance writer, blogger, and consultant, she’s been published in many national publications including Real Simple, Catholic Digest, Baltimore Eats, and TruthAtlas. Zoe holds a Masters degree in Counseling from Franciscan University, and a certification in life coaching from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). She’s an urban homeschooling mother of twins with a weakness for dark chocolate, Instagram, and vodka martinis—not necessarily in that order.