I need help with a power struggle with a 13 year old boy and his parents (us)… my son doesn’t want (refuses) to get his longish hair cut, we (parents) want it cut… I have canceled a recent haircut appointment so we can talk it over together, but that has resulted in nothing but my son “winning” the argument.

What to do? Has anyone experienced this before?

Should I let it go and concentrate on bigger issues?

Hair is a mess!!

M. Santalla

Dear M. Santalla,

Parents and kids often disagree over issues of appearance: hair, clothes, jewelry… kids definitely have different ideas of what looks good! As parents, we certainly have a right to enforce the rules and values in our homes. But where do we draw the line? Are Mohawks and torn jeans really a cause for concern?

You must determine what’s really important in your family, and be 100% consistent with those rules and values. Issues such as abuse or violence in the home and safety issues such as curfews need to be supported by rules that are not broken or negotiated. Parents should be firm about issues of safety and compliance with their kids, but can be more flexible on issues that are less important. Arguing about personal style is almost guaranteed to become a power struggle. Part of being a teen is trying new things ~ this is how we all figure out who we are and what we’re capable of. While teens still need the support and guidance of their family, they want to know how they’re different, how they’re special, how they stand out. As long as their choices are not rude, suggestive, or violent, we can allow our children some freedom to experiment with their identity.

Certainly, if your child is going to his first job interview wearing ripped, dirty jeans and a T-shirt he’s been wearing for three days, you want to help him learn to express himself and dress appropriately for the situation! But within reason, you can let your kids express themselves and explore their independence. No matter how we personally feel about our kid’s fashion choices, musical taste, and personal style, it’s the job of the parent to accept, support, and understand their children’s natural need for independence and the experimentation that comes with that. They may never take your advice on hairstyles, but if you allow them independence and growth while you encourage appropriate behavior, you might just end up with a kid you love to look at. No matter how long their hair.

—Megan Devine, LCPC, parent coach
Related content: Power Struggles: Are You at War with a Defiant Child?


Megan Devine is a licensed clinical therapist, former Empowering Parents Parent Coach, speaker and writer. She is also the bonus-parent to a successfully launched young man. You can find more of her work at refugeingrief.com, where she advocates for new ways to live with grief.

Comments (11)
  • XxMusicxX
    I'm going through this thing with my mom and dad.. They won't allow my hair to be cut... Which I think is ridiculous... But they want it to stay long while I want it to be short... I'm 15 and I think how I want my hair should be upMore to me.... But Im still treated like a four year old.... And they aren't the convincing type... Its their way at all times... But I really want this and they don't seem to see it... How can I tell them in a way that would make them understand?
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport


      I hear you. You describe a common disagreement between

      parents and teens – whether or not the teen should be allowed to decide how

      s/he dresses or wears his/her hair.  I imagine it must be very frustrating

      for you. Truthfully, we are not in a position to offer you advice or

      suggestions for what you can do to convince your parents to let you cut your

      hair. Since we are a website aimed at helping parents develop more effective

      ways of addressing their child’s behavior, we are limited in the assistance we

      can offer teens. There is a website, though, that may be able to offer you some

      guidance. http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/Pages/home.aspx is focused on helping teens and young adults find ways of

      dealing with the challenges they may face in their lives. They offer many types

      of support, such as a call in line, online chat, e-mail, and text. They also

      have a series of published tips, like http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/Pages/tip-how-to-talk-to-parents.aspx, that offer some great ideas you can try. I

      encourage you to check out the website at http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/Pages/home.aspx

      to learn more about how they may be able to help you with this  tough

      situation. We appreciate you reaching out to Empowering Parents and wish you

      the best of luck moving forward. Take care.

  • Jim
    I disagree with the advice given here, accept for the consistency part. If your own standards are low, or you aren't smart enough to parent a teen then its your own fault!! You are the ENABLER! You finance and empower your teen! Early intervention is the key, once a problemMore is allowed to manifest, its twice as hard to get results! Parents have the birds eye view, while the teen can't see past his nearest obstacle. You don't give your kid the proverbial steering wheel until they earn it. They live by your rules which are consistent. You specify your expectations, and the consequences of not meeting them. TV, cell phones, videogames, sports, sleepovers, car keys etc., are privileges that are EARNED. Why should they listen to you at all if they perceive they have nothing to lose or gain by doing so? Your 13 yr old is a student 1st and foremost. If your expectations are clearly defined, and if they understand the rewards and consequences associated, they will actually be much happier and so will you!
  • garnishing
    I have a different take on this issue. My 13 yr old son is very difiant. We let him have his hair long, thinking he needed some control, but found he became more difiant, he hid behind his long bangs (used his earphones as they were hidden, duringMore school) His scout master suggested giving him a hair cut to "cut the tude." Amazingly enough, it did! It was a battle at first. Now I tell him, he can have a great clips cut for 12$ or go to the nice salon & I'll pay $25, he chooses the salon. It doesn't need to be super short, just longish neat & no hair in the face. At least he has some choice.
  • Joan

    We've solved this one (for now?) using several steps.

    1- found a male stylist that was 'cool'

    2- called ahead and told him what we wanted, expected. I don't mind paying extra for this!

    3- let the stylist work with the 11 year old, not us! HE explained the need to wash daily (go ahead, buy the recommended shampoo and let the stylist tell him how much to use)

    4- act totally surprised when your son is done!

    5- only rule is that if he can't "maintain" the style (wash and brush daily) then he has to get a style we want. Little does he know he already has one!

    Success! As a matter of fact, he was telling a friend that if he wants to get a cool haircut he should go see Josh!

  • elisa
    Hi Ms. Santella, I am a mother of three young men, two of them like short hair, my younger son likes long hair, I think he use to like to wear it long because of his peers, is a lot of peer pressure in the school, so what we didMore is talk about values in our family and tried not to let him to spend to much time with his friend from school, meaning after school or weekends, if he spend more time with our family he wont have that much pressure to deal with, and also we talked about lice and split ends, well finally his haircut got shorter and shorter, but he experimented those thing already except the lice, but I tell you it was a battle for a while but they have to try those things also because of the style, but i have a friend that told me one day to let him to have a long hair because artists tends to have long hair, that makes me feel better, when i used to take him places people give you a bad look , making you feel very low. i guess sometimes we felt embarrassed but we all learn to cope and acept our kids the way they are. now I dont have to worry anymore, he have a haircut in style but short. witch he looks very good and handsome.
  • W. Hatcher
    Hi, I agree to some point on what has been said, but not a lot! I have a 10 year old boy who is noncompliant on almost everything - especially if it involves work (more work than just breathing, of course, that seems to be acceptable work!) InMore fact, he has recently been put on a voluntary probation with the Police Jury. He just cannot figure out that he just has to do right, and he would have the world! ANYWAY! All that being said, I love his face, and I love to see his face. I will not allow him to wear his hair in his eyes, as everyone seems to be doing lately (again!). That is where I draw the line! Maybe if he were more compliant in other ways this would be different. To me, it is also just another way to cause pimples at this point. My cousin, however, has a really precious 17 year old. He is completely compliant, a good kid. He did, however, want to have the long grungy hair like everyone else. So his Mom made a deal with him that if he gets straight a's he can keep his hair anyway he wants it, and she stuck to that! The phase didn't last terribly long, and soon, she had a well groomed kid, about to graduate from high school as Valedictorian! So, I guess it all depends on the kid, and what matters most to you! Funny how the hair can be used against a kid just like video games or anything else! Good luck on whatever you decide is right for you and your 13 year old!
  • Claudia Surovjak
    Hang in there! This too shall pass. I have a 14 year old son who puts up a fight about almost everything.His last haircut I let him negotiate the length and style with the stylist and within 24 hours he decided it wasn't short enough and wanted to return toMore get it "trimmed" in the back. Guess what? He ended up with a "normal" haircut. I think age 13-14 is a very rebellious year.I think there needs to be support groups for parents of teenagers.
  • Kari Sterling
    I whole-heartedly agree with all of the above. I have 3 boys who don't want to get theri hair cut. One will finally ask me to cut it, one of them looks okay in long hair and the third looks horrible. I figure he'll figure it outMore one day. He just got a job--working around food--I'm hoping his manager will have some say about the length. I gave up on letting him go and tell the stylist what he wanted when she trimmed it (literally one-eighth of an inch) and charged him $16! Then he tipped her the rest of the twenty! No way. As far as I care--he can look shaggy. He's a great kid--I just don't like the hair. There are definitely worse things.
  • Sherylen Wilkerson
    Hi Ms Santella, I am a hairstylist. I get this problem alot. My personal opinion is this. If long hair is the way he wants to rebell fine. It is not something that is permanent like a tattoo. Let him express himself this way.More It is alot better than something worse. In any case let your hairstylist know what you are wanting and then see if your hairstylist and your son can come to an aggrement. Usually the kid is alot less offensive if it is suggested by someone other than his mother.
  • Deborah Zuhlke
    Hi Ms Santella, I have 2-13 yr olds and it is the same in our house. One boy doesn't give me a hassle about getting his hair cut but the other does. But it isn't only that... I argue with him about brushing his teeth, and using deodorantMore and shampooing his hair. Sometimes the only time it gets really clean is when I take him to the salon. I do pick my battles and personal hygiene is a biggie for me. I am waiting for girls to get into the picture. He is slowly complying with my requests, but we always have an argument when we go for a haircut! I suggest talking with him before and let him know what you desire in the cut. Talk with the stylist beforehand and let her know what you want and maybe she can work with your son. They know what the kids are wearing. A half an inch or so usually works with us!
Advertisement for Empowering Parents Total Transformation Online Package
Like What You're Reading?
Sign up for our newsletter and get immediate access to a FREE eBook, 5 Ways to Fix Disrespectful Behavior Now
We will not share your information with anyone. Terms of Use