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.

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