You might have seen it coming. Or you might be caught completely off guard. Your middle/high-schooler wants to dye his hair a wild color. Or get a Mohawk. Or have a body piercing. What is the best way to handle this request? What will meet your long-term goal of raising a responsible, competent, well-adjusted adult?
The secret lies in choosing to respond rather than react to the request. Here is what each sounds like, and what each has the potential to create:
“Are you out of your mind?” “No self-respecting son of mine is dying his hair!” “No way, no how!”
This may create loss of connection, rebellion (i.e., “Just watch me!”), sadness, and resentment.
If you are lucky, your child may just accept your edict and be no worse for the wear, but your relationship is more likely to be disturbed, especially if you have a habit of responding in this way much of the time.
“That’s an interesting request. Tell me why you’d like to do that.” “I’ve never thought about you with purple hair. Have you thought about green?” “I’d like to know why that would be important to you.”
This doesn’t mean you are going to say yes.
It means you respect your young adult’s emerging self, and you want to learn more about her values and thoughts.
This is more likely to create connection, an opportunity to learn about your child’s world and what is important to her.
Other things to keep in mind as you choose your response are normal developmental issues for your child’s age, what is going on in their life, your desire to raise an independent, resourceful, competent adult, and your own values.
- Is the request for something temporary (haircut, color) or permanent (piercing, tattooing)?
- Is the child doing well and accepting responsibilities for school work and home?
- Wait 30 days. This can help distinguish a whim from a real desire.
- Make it conditional. “Let’s talk about it again when we see your report card.”
- Make an agreement. “You can dye the bottom half of your hair for the summer as long as you agree to cut it off before school starts.”
Even if your child doesn’t agree with your decision, he is more likely to respect your point of view if you take the time to listen to him and love him as the emerging young adult he is.