Ugh... parents just don't understand

Dear Alice,

I am a teen living with overly strict parents. I am not allowed to wear tank tops, skirts, makeup, or jewelry. I can’t cut my hair and they will only let me wear it in a ponytail. My parents refuse to let me pick out my own clothes. The only boyfriend I ever had was in my dreams, meanwhile it seems like every other girl has made out with at least five guys. And sex — that’s completely out of the question; I haven’t even had a first kiss. To make things even better, I have breakouts and am not allowed to use any skin care products. I am ugly and my parents don’t care. Please tell me what I should do!


fed up without a life

Dear fed up without a life, 

While different parents have different restrictions and teens themselves have a range of reactions to these rules, you are definitely not alone in feeling like your parents’ rules are too strict. As children grow into adolescents, disagreements between adolescents and their parents may arise around topics such as freedom and what their parents do and don’t allow them to do—as you have mentioned. As a teen approaching young adulthood, you are becoming your own person and navigating this period between wanting more autonomy and still being underage can definitely be challenging for everyone involved. Parents often have the difficult task of deciding how they would like to raise their child(ren) and the way in which they go about this may depend on a number of factors such as cultural background, socioeconomic class, and family structure. While many adolescents are eager for more freedom, a lack of rules may make it difficult to maintain positive practices over time. That being said, there are some communication strategies you can try to implement that may ease the relationship with your parents. Read on to learn more about what those strategies are. 

You mention that your parents are very strict. Though people can change their parenting styles or mix approaches, the four classic models of parenting are: 

  • Authoritarian parenting: Parents set strict rules for their child(ren) with little (if any) room for negotiation. Children raised by authoritarian parents tend to be well-behaved and shy but often become aggressive and rebellious later in life. 
  • Authoritative parenting: Parents set rules but make reasonings and consequences for not following them. Children raised by authoritative parents are generally confident, independent, and able to regulate their emotions. 
  • Permissive parenting: Parents have very few (if any) expectations or rules for their children and allow them to make most of their own decisions. This freedom may lead children to engage in negative habits such as a poor sleeping schedule or a lack of regular hygiene. 
  • Uninvolved parenting: Parents fulfill a child’s basic needs but otherwise stay out of their life. While children raised by uninvolved parents are often self-sufficient and resilient, they tend to lack the ability to maintain healthy relationships and regulate their feelings. 

Clashes between parents and teens may be made more intense by cultural differences (if your family’s culture adheres to different dress standards, gender roles, age-based expectations, etc. than the cultures that you are exposed to in school or where you live) and generational differences (your parents’ values were shaped by different times). Though it may seem like they will never come around and see things from your point of view, a little patience and persistence in communicating with them can go a long way. Is it possible that your parents are having a difficult time adjusting their roles as you mature? Is there, perhaps, some other reason they are so protective, be it cultural, generational, or something else? How have you approached them in the past to have discussion about things you do not agree with? Are there things you could change or different strategies you could use to communicate your concerns more effectively with them? Here are some ideas you might try: 

  • Chat a little with your family each day about daily happenings. This may help to show them you are actively engaged with your family and the more you talk with your parents, the easier it may be to bring up more important topics. 
  • Have a frank and respectful discussion about your choices. Asking your parent to set aside time to talk when there is no time-bound decision to be made (e.g, asking for permission to attend an upcoming event) may demonstrate your forethought. 
  • Plan ahead what you want to share with them. You might even make notes to make sure that you don’t forget anything. 
  • Approach the conversation calmly and maturely. Try to be clear, direct, and honest with them. How you handle the answer “no” may also be interpreted by your parents as a sign of your maturity. Arguing and complaining may not bode well for you in future conversations. 
  • Pick your battles. You might try focusing on changing what matters most to you first. Sometimes parents feel like teens are unhappy with all the rules. By finding ways to let them know you can live with many of their expectations while also having a discussion with them about things you feel are restrictive or unfair may open the door to more collaboration on rules and expectations moving forward. 
  • Ask for clarification. Asking your parent the purpose behind a rule if it’s not clear to you may help you understand where they are coming from. 
  • Offer a compromise. While this may not always work, it might show your parents that you’ve thought about additional responsibilities you’re willing to take on if they allow you to do something. 
  • Let them know how you are impacted by these rules and how it makes you feel. If they're open to hearing it, having a discussion like this could be a great way for you all to understand where the other is coming from. For example: “When you don’t let me have any say about my clothes, I feel helpless because controlling aspects of my appearance has become important to me. Can we talk about the possibility of me having more input about my (clothing, hair, or skin care)?” Explaining the impact on you and why it has that impact, in addition to proposing a potential solution, could be one way to open up the issue for discussion. 

If your parents aren’t open to any kind of discussion, there are still some steps you can consider to feel more supported and in control of your life: 

  • Communicate with and find company with other family members. It may be difficult trying to connect with your parents when there are so many limitations, but that doesn’t mean that you have to distance yourself from your family entirely. If these people are available to you, you might try to talk with a sibling, cousin, or other relative about how you are feeling. 
  • Develop a support network outside of your family. Friends, neighbors, and coworkers can all provide you with the reassurance that you may be lacking from your parents right now. 
  • Create physical and psychological separation. It might be helpful to get some space apart from your parents, even if it’s for a short amount of time in another room. You could also start taking steps to be more independent in ways that you know your parents would permit. 
  • Identify and stay away from triggers. Are there situations with your parents that make you more upset than others? It might be a good idea to avoid mentioning certain topics that you know will lead to arguments between you and your parents. 
  • Try careful compassion when speaking with your parents. It’s easy to forget sometimes, but at one point our parents were our age and going to potentially similar things. It’s possible that how they choose to parent you is their way of helping you through things they wish they would have had support with. 

And last, but certainly not least, to address the acne you mentioned—it’s important to note that most people will have acne on their face at some point in their life. While acne is often more common for people in their teens to early 20s, it can impact people of all ages. If you feel that your acne is affecting your confidence or your ability to interact with others, you might consider talking with your parents about seeing a dermatologist who can work with you and your parents on a solution you can both agree to. 

Hopefully, as you continue to mature and grow, the restrictions will ease up. With a little initiation of conversations from you, perhaps that process can be sped up. 

Good luck and take care, 

Last updated Mar 24, 2023
Originally published May 20, 2011

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