How to avoid hair battles with your teen

Mar 17, 2011 at 9:15 a.m. ET

Your son’s soft curls, your towhead daughter’s pigtails….these may be some of the memories you have of your child’s early years. Hold on to those gentle, sweet memories of your child’s hair, because in the minefield of adolescence, hair can be a battleground. But does it have to be?

Teen with dyed hair

You're concerned about general appearance, your child is concerned with finding his or her own version of his or herself. You wonder what Gran will say, your child professes not to care. You're okay with a little bit of wild and crazy (you bought the blue dye!), but your child going over the top just for the sake of rebellion.

Now do you understand what your mother went through when you let your friend cut your hair and had pink streaks put in when you were a teen? (Your mom is getting a giggle right now, by the way.)

Cut and style

Hair battles often start with cuts and they are not limited to girls. Whether you prefer your son to have slightly shaggier hair and he wants a buzz cut, or you think your daughter looks just amazing with a pixie style but she wants to grow it out long, long, long, negotiating hair cut and style starts early -- well before adolescence. It's often influenced by what friends are doing, and by what your child sees in the media. Adolescence is a time when kids are really starting to express themselves as individuals and outward appearance, including hair, is a part of that.

The inexpensive hair cut chain may have been your go-to for years with the kids, but as they reach adolescence, it might be time to introduce your child to a more experienced stylist. Namely, yours -- someone who can talk to your child about what they are going for in terms of looks and why and about what cuts and styles will be most flattering. Coming from someone other than you -- stepping out of that parent-child dynamic -- may make a difference. (Psst: Why don't you wait in the front of the salon instead of hovering?) Working with your child to find a new style -- recognizing the role appearance makes at this time of life -- may go a long way to heading off some of the crazier hair antics.

Hair experiments

Your child's expression of his or herself may include processing and color that you would not have thought of. Whether it's chemically straightening his gorgeous curly hair or dying the golden tresses (gulp) purple or even black, more than one mom has been shocked when a child has come home from a friend's house with a completely different appearance. You may never look at the hair products aisle at the pharmacy the same way again!

In some senses, what's done is done. While you may not be pleased (that may be part of your child's goal!), you need to think hard about your next step. Explode or accept? Go by more dye yourself, or…what?

Your child's experiment may backfire, however. If your child manages to really damage his or her hair in the process of expressing his or herself, take your child back to your stylist. A professional can help both of you determine the next steps. Even in their hair rebellion, your child needs you.

Is the argument worth it?

Even if you feel strongly about a certain look for your child, you do need to ask yourself if the battle is truly worth it. You may feel that short hair on your son and no coloring and processing in your daughter's hair is so worth it that you are willing to have the arguments -- and that's your choice. But if you get to the point that you believe that a pink hair streak isn't so bad if that's the extent of rebellion, you can back off this battle. It's not exactly giving up -- it's picking your battles, and engaging in some give-and-take as your child starts to emerge into adulthood. Is it really that important in the long run?

You may not be able to win all the hair battles you have with your teen. It is likely to --- eventually, anyway -- settle out and your child will return to a more neutral appearance. If you don't like your child's haircut or color or process, remember this: Hair does grow.

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