I mean, she’s a young woman and not a child anymore so she can make decisions on her own…right?

Those last few years at home. Sometimes it seems like they can be akin to a hostage negotiation. Or a rock fight. 

It doesn’t have to be this way, but I can say that and still have to pay a buck to get a McDonald’s coffee. On sale. In other words? My opinion gets me nothing. What happens between parents and their 17-year-old is co-created entirely by them.

And it’s hard to give a precise response not knowing who wrote this letter. It’s unlikely to be one of the parents, since it’s asking for permission to disagree with them. It might be an aunt, a cousin, a caring friend, or even the teenager herself. I’m going to to assume the latter.

In the US, where this letter is from, 17 can be a fraught age. Parents still bear legal responsibility for the actions of their 17-year-old, and they must continue to provide food, shelter, minimal clothing and access to education. A 17-year-old can’t enter into her own contract of any kind, so whatever she does—even working a job—she needs her parents permission. And in less than a year, if her parents wish to, the law permits them to order her out of their home and refuse to provide any more support of any kind.

Childhood for humans really wasn’t designed to end abruptly, however. There are so many skills to be learned in order to function in our complex, post-industrial culture. It’s much easier to learn those skills gradually, and as my mother used to say, with your feet under your father’s table every night.

The truth is, however, that a home with reliable meals and emotional support from parents isn’t always something a teenager can count on. Sadly, parents often aren’t at their best with teenagers, taking the teen’s rudeness and rebellion personally, alienating them in the process and to no one’s benefit.

So what’s a 17-year-old young woman to do, whose parents are dictating her wardrobe?

The first thing you can do is know how you feel about it. Your parents may or may not want to hear how you feel about their wardrobe rules, but at least you can be honest with yourself. Perhaps some of the feelings you have are emotions whose expression isn’t encouraged in your family. That can make it challenging, but know this: you have every right to have all the feelings and to be honest about having them.

Trying to pretend you don’t have a feeling that you really have is a lot like telling a baby to wait to be born after you close the big deal on the thirty-first: babies don’t wait, and feelings don’t either.

So what can you do with these feelings? First of all, simply allow yourself to have them. Any feeling that exists is okay to have. If you have it, you just do, and you must acknowledge it. And know that it arrived to help, even if it’s painful. Our feelings arise to help us know how the world impacts us. We can’t make good decisions without being honest with ourselves about how something makes us feel.

If you don’t believe it would be wise to tell your parents your feelings, many teens choose to tell their friends. This is a perfectly sound strategy. Sometimes it’s called “blowing off steam.”

It’s possible that you, yourself, may be the only person you can be honest with about how you feel, and if that’s the case, tell yourself. Literally. Go for a walk alone in the woods and tell the trees how you feel. The trees actually do want to listen. Write your feelings down in a journal, if you like journaling, and if you have any expectation of privacy. Or write them on the back of an envelope, read them, breathe, thank them, then destroy the envelope. Or write them in a note app on your phone, do the same then delete.

You could write a song, or poetry, even if you’re not musical or a writer. You might surprise yourself. But it isn’t about the finished product, it’s about learning to give your hard-working emotional body a bit of ease when it’s struggling. It’s about learning to take care of yourself emotionally.

The truth is, parents can make all kinds of rules, reasonable and unreasonable, regarding clothing, piercings, almost anything you can think of. And if you can’t convince them to change their minds, and you break the rule, then you’ll have to endure the consequences. And if you plan for your parents to provide some support for you during college—be that tuition, room and board, or simply allowing you to live at home to keep costs in check or have a place to stay during the holidays when the dorm is locked—you will have to continue to follow their rules, reasonable or not.

Most parents will start to give more freedom when their trust in you has grown. You and your behavior aren’t the only factors contributing to the development of that trust, but they are the only factors you have control over. Take care of yourself, validate your own feelings, remember you have worth no matter what you’re told, and look for those in the world whom you respect and who appreciate you. If you can turn those four into habits, you’ll be free soon enough to wear any clothing the law allows. 

And one more thing. Transitions are often challenging, and 17 is a transitional age. You are a unique, talented and worthy being on the edge of coming into her own power. It is your birthright to create the life you desire as an equal with all the other beings on this planet. Take time with the process. I convey my love and support to you and your parents.

Tomorrow: parents write.

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius from Pexels.

Published by Anne Lindyberg

Anne Lindyberg has a master's degree in school psychology and advanced training in Satir Transformational Systems. She is a former school psychologist, mother of two adult children, and loves living in the cornfields of southeast Iowa with her beautiful Toller-Dog, Lila and Sassy the cat.

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