Updated: May 26
I once had a parent say to me something along the lines of, "I thought I had to do more discipline, add more consequences, and do more things to help my teenager become a better person." The truth is that discipline and consequences have their place in parenting. At times you have to draw a hard line and stick with it, but it is too common for parents to be helicopter parenting their teens who are on the threshold of adulthood. Parents with teens who are getting closer to "leaving the nest" want to give as much as they can to equip their teens for their next steps (AND BIG ONES AT THAT). Here are a few things you can do to help prepare your teen for independence.
1. Allow your Teen to Fail
This is difficult for a lot of parents to hear. You have been working towards your child's success for years now, and near the end of the finish line it can be difficult to take your hands off of the proverbial steering wheel and let your teen take the lead. The truth is you can coddle you teen well into adulthood, and they will never learn one of the biggest predictors of success - GRIT. According to Dr. Angela Duckworth, this is the most important character trait for your child to develop. Check out her book on Grit HERE. When teens fail, they learn to get back up. They learn how to be resilient in the face of THEIR challenges, not mom or dad's. If you are a parent, don't get in the way of your teens development. Allow them to fail, pick what is important to them, and pursue their passion. It could be one of the best gifts you could give them.
2. Listen Deeply to your Teen
For most parents, it can be easy to say to yourself, "I am the parent, I am going to get my point across to my child." I have had countless hours of counseling sessions with teens and their parents. I've seen parents who argue with their kid about their "bad" or "unexcuseable" behavior. I've seen parents who are set to lecture their kid on how "stupid" their decision was and the 100 different reasons their kids deserve to have their priveleges taken away. There is one precise moment that teens check-out and leave the conversation. That moment is when they feel they are not being heard and respected. The teens who listen to their parents and obey the advice that they give them, and who even apologize for their behavior have one thing in common, they have parents who care enough to listen fully to their version of the story, and then respectfully respond with the values of the family. Listen first. Some phrases that sometimes help parents practice listening deeply is "What was that like for you?", "Did I understand this right?", "Is there more to your side of the story?". A great book to further develop and practice this skill is, "How to talk so teens will listen and listen so teens will talk". It can be difficult to hold back your judgment, advice, and punishment from your teen, but I encourage you to try and see how your teen responds.
3. Appreciate Your Teen
It may seem as if your teen could care less about what you have to say as a parent, but truthfully, your words are more influential than you give credit for. Look for opportunities to describe to your teen what they are doing that makes an impact in the house or on the family. It could be simple such as, "When you take out the trash it makes it so much easier for us as parents to enjoy a stink free house" or maybe, "You have been so consistent with your homework this semester". Small quick words of affirmation go a long way. Imagine you have an emotional bank with your teen, the more meaningful positives experiences you have with your teen the more that emotional bank fills up. The more negative experiences, the less that bank has. If you have made a multitude of deposits, and stored up positive experiences, you will have a much higher chance that your teen will listen to your advice, adhere to family values, and exceed your expectations. On the flip side, if you have an emotionally bankrupt teen, you can almost certainly guarantee that they rebel against your family values, and give less weight to parental input and advice.
Parenting teenagers can be a wild ride. You want to give them their best chances for success. Risky behavior such as alcohol, vaping, sex, or fill in the blank _______, can make the best parents anxious and worried. If you would like to have a "cheatsheet" for fun things to do with your teen check out this HERE. I hope that these few tips help you focus in and be intentional with your teen, to help steer and guide them into independence, responsibility, grit, and adulthood.