From the moment they placed that bundle of joy and hope and love in your arms, you’ve been in control. You spoke, they listened. (At least that was the plan.) Now you have something else on your hands. Now you have a teenager.
With this new arrival comes a stark reminder of your ultimate mission as a parent: Preparation for success as an adult. You’ve been building a springboard for them during all those years, sharing life lessons, directing their path, and instilling in them the code they needed to thrive. But now the relationship is changing, and most parents aren’t ready for the shift.
The majority of challenges that walk through my office doors stem, not from the teen, but from the parent’s inability to recognize that the relationship has permanently changed. A teen is no longer a child. The relationship is no longer one way.
This isn’t because teens are stubborn, difficult, or simply out of their minds; it’s because teens require a new dynamic for you to achieve your mission. In just a few years you’ll open the door and they’ll walk out, ready or not. To ensure they are prepared for that exit, you can’t parent the way you used to. You have to slowly but surely hand over the control you monopolized for over a decade.
This is hard. You want nothing more than to protect them, which often compels parents to cling to that control. I’ve seen the results. It may feel good in the short term to hover and cover, but that only steals their opportunity to grow. Teens need the room to fail so they can eventually succeed.
What follows are some of my favorite strategies I offer to my clients to help them prepare for and make the most of the transition from teen to adult.
1. Future Pace: The first thing I do is ask parents to consider the relationship they want to have with their teen in two to three years, after they have left the home. Do they want someone unable to make their own decisions? Incapable of rising to a challenge and figuring things out for themselves? This breaks the cycle of short-term thinking and allows parents to recognize the ultimate goal for their kids.
2. From Dictator to Adviser: When they were five, you were the dictator. Do this, don’t do that. Now your role has shifted to an adviser. Teens both need and want to be part of the conversation. When challenges or choices arise, truly listen to their viewpoint and empathize with their perspective. Don’t rush to judgement. Instead, guide them toward the right path. Not easy, but definitely the key to helping your teen develop the muscle to make smart choices.
3. Growth Experiences: Give them the chance to grow and mature. This includes simple tasks like putting them in charge of getting their homework done as well as creating opportunities for them to push themselves forward. I have a client who runs triathlons after being nudged by dad. He now signs up for as many as he can, making new friends and excelling in a new sport. Another client, who loved to read, started her own book club after a gentle push by mom.
4. Outside Help: Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. We are so immersed in the problems we’re facing that we can’t seem to find a way forward. It’s at these times that a coach or mentor is the answer. Responsibility, confidence, integrity and the like aren’t random gifts; they are like any other skill and can be learned and mastered. If you are committed to instilling in your teen the qualities necessary for success as an adult, I can’t recommend reaching out to a trained teen professional enough.
You want to be a good parent. We all do. In our quest to care for our creations, we can miss the greater mission and hold them back from independence. It’s hard to let go of our kids, but if you do your job right, they’ll be ready for it.