Enabling Independence

A few weeks ago, we arrived home later than planned. You know the feeling – cold house, whinny dog, no tea, ugh. Imagine my surprise then to find the fire lit, curtains drawn and table set. Wow. The teenager had sorted stuff.

When I think back to what we were doing at the same age (all of the above plus some), his efforts aren’t a big deal. Maybe this is why so many young people struggle to cope with life outside home. Problem is we’ve built the nest, kept it warm and supplied the worms and haven’t expected them to contribute. Why would they want to leave?

From the minute our children arrive all helpless and squishy, we meet their needs. It’s our job. But at some point, we have to pull back. With independence (which teens crave) comes responsibility (which many sidestep). Failing to balance the two simply enables a generation of narcissistic, helpless and unhappy adults.

Last night, young adult “guru” Yvonne Godfrey confirmed my belief on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp that it is not our job to be their besties. Being a parent means playing bad cop. They’re not going to like you for it. They’re not supposed to.

Being in the dubious position of working with and raising teens, I like to think of them as big toddlers. We expect toddlers to push boundaries, have melt downs, take naps. IMHO, teens are not much different.

Think about it – they sleep lots (because just like wee ones, they grow quickly in a short time), they test limits (so we can teach them the boundaries), they respond to consequences (it’s how they learn the limits), and they oscillate between adorable to demonic in an instant.

Teens might not show it but they need parenting even more than they did in those lovely primary school years (the golden years as I like to call them). So don’t give up.

Don’t stop asking them to attend family outings, expect them to eat at the table with the family, make them responsible for cleaning their rooms, putting their stuff away and limit screen time. You paid for it – you set the rules.

Be interested. Ask them what’s happening at school. They might not tell you much or they might randomly come out with a big yarn. You just never know. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

It’s not easy – nor are toddlers right? But in the big scheme of things, children are teens for longer than they’re toddlers so we need to put as much effort into that stage as earlier stages.

If you keep doing everything for them, don’t be surprised if they fall over in the real world. Managing tertiary study, being a responsible driver, getting on in the workplace is hard for kids who have never had to wash a dish or made a drink for anyone but themselves. The gap is too big.

Don’t step back in their teen years. Step up.

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