By Kathy Leahy
I am a parent of adults now, but I look back and see that getting through those years with my children from childhood to teenage years included lessons in encouragement, communication, patience, resilience, self-exploration, change and trust. Oh yes, I loved the journey as a parent and still do! But I had some version upgrades along the way.
Children can add dimensions to your life in so many ways like bringing out the “child in you” during play or watching them discover new things about their world. When they are young, you see the world through their eyes and it can become bigger and somehow magical or renewed. You protect them, support them, and encourage them when life’s harder lessons affect them.
Then preteen and teenage years come around, and now your protection and support can seem smothering to them. The playful times have become childish, your protection and encouragement is met with silence or friends may seem more important than spending time with you.
Learning to loosen those apron strings, as they say, is helpful. But, let’s look at just tilting the lens a bit and move from the protective parent view to the advising parent view (Riera, 1995). You are still there, but your role has changed. I’m not saying, “let go” of house rules for safety, taking care of oneself, or respect for others. I’m saying, let’s give that teenager a chance to make some decisions. You want them to become a capable adult and navigate challenging situations with some skills in the future. And the teenage years are those years to begin development of those skills, with your guidance in the background.
Teenagers feel pressure for many reasons that may include fitting in with others, making the sports team or other extracurricular activity, dating, keeping up with school work and grades, and preparing for next steps after high school. Self-esteem may decrease, friends may be difficult or lost (remember their friends are navigating this too), or concentration may suffer.
As a parent, your life is busy too and you have your own pressures. So you want things to run smoothly, especially in the home and with family. Schedules are hectic and there is not enough time. Tilting the lens can be helpful for the family by improving communication and expectations, reducing conflict, and creating a supportive home.
How do you begin the process of tilting the lens?
- Discuss expectations, but get your teenager’s opinion. Ask them what they think. You’ve already built a foundation through their childhood, now give them a chance to draw upon it and make some decisions for themselves.
- Set a time to talk weekly or oftener and check-in (the car used to be a non-distracting environment to have a conversation). Let them know that making decisions is difficult, but you trust that they can reflect on their upbringing to help them out and discuss what types of decisions they should take ownership of. When it comes to safety and health, perhaps some agreed upon decisions might be important to discuss.
- Let them know that you are there to discuss anything and you will try to understand their pressures or issues with a listening ear. After all, you were a teenager once too, so you can relate to some of their stressors. Also be mindful of their perspective and how the younger generation may be seeing their world (faster technology, very mobile society, different pressures).
You may be surprised to find that viewing your son or daughter through the advisor lens may allow them to begin developing some lifelong learning skills. Will every decision they make be the best? Probably not, but they are learning. They are learning to see why the decision didn’t work, learning to build some resilience, and learning to build trust in their own skills.
As a parent, I can admit that many of my decisions were not always the best. In fact, it even included telling my children that I made some mistakes and made the wrong decisions. Life is a process of learning. Letting your son or daughter try these skills when they are teenagers will help them build resilience and trust in themselves. And, why not have this happen when you are still there as their advisor?
Riera, M. (1995) Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers, Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.