A lot of things change when you have a teenager. Hormones increase, intelligence decreases and the child you once knew seems to disappear entirely. Adolescents have embarked upon a decade long quest to become independent and grow in the virtue of prudence. Here are some things we can do tot help them:
1. Ask don’t tell
As our adolescents grow up they must learn how to make the right choices. Choices are selections we make among a variety of options. If we do not offer our adolescents options, let them choose, and then respect that choice regardless of the consequences, we deny our teenagers the opportunity to grow in the virtue of prudence. Prudence is the ability to apply universal principles to particular situations, a difficult task for most adults let alone adolescents.
Instead of telling your teen to do their homework, ask them if they have made a plan to get it done?
2. Let them fail
Better they fail in a matter of their choosing then succeed in a matter of your choosing. As a marriage and family therapist and high school teacher nearly every adolescent client I have had expresses this sentiment at some point. Sometimes it is expressed, “I would have read that book, or done that chore, had they not told me to do it.” Just as children must learn to use toys and school work without being given the answer so too teens must learn to navigate the adult world without being given the answer.
After something doesn’t work out for your teen, would you rather say, “I told you so.” or “How can I help you get through this?”
3. Friends are more important than you
Friends take on the role parents once fulfilled. Parents give guidance and instruction to their children. As children become responsible for making their own decisions they look to those who are faced with the same challenges as themselves. Rather than short cutting their development by giving teenagers the answers – as asking an adult might do – consulting peers allow teens to work through the problems of independence and the virtue of prudence. Additionally teens will turn to other adults – mentors, coaches, and teachers – for advice and insight.
Encourage your teen to develop those networks which will support him when he stands on his own in the world.
4. Actually you are more important than friends
What changes in adolescence is not a fading of the parents into the background but a changing of roles between parent and teen, indeed this relationship expands to include the characteristics of friendship. What teens value in friends is that, “They get me.” or “They have my back.” Who are these statements truer of then ones parents? As adolescents become adults an equality develops from which friendship can grow. Many parents seek to have this friendship while their child is still young and consequently provide no discipline or boundaries necessary for a child to grow into a competent adult. If only these parents knew that adult friends, especially those we have given birth to, are the greatest pleasure on this earth.