by Mark Gregston
Have you ever met a mom or dad who controlled every aspect of their teenager’s life? Have you ever wondered why? Well, for some, they hang on so tightly to their children because they’re afraid they’ll lose their relationship with their kids. And for other parents, they’re afraid their child is going to make a mistake.
But you can’t squelch your child’s independence.
The primary role God gave you as a parent is to train your child in the way they should go. And so, it’s your job to help them grow into mature and responsible people. And, whether you’re just starting or you’re further along the road, the six key tips for getting your child from total dependency to being independent in eighteen short years are outlined below.
Before the age of twelve, most kids don’t think—not about the important stuff, anyway. But as your child begins to mature and grow, encourage thinking. Start by asking them questions that let your child test the values you’ve been teaching. And instead of lecturing your teen about current events or topics that are important to you, take the time to ask them about their opinions about these topics.
If you want to know what your kids are thinking, ask them what their peers think. And ask them what types of topics and things are being discussed among their friends. Kids want to be understood and they want to know that what they think has merit and value, so when you listen and allow them to express themselves, they will take comfort and confidence in knowing that what they say matters.
Let Them Make Decisions
When your kids were younger, you needed to protect them. But as they grow up, you need to prepare them for what lies ahead. Let them flex their decision-making muscle. They may make poor decisions … but then again, they might surprise you!
But if they do fail, don’t shame them. Help them learn from their mistake and encourage them to try again. It’s easy to let our fears rule the day, but think about it—we live in a world where sixteen-year-olds can drive with other sixteen-year-olds—legally. The idea seems crazy, but somehow it works. And when given the opportunity, most teens will rise to meet the challenge.
Stand Back and Wait (Instead of Stepping In)
Most people learn experientially, so start small, and let your teen master the little things first. It’s in those little tasks and accomplishments that they’ll gain the confidence to move on to the bigger things. Again, this is not the season of life to maintain a swift hand of control. If you try to keep controlling your children when they become older teens, you’re going to end up with a person who can’t make decisions well. No parent alive wants a forty-year-old child at home, living on your couch, so, let them take the reins now, and one day, you’ll both be grateful and thankful for their independence.
Sometimes as parents, we have a difficult time listening because we’re older and we’ve been there and done that. But by listening to your teen, you’re communicating that you love and value them and what they have to say, no matter what their viewpoint is.
Listening is also important—more so when you disagree, because your ability to respectfully listen and process the information will be caught by your teen. And then, eventually, your teen will become a great listener, too.
Move from a Teacher to a Coach
In the later teen years, you need to understand that it isn’t your job to swoop in and fix all their problems. Your days of being the teacher are over, and you’ve officially transition to the coach. So, that means you shouldn’t need to lecture them about the problem either. By letting your child face the obstacles, you’re giving them a chance to learn how to handle whatever life throws at them. You can encourage them from the sidelines, but don’t step in and solve the problem. Or even worse, don’t fix the problem for them. Your teen needs to learn how to figure things out for themselves, which will help them grow in maturity and responsibility.
Keep Letting the Rope Out
It’s important to keep looking for ways to allow your teen freedoms and responsibilities as they grow up. And by letting the rope out and letting them make decisions—even if they aren’t the best ones— gives you opportunities to see where you can better encourage them and it gives them courage to keep trying new things. Encourage your teens for their good choices and decisions and when they respond responsibly with maturity, figure out ways to reward them and move them up to the next level.
And for you dads out there, if you and your son start butting heads, don’t panic. It’s completely normal and healthy. It’s a sign that your son is maturing, and it allows an opportunity for you and your son to apply the iron sharpening iron principle in your home. And then, finally, as an aside, let your boy win sometimes. Allowing him to win will boost his confidence and it will model good sportsmanship, showing him that you can be gracious, even in times of loss.
Mom, Dad … help your child with independence and they will thank you for it one day! One of the hardest goals of parenting is to help our teens step away from us and step out on their own. But let me assure you of this—it doesn’t mean that your parenting role is over. It just means it’s time to change gears. Many parents like to hang on to their kids and never let them grow up, and learn to live life depending upon their parents. But it’s essential that we help them and train them and get them to the point in life where they are not dependent upon you—mom and dad. By doing this, we’re helping create healthier marriages and allowing them to become better parents. And the result? You’ll enjoy your kids as independent people as much as you did when they were dependent on you. And that is a promise!