Have you ever been a lazy teen or a nagging mother? Well you may relate to this blog post!
My recent online survey brought up many excellent questions from parents that I would love to answer. Here is the first one that I am addressing this week.
“I would like to know when to offer help and when to leave my teenager alone. It is really hard to know!”
This is such a great question because it touches on a struggle that every parent of a teenager faces. Of course you want your teen to have a happy and successful life. As an involved parent (which I know you are because you are reading this blog!), you also know when your teenager is drifting off course and making poor choices.
For me, the key words in answering this question are respect and empowerment.
Your teenager is in the process of becoming his own self-sufficient, independent thinking person. As you know, sometimes it is quite messy. However, when you choose to respect your teen you are choosing to treat him more as an emerging young man and less as a child. This doesn’t mean that you agree with his thinking, his values or his choices. It simply means that you recognize that he has his own opinions and he is working on navigating his own life.
You can still enforce the rules of your household and the expectations that you have laid out. However, instead of telling him what to do, you are helping him evaluate the potential consequences of his decisions. I’ll give you a clue, this often means asking more questions and doing more listening than anything else. Allowing your teenager to face the consequences of his decisions, rather than rescuing him and lecturing him, is actually a sign of respect. I know that you have had to learn the hard way from your mistakes a few times in your life. 🙂
A recurrent theme in my therapy practice is the “lazy” teenager and the “nagging” Mom. This is extremely common and also extremely frustrating. Being clear on your expectations and the consequences is very helpful in avoiding this type of pattern. Once this is clear, don’t remind him 20 times, simply follow through with your plan. Once he gets to work and college, his bosses and teachers will definitely not be giving him repeated prompts to do his work. In this way you are respecting your teenager and also preparing him to be independent. Take a look at this Family Communication Worksheet that I have found quite helpful.
Lastly, respecting your teen means asking him if he wants your advice and/or help before you give it. Ask him, “Do you want to know what I think or would you like to figure this one out yourself?” or “Is this a good time for me to share my ideas with you?” or even “Let me know if you want any help with this problem.” Now of course, there are situations where you will not ask, you may need to take action and intervene, i.e. if your teen is hurting himself or using drugs or alcohol. However, in many situations it is a good idea to empower your teenager to think critically and make informed decisions.
The definition of empower is simply to give someone the authority or power to do something. I am fairly certain that your teenager is interested in gaining power and control in his life, sometimes in positive ways and sometimes in negative ways. This is actually quite appropriate for the stage of development that he is in.
Your teenager gains confidence and self-esteem whenever he can accomplish a task relatively on his own. Over-involved parents don’t give their kids many chances to make their own choices, to make mistakes and to learn from falling down. By treating your teenager with respect, as mentioned above, you are actually empowering him to think on his own and gain independence.
Sometimes empowerment involves having your teenager come up with their own consequences for breaking the rules. Sometimes it means trusting him to solve his own problems without your help. It could also mean allowing him more freedom than you are really comfortable with. Whatever the example might be, empowering your teenager will involve you releasing some amount of control and allowing him to pick it up. This is never easy for parents, but it is an essential step in raising a successful teenager.
Parenting expert Mark Gregston says, “Maturity is a by-product of the assumption of responsibility; teens won’t get it any other way.”