Parenting teens is a tough job. How much freedom should you give them? When should you intervene? And when should you let them experience the consequences of their choices?
Basically, you’re learning how to let go while they’re learning independence. And it’s good for both to start happening before kids graduate from high school and launch out into the world. Here are some tips for encouraging self-reliance in your high school student.
1. Give them ownership of their schedules for waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. Don’t be the parent who still goes into a child’s room to roust him or her out of bed. Kids in high school can and should set their own alarms and get moving. They also should know how many hours of sleep they need to function and how to prioritize their schedules to get enough rest. If they wake up too late or don’t go to sleep early enough, they’ll be late or tired (or both!). Let them learn from those natural consequences.
2. Give them some financial responsibility. If they’re driving, they can pay for their own fuel and/or car insurance. If they want to go out with friends, insist they pay for their entertainment. Their “own money” can come either from a part-time job, allowance or money they earn from extra chores around the house. Kids are more likely to be thoughtful about their spending if they have some skin in the game, as opposed to viewing their parents as ATMs. They learn delayed gratification, too.
3. Set academic expectations and consequences (both positive and negative) with your child, and then let it ride. For example, if you mutually agree to check the online grade book on Thursday night with the stated understanding that your child earns weekend car or going out privileges based on having all assignments completed with a minimum GPA, stick firmly to that. Don’t check the grade book compulsively all week, and nag your child every step of the way. He or she should own the academic process; you provide some basic oversight and help with problem-solving (when asked). It’s your child’s grade — not yours.
Letting go is easier said than done. By the time your children are in high school, you only have a few short years left to teach them ownership over their own choices. To do that, you need to be comfortable backing off and letting them reap the consequences of their actions — no matter how difficult it is to watch them suffer sometimes.
Remember, though, that the end game is a healthy, productive and capable young adult who can manage his or her own life successfully. That’s a win! For more information about parenting teens, visit www.boystown.org.
Laura Holmes Buddenberg joined Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home in January 2000. As a training manager at Boys Town, Buddenberg works as an administrator, writer and trainer, specializing in teen dating and relationships, media awareness, family spirituality, abuse and other issues affecting today’s families.