As my twins embark on their teenage years, I know my parenting style must change. While it is still my job to protect them, I am also charged with preparing them to stand on their own, independent of me and their dad. It’s a fine line, and one that shifts as kids grow nearer and nearer the threshold of adulthood.
Probably the single most important part of parenting teens, to me, is the concept of individualization. No two teens are alike, and they do not mature in the same ways. The freedoms one teen is ready for at age 15 may be years beyond the responsibility demonstrated by another at age 17. It’s a careful balancing act that each parent must navigate with every individual child.
With the teen years come greater freedoms, which can be scary for many parents. It’s important to gradually allow teens greater and greater degrees of freedom, because once they leave home for college careers or family life, they will need to know how to handle being free to make their own choices every day.
I suffered some degree of shock when I went to college and suddenly found myself living with all the freedom I could want. Actually, a large percentage of the freshmen in my dorm did, too. It was a hard transition from sheltered high school life to college. I hope to actually give my kids more opportunities to experience full freedom in the year before they leave home than I had, so they will know better how to handle that pressure.
Of course, with more freedom comes more responsibility. And in our household, children actually have to demonstrate responsibility before freedoms are granted.
Although teens are bound to fail at times, they need to be given lots of opportunities to prove themselves in increasingly challenging situations. Before they ever get behind the wheel of a car, they need to have proven that they are observant of their surroundings and cautious when operating machinery.
It can be challenging to find ways to let your child prove that they are responsible, or that have areas that need improvement. But without putting in the time to give your teen these opportunities to succeed or fail, you won’t have any idea whether they are ready for the big trials to come.
Clear boundaries and consequences
Discipline changes as children become teens and approach adulthood, but until they are fully grown and responsible for themselves, it is a parent’s responsibility to maintain boundaries and to impose consequences for errant behavior. Teens need to know that their parents are still there, and that they do still care about how they live their lives. That’s a lot of what setting boundaries is all about.
My own parents were very strict, and I often envied teens whose parents were more permissive when I was young. But I found out later many of those same teens wished their own parents were more like mine, because they knew without a doubt that mine cared.
My goal, as a parent of teens, will be to raise them to be competent, responsible, caring adults who are able to handle whatever life throws at them. I plan to do that with a unique combination of boundaries and freedoms that responds to each individual child as they mature into adulthood. Wish me luck!
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