At what age do you think your teenager should be allowed to make his or her own decisions, without parental interference, regarding the following issues?
Hopefully you aren’t completely stumped. Every parent needs to decide at some point when to begin letting go of their kids—giving them some control over their lives. You can’t wait until your kids are completely grown to start releasing them into adulthood.
When your children become adolescents, they need less control from you and more opportunities for them to rehearse their adulthood. That doesn’t mean you withdraw completely from their lives, but it does mean that you start giving up control in favor of coaching and consulting. Your teenager needs guidance, direction, and limits from you as well as your permission to grow up. That means allowing them to live their lives with as little parental interference as possible. Some interference will be necessary, of course, but it should decrease with time until they are finally ready to leave home.
If you wait too long to give your kids the freedom they need, not only will you make it more difficult for them to achieve independence and self-reliance, but you may also end up causing the very things you want to prevent. Young people who aren’t allowed to grow up while they are teenagers usually have to play catch-up for the rest of their lives. Parents who resist letting go of their kids when they are young adolescents have greater difficulty letting go when they have reached mature adulthood.
In the business world, micromanagers are sometimes called “control freaks.” They hover over their employees, making sure they don’t make mistakes. This type of management style breeds job dissatisfaction on the part of employees, as well as a lot of resentment and anger. The irony of it all is that employees who are micromanaged usually end up doing worse, not better.
In the same way, parents who micromanage their teenagers usually get the same bad results. Teenagers, unlike employees, can’t resign and go find somewhere else to live, so they either rebel or just give up trying to be responsible and successful on their own. Ironically, this only causes parents to be more controlling, which causes kids to be even more rebellious and irresponsible, and the cycle continues.
How is this cycle broken? By remembering that the best way to hold on to your kids while they are teenagers is to let go.
Don’t be a parental micromanager. You want to empower your kids through the orderly transfer of control and responsibility over their lives. This isn’t done all at once, but little by little. Certainly balance and finesse are required, for if you withhold freedom and responsibility too long, your kids may rebel. But if you give too much freedom too soon, they may abuse it and make the kind of serious mistakes from which recovery is all but impossible. Nobody said parenting was a breeze.
If you give your kids too much rope, they’re liable to hang themselves with it. Although that may be true, it doesn’t justify keeping kids on a short leash all the way through their teen years. Granted, we love our kids and don’t want them to make mistakes they will regret later on—but it’s not always in their best interests to try preventing these mistakes.
Everybody learns best by making mistakes. It makes sense, therefore, that when we prevent our kids from making mistakes, we also prevent them from learning. Teenagers need enough rope to make the mistakes they need to make in order to learn from them. In other words, it’s not bad for them to hang themselves once in a while. They will learn, as we all did (and still do).
Teenagers are not stupid. If you are clear on the rules, limits, and consequences, go ahead and give them a chance to fail. This is called trust. If this sounds too risky to you, remember that you still have an important role to play in all this. You set limits; you coach; you consult. Unfortunately, some parents blow it on this point. Permissive parents are often so uninvolved that they fail (or won’t take the time) to make sure their kids learn what they need to learn. When mistakes are made (and you can count on them), your job is to help your teenager understand what happened, why it happened, and how to keep it from happening again. There’s no need to nag and lecture. Mistakes can be their own teachers by making sure consequences are applied and enforced. You don’t need to get angry and upset when your kids mess up. Let them get angry and upset instead. Kids who are greatly inconvenienced by their own mistakes usually learn what they need to learn.
Remember, it’s better for your kids to make mistakes now while you’re around than for them to make them later when you’re not. Give your kids some rope and remember: longer rope—less tension.
Excerpted from Wayne Rice’s book, Cleared for Takeoff.