Overinvolved Parenting Creates Unprepared Young Adults, Part 2

mom-and-teen-girl-cooking-vertLast week, our blog explored why colleges and employers are increasingly complaining that today’s young adults are not prepared for life after high school. Experts say that one of the causes for this problem is “helicopter parents,” parents who are overinvolved, do everything for their teens and rescue their teens from any difficulties. Young adults raised by helicopter parent tend to be anxious, irresponsible, have low self-esteem, and unaware of how to solve their own problems. This week, our blog explains how parents can create a parenting style that will prepare their teen for adulthood.

Are you raising your teen to be prepared for adulthood?

Sometimes the hardest thing in parenting is recognizing the problem. You may be wondering if you are an overinvolved parent or not! To illustrate the differences between a helicopter parent and an empowering parent, we have provided some examples:

Helicopter parent: Creates a calendar and plans their teen’s schedule.
Empowering parent: Gives their teen a calendar and suggests ways they can manage their own schedule.

Helicopter parent: Constantly reminds their teen to do their homework.
Empowering parent: Expects their teen will do their homework, and if they don’t, accepts that the teen will learn from the consequence of a bad grade.

Helicopter parent: Rewrites their teen’s paper because it’s bad.
Empowering parent: Makes suggestions for how their teen can improve their paper and allows their teen to decide whether or not to make the improvements.

Helicopter parent: Writes a note to their teen’s teacher to protest a bad grade, including several excuses for why the grade was poor, and requests their teen be given a way to make up the grade.
Empowering parent: Asks their teen how they plan to improve their grade. If the teen feels that the grade is unfair, encourages their teen to speak directly to their teacher.

Helicopter parent: Calls their teen’s sports coach to demand their teen play in the next game.
Empowering parent: Encourages their teen to speak directly to the coach to find out what they need to do in order to get more playing time in future games.

Helicopter parent: Stays up late with their teen to do major portions of a project due the next day because their teen procrastinated.
Empowering parent: Allows their teen to experience the consequences of staying up late to try to finish the project and the resulting poor grade. Afterwards, suggests ways to avoid the same mistake in the future.

Helicopter parent: Calls the parent of a teen’s friend to find out why they were not invited to a party.
Empowering parent: Provides a sympathetic ear, agrees life can be disappointing, and suggests an alternative activity that could be fun.

Helicopter parent: Fills out a teen’s college application.
Empowering parent: Coaches a teen in how to fill out an application and what colleges are looking for in a candidate.

Helicopter parent: Calls a college admissions officer to discuss their teen’s prospects.
Empowering parent: Encourages their teen to call a college admissions officer and helps to brainstorm a list of appropriate questions to ask on the phone.

In these examples, the helicopter parent is stepping in and taking actions that their teen could, and should, have handled on their own. They are trying to solve all of their problems, which deprives their child of the chance to learn how to resolve challenges.

The empowering parent is giving their teen the opportunity to practice handling things on their own and experience the successes and failures that result from their actions. When teens learn these lessons and begin to take ownership of their lives, they develop responsibility, overcome obstacles by figuring things out for themselves, naturally develop skills for navigating life, and gain confidence in their abilities.

Should Parents Let Their Teens Sink?

Absolutely not. Many parents that hear they might be overinvolved feel frustrated and wonder if everyone is suggesting that they should just let their teen sink or swim. There is an important balance. Are you coaching your teen on how to handle life – giving them steps along the way to become a confident adult – or are you just doing things for them? When children are young, they need us to do a lot for them, but by the time a child hits adolescence, a parent’s role is to teach them how to do things on their own. Children do not become competent when they hit a certain age. Children become confident adults because they have experiences over time that teach life lessons and make them realize that they are capable.

What’s A Better Approach?

Parents must allow their teens to make their own mistakes, face their own consequences, and solve their own problems. This will allow teens to develop necessary skills for independence AND make your home a more peaceful place when you are not worrying over everything your child does and taking on their workload, too. Here are some strategies to avoid helicopter parenting:

Listen more than you talk. When your teenager faces a problem or challenge, your first response should be to listen and ask questions that help your teen identify their feelings. Don’t try to fix their problem, but offer a sympathetic ear.

Be a coach. Asking questions is a fantastic way to support your teenager through problems. Instead of telling your child what’s best in a given situation, ask how he or she will best handle it. If you feel like your teen is leaning towards a mistake, you might suggest they brainstorm different options for handling the problem and develop a pros and cons list for each option. Guiding them in how to make a good decision will serve them throughout their lives. Just don’t be disappointed if your teen’s ideas or opinions are different than what you expected or wanted.

Accept mistakes. Because they have relatively little experience, teens will sometimes over-reach, choose poorly, and make mistakes. This is expected because your teen is still learning about life and themselves. Mistakes offer an opportunity for reflection and the development of good judgment. Ask your teen, ‘If you had it to do over, what would you do differently?’

Don’t rescue. As your teen makes their own choices, they will begin to experience the consequences of their decisions. It can be difficult for parents to watch their teens struggle or suffer, but the lessons are priceless. Consequences actually give our brain valuable information. We learn, “This worked well; I want to do it again,” or “This didn’t work at all for me; I want to avoid that or try something different next time.” Every time you allow your child to have a disappointment and recover, they learn that they are strong and capable.

Avoid making your child the center of your universe. Don’t allow your teen’s achievements to determine your self-worth. Don’t focus on your child’s life to avoid dealing with your own struggles. Be sure that you have your own adult life that you are focusing on, and use it to model successful living to your children.

Instill age-appropriate responsibility. Do not do things for your teen that they can do for themselves. Through doing things on their own, children will learn how to organize their time, plan ahead and learn from mistakes. Your child should be given more responsibility as they age. Here are some suggestions from Aha Parenting for what your child should be responsible for:

  • Children, age 6 to 9
    • Deciding how to wear their hair.
    • Clearing their place from the table.
    • Choosing their own friends.
    • Deciding how to spend their allowance.
    • Completing their homework.
    • Getting their school backpack ready the night before.
    • Determining how to spend their time (after basic responsibilities like homework are accomplished).
    • Choosing whether to join a club, sport, or class.
    • Fixing simple food for themselves for snacks and lunch.
  • Preteens & Tweens, age 10 to 12
    • All of the above, plus…
    • Making and packing their school lunch.
    • Self-grooming, such as caring for their nails, hair, etc.
    • Walking with a friend from one point to another within the neighborhood as long as a parent always knows where they are.
  • Early Adolescents, age 13 to 15
    • All of the above, plus…
    • Staying alone in the house, with specific rules.
    • Getting themselves up in the morning.
    • Doing their own laundry.
    • Riding the bus, subway, or other public transportation.
    • Earning spending money.

These are just guidelines, and every parent should decide what responsibilities are right for their child’s maturity level, but every child should be gaining more and more responsibility as they grow older.

Final Thoughts…

Experts encourage parents to allow their children to fail a lot more in the service of a greater goal: developing character. This is a harder path because it requires parents to witness their own child’s discomfort. However, in the long run, the result will be a young adult that is independent, confident, and ready to tackle life.

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