Life, for teens, is often like a stage play - a really dramatic stage play. They all want the role of romantic and yet funny lead. If there is a part for a prince or a princess, not only are teens sure they are entitled to the role, they believe the role should come with a new car and without a curfew. Now, imagine the dramatic teen play of life happening on a stage without a director?
From the moment our children are placed in our arms, we begin bonding with them. There is no way to love them too much or to give them too much attention. We run home from work to play with them, teach them and just be their favorite snuggle buddy. Then, they begin to grow up and everything changes.
Teens have a special job. That job is to become independent of us and to create their own unique identity according to Erik Erickson, Child Developmental Psychologist. We, as parents, have an even harder job. It is to let them go.
When teens step out into the world, it is much like a toddler leaving a parent's arms. They take a few unsteady steps and then turn back to see if you are watching. They may even choose to turn and run back to your arms, only to take a few more steps and go just a little farther the next time they try independence.
Gradually teens turn to friends in the world and try on different relationships as they learn who they are. If we are a teen's only friend or best friend, we may get in the way of this important transition. He may even choose to not go out into the world and grow. He may decide he would rather stay home on Mom and Dad's couch and play video games until he is 50. He may even need a little encouragement to leave the sofa.
It is important to be bonded to our teens and to be their friends, the person they choose to run back to when they are unsure or afraid. But, it is also important to help your teen direct his life play. We need to be a secure role model giving them clear and sometimes lifesaving directions, but not the central player.
When you see that your teen is ready for more independence and to take center stage in their own life play here are a few things you can do to help with the transition:
1. Hold a parent and teen meeting
Point out that as a teenager your child is entitled to new freedoms, but freedom comes with responsibility. Discuss what freedoms he would like and what responsibilities he is ready to take on.
For example, maybe your teen is too old for a set bedtime. It is something that is safe for you to let go of. The responsibility your child can take is to set his own alarm and to get himself ready for school without any reminders or nagging from parents. Point out this is a very grown-up behavior.
Ask your teen what things he would like to do for himself now that he is older. You might be surprised. I remember telling my mother that I never wanted her to touch my laundry again. I was really upset that she kept shrinking my jeans. I wonder if she missed those three loads of laundry every week?
2. Give your teen clear boundaries
Let you teen know what things you will never tolerate, like drinking and driving. At the same time, get his or her buy in. Ask what you can do to make sure your child always feels safe calling you for a ride.
3. Create time away from your busy life with your teen
. Set up events and activities that will help you continue to bond on a new and exciting level. Teens have serious issues. They need time to talk to you. Conversations about sex, friends who are using drugs and other serious issues aren't going to happen over dinner with younger brothers and sisters. A weekend campout with Dad and time around a campfire creates bonding and time to talk at a whole new level.
4. Avoid being a friend's best friend
Your teen will try out many friendships and relationships, as they should. If you become too bonded to a boyfriend or girlfriend your teen may have difficulty dumping that person when he or she is ready to move on.
I met a woman once who lamented allowing a teenager's date to move in because he was homeless. Her daughter didn't tell her about ongoing abuse, because she didn't want the young man to be homeless again. Remember, as a parent it is almost never about you. Stand back, watch and be there to listen to your teen as he or she tries to sort out friendships and relationships.
5. Give selective advice and hope your teen listens
If you are constantly parenting a teen, she will tune you out. For example, if every time you see your child you ask if her homework is done, when she has to work or if her room is clean, she will avoid you. If you give advice at important times, instead of all the time, she will be more receptive.
Every family member has a role to play. Your role is director. But as your teen's director, you can also be a friend. You can listen and support his role in this great play called life. But, when it is time to bring out the hook and temporarily drag them off-stage, be the parent and direct.