Life On the Other Side

How to Be a Hands-Off Parent


As your child heads into senior year, you may be thinking ahead, to what lies beyond, as well as looking back, to how far you both have come. It is natural to want to hold on, just a little longer, but if you haven’t already, this is a good time to start taking a step back. It will make the transition easier for everyone.

Encourage decision making

You will still have rules, but you can start to push your child to make some decisions on his or her own.  This can lead to some important lessons (choosing to put off homework means a late night, considerable stress and perhaps a lower grade). The consequences of other choices are less clear, such as which event to attend. As our kids get older, family schedules start to conflict. Ahead of time, decide which family events are optional (Aunt Sue’s annual cookie swap, perhaps) and which are required (Grandma’s 80th birthday party or their sister’s recital). As college students, they will need to make decisions every day. Unfortunately there are some students with no experience in making decisions. Often these are the ones who stay up too late, drink too much and ultimately do not return after the first semester.

Let them take the initiative

When I was in high school, Driver’s Ed was a class which even provided the permit test, so everyone got their permit and license around the same time. Where we live now, prospective drivers read the book and go to the DMV to take the test. When my kids reached this milestone age, I left it up to them to get the book (even if it meant they asked to me to drive them to the DMV to pick it up) and prepare for the written test. I’ll admit this was due partly to the fact that I was not eager to share my car and have my insurance rates go up, but I also believed that they needed to show initiative and responsibility.

Give them responsibilities

This can be chores or as simple as keeping track of their own schedules and being on time. Though some say that all kids should be given regular chores, I looked at school (and the sometimes overwhelming amount of homework) as my kids’ “jobs.” Believing that downtime is necessary for mental health, this often left little time for them to assist with household chores. They were responsible for their rooms and keeping track of their own things as well as letting me know when they needed a ride to practices or arranging their own rides if I was unavailable.

Encourage them to get a job

Applying for and interviewing for a job are valuable experiences. Actually getting and keeping a job are even better ones. If there are no opportunities for part time work for teens in your area, they can turn to pet or babysitting, or seasonal yard work. They will like having their own money (and you can start expecting them to cover some of their own personal costs) and they will learn responsibility and time management. This will also give them confidence in dealing with other adults.

Expect them to give back

Many high schools now require some level of community service in order to graduate. There are many opportunities for teens to do this. Aside from the obvious causes (homeless, medical research/treatment, animals, the environment), there are many ways to make a difference. Help your teens brainstorm ideas based on their interests. If they enjoy music or art, how can they use these talents to better the community? For those who spend time designing websites and graphics, look for organizations that can use help in that area. Helping others will demonstrate the ways they can contribute to the world at large.

Push them to advocate for themselves

This will be the last year you will have the ability to talk to teachers. In college, addressing educational concerns with professors is an essential skill. Even if he or she is headed out into the workforce, negotiating with employers will be necessary. Help them practice ways to approach other adults. This sort of practice and role play can also be a fun way to show them how they sometimes act and sound toward you.

Be a little unavailable

Your child will soon have no choice but to learn to do things on his or her own. While it will be easier for you to make cookies for the team party (and undoubtedly create less mess), handing your teen a recipe and pointing him or her in the direction of the measuring cups and mixing bowls will be more beneficial in the long run. When he or she wakes at noon and wants eggs, point out where the necessary items are. Having a success in the kitchen makes it more likely one will be unafraid to try cooking something more complicated. (This concept applies in other areas as well. I am a firm believer in setting people up to succeed.)

Life skills are easier to learn a little at a time and these lessons are less stressful with a safety net nearby. Helping your teen prepare now will mean a smoother transition next year. And you might even be able to enjoy next summer.

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