A video recently making the rounds on Facebook offers some excellent advice on how to parent teenagers. In the video, a polar bear cub is being careless and goofy and falls into the pool. Momma Bear sees this and comes running, jumping in the water and nudging him. She stays nearby, encouraging him while he struggles and starts to climb out of the water. Then she slowly backs off and watches as he successfully saves himself.
As kids grow, we need to back off a bit and let them learn what they can do for themselves. Watching them struggle is hard. The urge to step in and do for them is almost overwhelming. However, doing so takes away their autonomy. Like the polar bear cub, they need to learn to do for themselves in order to survive in the world without Momma.
Too often we jump in to save our kids when they really don’t need saving. In doing so, we hamper their ability to learn and grow. Sometimes, the only way to learn is to fail at something. Our society places great value on winners and on achievement, dismissing failure as an undesirable. Scientists and innovators know that failure is necessary on the path to accomplish great things, yet it seems like we as parents often forget this lesson.
We need to trust that we have taught our teens what they need to know and that they are capable. By the time our children hit the teen years, they have mastered many basic life skills. They are capable of helping with most, if not all, household chores and have or will soon learn to operate a motor vehicle. Once we have taught them basic skills, we need to let them practice.
When someone is believed , he or she is more likely to achieve. I have heard from many educators that students will rise to the bar, that if we expect them to succeed, they will. This is not to say there will not be challenges. Different people learn in different ways and teens mature at varying rates, but everyone can set a goal that is within reach.
There are things in life that can’t be taught, that we need to experience and muddle through on our own. In many cases, there is more than one path to take, more than one possible answer. There is not always a simple solution or even a correct answer to a problem. Finding one’s own path is a learning experience in itself.
Our children may take different paths than we did or that we would have chosen for them. They need the freedom to make their own choices, even if there are unpleasant consequences. We need to let go of our hopes and dreams to make room for theirs.
If we step aside, as Momma Bear has, and watch as our teens attempt to solve the problem on their own, we are available to help if a true crisis arises. We can watch and offer encouragement, or even suggestions, while allowing them to find the solution. In doing so, we will gain confidence that they will be able to repeat the success, even when we are not nearby.
If you want to check out this video, you can see it here.