I Love You, But... Please Don't Embarrass Me....
● By Anonymous
Life with a tween/teenager around can be completely unbalancing. Though they are often unwilling to admit it, tweens/teenagers are simply bigger children with raging hormones, larger appetites and the seemingly ever-present know-it-all attitude. The attitude is one parents have seen before, but have merely conveniently forgotten. It's the same one that made them proclaim at two and three years old, NO! I DO IT!" It's just voiced with a bit more attitude and at probably higher decibels, when "teenagerdom" rears its head. Unfortunately, for some parents, this scenario begins when their child hits those between years, currently called "tweens."
They love you one minute, and the next don't want you in the same zip code! How can a parent prepare them for life as an adult, with adult responsibilities while still managing to keep them safe? Today's real world is a lot more complicated and society is more aware of everyday dangers. What's a loving parent to do?
Independence the Catch 22
How much independence is too much? How can you balance the desire to keep them protected with the need to let them get out and explore? What do you do with a child who feels safe and secure and doesn't want to venture out of the nest? Just how do you know it's time to "cut the umbilical cord" or when to reel them back in?
So much depends on the child, the parents, social and societal influences. This is a case when each of these factors can weigh heavily in how much freedom is allowed, and exactly which activities need to be supervised or restricted. Children have a knack for finding ways to get into trouble, especially when in a group. However, this is often the compromise parents reach with their children. They are allowed to go out in groups for safety, but it this ideal?
How to Decide?
So much of this depends on guidance. Have you prepared your child for the real world? Do they know about the dangers of talking to strangers, accepting anything from someone they do not know, following someone because they "look" normal, not to mention the typical dangers of promiscuity, drugs, and alcohol? While children need independence, they should be well-informed of things they may encounter in advance. They should know about the dangers and lure of "forbidden" temptations. They should also know about the consequences of what can occur from not following the rules established by parents and society.
One thing parents must realize is that a child's personality is a key factor in his or her quest for independence. Does your teen tend to do what he is told or does he tend to be unreliable? If he's chronically irresponsible, he should have to earn the right for independence. Independence is all about trust. If you can't trust him to clean his room, or come home straight from school, he can't expect you to allow him more responsibility. On the other hand, if a child is honest, reliable and responsible, a parent will be more apt to allow him/her more freedom, at least in controlled environments.
Not only must the child be responsible and reliable, but she must also be honest, have integrity and be respectful of herself and others. Groups of unruly children can often be found on the streets of any town across the country. Complete and utter disregard for rules and others is typically at the root of most of society's ills. Help your tween/teen understand they should not be contributing to the demise of society, but to its resurgence.
Make sure you can communicate with your tween or teen. It's okay for them to think you know nothing, but they must realize they can come to you with any issues they may have for advice, support, and encouragement. They must recognize that you're the parent, and you're ultimately their ally, even if they want to pretend to ignore you most of the time.
In the book Boundaries with Kids: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Children, Dr. Henry Cloud makes a keen observation, "We parent in the present, without thinking about the future." Parents should remember that it's what has been taught to children to this point that will shape how they handle their freedom.
Preparing your Tween/Teenager for More Responsibility
Let your tween know what to expect. Let her know that it's normal to want to pull away from parents during these years, and you still love her. Let him know that independence is the ultimate personal responsibility, and what he can do to make it a possibility.
• Let her know that independence is all about trust, and trust must be earned and retained. Allow her to demonstrate that she can follow established rules.
• He must show you he can handle situations that may arise with a level head, or when caught in a potentially tricky situation, he can quickly find and ask for help, if needed.
• Know who your tween is socializing with, both in person and online. Get to know his friends and his friends' parents.
• If you feel comfortable, let your tween venture out with a responsible older sibling for a bike ride, or rollerblading with their friends. That way supervision is present, but it's just not a parent.
• If the idea of letting your tween venture out and about the neighborhood is uncomfortable, try a group activity. Many businesses are catering to the times by staging "lock-ins", an environment where groups are locked in for sleepovers at museum, zoos, laser tag facilities, dance studios, etc. Again, supervision is present, but it's typically not provided by a parent.
• Perhaps find things for your tween or teen to do with other kids their age being chaperoned by someone you trust - who is NOT you. That may be the compromise you're looking for. Let your kids go places with their friends' parents, or a fun aunt or uncle as the designated driver - as long as you know and trust them. Rotate this out with other parents to give each of you a chance to let your child(ren) grow.
• Start small. Perhaps, you can begin by leaving your child at his activities while you run errands, or ask another parent to drop him off at home. This provides a bit of freedom that can be expanded as maturity and comfort levels increase.
• In a situation where safety may be a factor, like navigating public transportation, or the first few solo trips to and from school or the bus stop, follow your child. Make sure they can make from point A to point B on their own until you both feel comfortable. Don't be sneaky. Let him/her know you will be "around," keeping an eye on him/her in case you are needed.
Children are precious, no matter what age they are. It's up to parents to keep them safe, but also up to parents to make sure they can reach their full potential as individuals and as productive members of society. Independence and responsibility are important personal characteristics.
Despite the societal challenges parents face, there are ways to balance freedom and safety. Parents should remember each child is unique and will develop and grow at his or her own pace. Stay present and realistically gauge maturity levels versus desires, to determine what to approve. Above all else, parents should trust their instincts.
Kim Green-Spangler, B.S. Ed and M.S. Eng, is a freelance writer, wife and mother. Her niche is writing articles pertaining to family life, health, fitness, parenting and home based businesses. She may be contacted at www.justwrite4u.com.