“It shouldn’t be this hard.”
Anne (not her real name) was on my couch in the office with a perplexed look on her face. “She walked at ten months. She drives an hour to soccer practice four days a week, and she has four AP courses and straight A’s. So how can it be that she can’t read a recipe and help me with making dinner once a week, keep track of her Chrome Book, or ask her teacher a question when she needs to turn in late work? I. Am. So. Confused. And I’m tired of doing everything for her!”
Parents work so hard to support their teens, wanting to give them every opportunity to succeed. Doing things like working extra hours so they can go on the field trip to visit colleges, staying up late to help with homework, doing an extra grocery run to put food in the fridge teens can grab and go, hosting their friends because you want them to have a safe place to hang out (and then being awake into the wee hours of the morning because of the noise).
And sometimes it can feel really painful when they struggle. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in three teens aged 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. Depression affects about 20% of adolescents by the time they become adults. It’s confusing- with parents now more engaged than ever in their children’s activities, friends, daily tasks and decisions, why is it that teens are experiencing anxiety and depression, or seem to struggle with self esteem or acting competently?
Authentic support and engagement in your teen’s life is really important and creates closeness and increased safety for our youth. It’s helpful to know the difference, though, between support and overdoing. In other words, it’s a slippery slope from Encouragement to Enabling.
Encouragement is the act of giving someone support, confidence, or hope. Enabling is to make possible or easy.
I understand that baffled look on Anne’s face. She wants to give her daughter choices in life, and she works extremely hard and sacrifices her time and money so that her daughter will have the resources she needs. Anne shared with me how she often feels anxious when her daughter is upset or cries, and how Anne scrambles her schedule to pick her up at school, call the coach to tell him her daughter can’t make practice, or go out late at night to get her when her daughter’s gotten bored or tired with her friends. She wants to take some of the relentless pressure off her daughter’s shoulders. But, in the process she takes an opportunity away from her daughter- how to tolerate frustration and develop competence.
Studies show that when parents take stress away from kids, parent’s stress level decreases. Guess what happens to a kid’s stress level? It increases.
Here’s a step-by-step approach to moving away from Enabling and towards Encouragement:
Ask yourself if you over-do for your teen in an attempt to reduce your own anxiety about their welfare. If so: come up with a task you know will be next to impossible for your teen to do on their own. Some common examples are:
- Talking to a teacher or coach about needing to make up work, miss a practice or game, or some other special circumstance that sets them apart
- Making an appointment
- Ordering food at a restaurant
- Asking a salesclerk a question
- Tell your teen “it’s about time you knew how to _____________. I’m going to show you how to do it, then it’s your turn.” Then perform the task while they watch.
- Now it’s your teen’s turn to perform the task while you do it with them. This is a tricky step because it requires you, the parent, to have patience and not step in unless asked. Make sure it’s the right time of day for the two of you to work together; if this is stressful for you and you blow up, you could see the back of his or her head as they’re walking quickly away, never to return!
- In this step, you get to watch while your teen accomplishes the task. It’s really important to let this unfold naturally. Don’t worry if there’s frustration or even tears that happen; we all get frustrated at times when we are trying something new. It’s the only way to learn that you’re capable.
- In the last step your teen is most likely set to do the task all on their own. Thanks to the “support, confidence, and hope” you gave them, they have worked through the tough stuff and are ready to take on the world! Well, maybe not quite. But they’re getting there.
If you need support with building independence in your teen, contact Restoring Relationships! And, let me know how this goes for you- I’m always thrilled to hear about your parenting journey!
I’m parenting right alongside you.