My wife and I decided early in our marriage that one of our most important responsibilities as parents was preparing our children for the day when they leave home and live on their own. Enabling them to be ready to make important decisions for themselves. Knowing how to react in stressful or dangerous situations. Effectively managing their own money. The list goes on and on. But the way we mentally visualized this parenting challenge with the “giving more rope” analogy.
Going from junior high to high school introduces a tremendous amount of change and exposure to new levels of challenges and risks. Because of this, we had a face-to-face conversation with each of our girls sometime during the summer before entering high school.
In the best case, the adolescent will heed some of the advice. In the worst case, they will ignore the advice, but later find at least some of it to be truthful, which gives more credibility to later advice.
The title says “father” only because I’m writing this post from my perspective and incorporating actual concepts I used with my daughters. My original objective was to somehow make up for years of job assignments that called for extensive travel. I actually modified an idea one of my IBM bosses used with his kids for the same reason.
The extra bonding I was able to achieve with my daughters and the stories we both are able to tell forever have immeasurable value. I’ve shared this idea with friends and co-workers, many of whom have adopted or modified it for their own use. If you also like the idea, help me spread it to others.
Increasingly throughout the teenage years, you will notice mistakes, annoyances, and bad judgment calls exhibited by your child. Everything from not waking up to their alarm or having a messy room to handling social relationships and exploring things that are illegal.
You might find yourself wanting to just tell them exactly what to do, and that’s understandable. But often this just causes them to ignore or reject your directions. And it also doesn’t equip your teen with the skills, experiences and tools they’ll need when they later leave the nest. One of the best ways for your child to learn is by making your own mistakes. But what types of issues and mistakes are worth worrying about as a parent?
One of the things we quickly realized is how easily a precedent can be set as a result of decisions made or rules put in place for the oldest child. This is fairly obvious for anyone that grew up in a family with multiple children, but we found that we had to really step back and think about things, not only from the perspective of the decision at hand, but also the possible precedent-setting implications it might have for the younger siblings.
What a liberating freedom for your child. Before sharing my experience and advice on this, I have one heads-up. That is to forget about seeing them near as much after they have their driver’s license and access to a car. There will be a million reasons why they need to be (somewhere else). We had to set a goal of eating together as a complete family 4 times per week, yet were sometimes lucky to make it happen 2-3 nights. Part of this is due to the fact that a driving teen also possibly has a job, club memberships or sporting activities in addition to all the social possibilities that pull them away from home.
Do you have to travel a lot for your work? If so and if you have kids, you’ll know where I’m coming from on this one. When the kids are young, it’s pretty easy to get them a small gift while you’re away, because the act of giving them anything is mostly all they care about.
But as the kids get into late elementary school, it gets progressively more difficult to find something. And then there are the times when you’re rushing to/thru the airport to catch your flight and still don’t have a gift. Oops, no time to really shop and, therefore, either a crappy gift or no gift that time.
The parents of adolescent kids have increased legal liabilities. Imagine they have some friends over and someone gets badly injured, especially if you have a swimming pool or live on a lake with a boat. Or think about a car accident that is your kid’s fault and bad injuries or worse are involved.
When our oldest daughter entered junior high school, we got an umbrella liability policy from our insurance company to cover more than the standard liability coverage in our homeowner’s policy. It doesn’t cost much for this coverage, even for $1M worth of coverage. Your insurance agent can explain what is covered and how much is the right amount to get covered for.
See my other blog posts on parenting here.
This is something my wife and I instituted at the beginning of junior high and extended all the way through high school graduation. If the kids ever found themselves in an uncomfortable situation that they wanted to get out of, they could call home and we would come get them with no questions asked.
We told them we could park a few blocks away, if needed, to be discreet. Basically, whatever it took to make them comfortable exercising this offer if in a bad situation. We made it clear that we wouldn’t interrogate them into telling us the reason for the call, if they would rather us not know. The important thing was that they know this safety net was there.
We tried to teach our kids about the difference between things they need and things they want. My wife and I provided them the things they needed. Things like clothes, lunch money on a school day, a bike for riding to school, etc. But what about the things they wanted? Birthdays and the holiday season only come around once each per year. We used our 50/50 tool a lot during the rest of the year.
I know, teenagers can be loud and obnoxious. But when your kids get into high school and especially once they start driving, it’s easy to lose track of where they are and who they are hanging out with. It won’t seem like it initially, but if you’re lucky, your kid’s teenage friends will want to come to your house to hang out. And you can possibly influence this if you try.
The concept of defining and refining a System is something I regularly stressed with my girls during their high school and college years. We discovered that each of our three daughters had different methods for planning, organizing, studying, remembering and deciding. What works well for me and my wife didn’t necessarily work at all work for a given daughter. One of the most important things we wanted to help them accomplish during their high school and college years was to develop and refine a system that worked well for them.
My wife and I found this to be a fabulous concept to incorporate into our parenting practice. We used it in conjunction with explaining decision-making best practices to our kids. Starting when they were as early as about 13 years old and regularly reinforcing it all the way through the day they left home for college.