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The Ex-Hovering Parent: Teaching Teens Responsibility By Stepping Back

Yesterday, I went looking for a picture from middle school – something fun for our website. I knew just where the box was. I pulled items out, one by one, including all of my diaries from elementary school, middle school and high school. The pages are filled with drama – who wasn’t talking to whom, how I wished two of my best friends would get in a fight (until they did, and then I was miserable), the constant stomach ache I had through high school. (Oy, and those bangs….do bangs look good on anyone?) I was nervous about my friends, my grades, my lack of new friends (I moved in the middle of high school). Wow – what a head case.

Or maybe not.

It forced me to think about 2015 and how it looks being on the “other side”.

My Oldest – dealing with getting cut from the team

My Middle – new school, new friends

My Youngest – stomach aches, girl drama

What was different? Not so much. In fact, nothing at all.

There is however, one big difference – and it’s in the “noticing” of these things. I would call it a noticing that my parents – all of our parents – didn’t really do. I am not saying they didn’t care, ’cause they did, but I am saying that they didn’t notice.

Not our generation.

Constantly, I want to ask: so how are you feeling about that, who did you meet today, were they nice, why don’t you branch out, whom did you sit with at lunch (okay, I have asked that), are there other activities you could do, and on and on. But then, I don’t. I picture a muzzle that is being fitted snugly around my mouth – for my safety and more importantly, theirs.

It got me thinking about how my generation is watching every move our kids make, and then commenting on them, fixing them, evaluating, analyzing, judging. Why can’t we just  back off. I mean it. Step. Away.

You heard me right.

Problem Solving For Teens: They Can Figure It Out

I don’t mean disappear; I don’t mean let them think it’s okay to, say, drink and drive – I am all about safety (anyone who knows me from the early years knows how I feel about toddlers and water). I’m talking about letting them figure it out. Let me explain.

The call that comes in the middle of the afternoon, muffled and deep, “Can I get a ride?” First few times, hopping in my car, finishing up the conference call. Arriving at school as he got into the car, putting my finger to my lips and mouthing, “I’m on a work call”. Driving him home in silence, feeling angry about not being able to converse in the best place ever with a teen. What was the point?

Then I got smarter. The next time the call came, I was prepared. “Sure, but I am about half an hour out – so you can either hop on the rapid or wait it out.” Guess what? He found another ride. Another day? Took the rapid. A third day? ASKED A FRIEND. Yep, that’s right, he problem solved. Go figure.

What are we so afraid of? Their eye roll, snarky reply, slammed door? They don’t scare me. I LOVE the fact that they know I won’t/can’t drop everything and be at their beck and call. I LOVE that they make gutteral noises when I say I cannot accommodate their requests. And I LOVE that they see me as a human being (most of the time). As one of them quips, it’s a hard knock life.

Teaching Teens Responsibility: Take A Step Back

Our generation thinks everything is about competition, academics, and the race – more, faster, better.  “I would never let my kid get a job during high school. High School IS their job.” Really? 5-10 hours a week is going to hurt their academics? I can guarantee that our kids have 5 to 10 hours of texting/instagram/snapchat time in their week that is not “academic”. Kids that can learn to be responsible to someone other than their parents at the height of their narcissism – sounds like a good idea. Kids who can earn some money and have a sense of independence during the teen years? Fabulous. What are we afraid of – their GPA might drop from a 4.3 to a 4.0? Oh, the horror.

If we don’t let them walk, work, and problem solve now, then when do we start, when the stakes are even higher? That sounds negligent. I used to think negligent meant when we left them alone – now I think it means when we hover.

On this Back to the Future famous day of October 21, 2015, I say we step OFF the hoverboards and let them figure it out. Otherwise, they are going to be calling US and asking about which nursing home is best for us. Oh wait a minute….

Stephanie Silverman

Stephanie Schaeffer Silverman is publisher of Your Teen Magazine.

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