Every year I ask my college freshman to describe things that their parents did well to prepare them for college life, and some ways that their parents left them unprepared for a life away from parental oversight.
Many students expressed gratitude to their parents for teaching them how to take responsibility for themselves, both financially and emotionally. These students felt a sense of personal satisfaction that if they wanted something they had to work to get it. Though they knew their parent's support was always available to them, they liked feeling "in control" of their life, and liked that their parents had confidence in their ability to make good decisions whether around academics, curfews, partying, friends, college etc. Conversely. many students felt unprepared for life on their own, and wished their parents had made them get a job when they were in high school, and had given them more opportunities to be responsible for themselves, while the parental safety net was there. Now on their own, they are overwhelmed with all the daily decisions that they must make on their own. These students are calling or texting their parents multiple times a day just to get advice on some of the mundane tasks of daily living. I am sure that those parents who get these texts are grateful. It's almost like they've never left home. "They love me, they really love me!"
But it won't feel so cute when they are 25 and still calling you to find out how to make a doctor's appointment, take care of a bounced check, expired car registration, or empty bank account. The time is now! So if you are a problem solver, a person of action who loves to take care of business, beware. Taking care of your teen's business will come back to haunt you in the future. Here is a checklist of ways to encourage independence.
1. When your teen comes to you for help with a problem, I know you feel flattered, but resist the temptation to solve it for them. Instead ask questions that put them in the drivers seat like: "What do you see as some of the options?" "OK lets look at option 1, pros and cons" Take them through the process of how a decision is made. Remember teens today are impatient, they look for a quick response. But there are some things in life you can't google. It just takes old fashioned time. You solving their problems just feeds their need for instant gratification.
2. If you find yourself becoming your teen's personal ATM, it might mean that your teen has lost awareness for how much and how he/she spends your money. So much of a teens life is magical. Using cell phones, computers, mom and dad's generosity, everything they want is literally in their fingertips. How about saying to your teen; "I am willing to give up to $$$ a month and then it's up to you if you want or need anything over and above." Just because your teen wants to go shopping every weekend that doesn't mean you have to shell out 40 bucks so they have some spending money. They may buy another T-shirt or video game, but because it was just a meaningless buy, no skin off their teeth, it ends up in a pile of other impulsive boredom buys. Do not just mindlessly buy or give your teen money. Make them work for something. Don't deprive them of that feeling of pride when earned money is what buys them something. Maybe it's a job, maybe it's money for chores, but teaching them that you don't get something for nothing is a valuable lesson.
3. Teens ask you to do many things for them. And because you love them and because many of your teens have busy lives, or because saying no starts an argument, you do it. There are times however that demands cross the line from "Mom/Dad, can you, will you?" to " TAKE ME, BUY ME, FEED ME, CLEAN ME !" Unknowingly parents often feed into the narcissistic impulses that are common for adolescents, and with that comes a sense of entitlement. Make sure that if and when you help your teen out, it does not come after some overt disrespect, or avoidance of requests that you have asked of them. You might say in a calm, non-confrontational voice: "I love doing things for you, but not when you speak to me like you did this morning." Or, I love doing things for you, but I have asked you a million times this week to just bring your laundry to the machine so I can do it, and you haven't. When that is done I will be happy to take you to X's house." It is important for your teen to understand that relationships are reciprocal, cause when they are out in the big bad world, fellow grown-ups will expect that of them.