I was at my gym this morning, sweating to the oldies, and listening into a conversation between two moms working out next to me. One of the moms' was expressing her frustration and anger at her son who was a freshman in college who calls them very frequently asking for more money to be deposited in his account. Of course it's never his fault. But when they look into his account they see a lot of money spent on food delivery and abundant ATM withdrawals. Apparently he could have, but chose not to work a lot of hours at his summer job, even though, the mom said, they told him it would be his responsibility to get a job at school if he ran out of money. (At this point I shut off my music so I could hear better. The moral of this story, don't work out next to me, I'm always looking for new stories for my blog!)
This story was a familiar one for me as every year I ask the college freshman I teach what they feel unprepared for and what has been a big adjustment for them in this home to college transition.
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 are some suggestion for way to encourage independence.
When your teen comes to you for help with a life skills 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.
If you find yourself becoming your teen's personal ATM this summer, 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.