How to Help Your Teens Become Independent and Successful

I feel quite sorry for today’s teens. It seems to be more challenging for them than it has ever been. There is so much pressure for them to go to the right school, get the right grades, go the right uni, get the right job and be “successful,” a success which seems to be defined by material wealth and possessions. It seems that all these decisions have to be made right now. It’s all very serious. And as parents, we feel that pressure too and therefore are prepared to do just about anything to make that happen. I very much include myself in this category, by the way. I am writing this because I need to hear it.

It is almost as though childhood has become about working our way through a checklist.

We desperately want our children to be independent and successful but somehow the way we are raising them often prevents that from happening.

I remember my childhood being fairly free. As long as I was home by the time I said I would be home, that was good enough. There was no homework in primary school (and certainly no tests). In fact, I don’t think I had any concept of how I “ranked” against my peers at that age. It just wasn’t a thing. It is just as well to be honest as I spent at least the first decade of my life daydreaming.

By the time I got to secondary school, my parents considered that I was old enough to manage my own stuff. If I forgot my PE kit (which I frequently did), I got a detention. That’s how I learnt to organise myself.

In the world we are living in now, there simply isn’t any time for failure. The testing is so regular that every small “mistake” is recorded on tracking systems such as GO4Schools or Show My Homework. Parents know EVERYTHING and consequently feel that they ought to monitor and resolve everything.

The downside of this is that there is no need for a child to learn how to be independent. Kids grow up knowing that there is no real consequence to their actions – it will instantly be picked up by one of the many adults hovering over them.

This seems to have been compounded by the pandemic. Children quite literally cannot leave the house. They have no independence. They are told what to do all day, every day by their parents and teachers, who are scared to death that they are “falling behind” in their academic studies.

So what can we do to develop our teens into independent and successful adults?

Quite simply, we should do less.

We need to provide our kids with the connection they need without suffocating them and crushing their innate self.

Let them dream

How many people do you know that have led successful lives even though they didn’t do well in school? How do we even define success? In my book, success is all about happiness and for so many of our teens, sitting at a desk all day in front of a computer is the very opposite of happiness. There are many who will get their energy from drawing, painting, inventing, thinking, daydreaming, talking, inspiring, experimenting. We need to give them the space to do this. We don’t always have to follow the standarised path that has been entrenched in our culture to find happiness.

Let them get bored

In addition to the academic pressures, teens are also expected to have a long list of extra-curricular interests, another pre-requisite for getting into the right uni or the right job. Parents feel obliged to whisk their children from one after-school club to another, attending every football practice, dance class or tennis match.

If these things are your teen’s passion, then this is great. But I know so many teens who just want some free time to do what they choose to do. Yes, it might be gaming for a while whilst they decompress and learn how to manage their new-found freedom. But eventually they may well seek out something else to do, something that lights them up and makes them want to game less.

Let them voice their opinions

My kids have started answering me back and I actually quite like it. I don’t mean in a rude or disrespectful way but they have started pointing out that I don’t know anything about some of their interests or passions. And it’s true. I don’t. How can I advise them what career path to take when the jobs they are likely to do are probably not even invented yet? This is now more the case than ever as we enter a post-COVID world.

Let them contribute to the household

This might sound ridiculous. We spend so much time moaning about how little they help around the house. Yet I know that I have been guilty of “doing it all myself” whilst tutting and complaining about it because it is quicker, tidier and more efficient when I do it. I am training myself to turn a blind eye to the broken glasses, the burnt pizzas and smelly washing that has been left in the washing machine. Otherwise, how else will they learn?

Years of conditioning have taught us that in order to be “a good parent” we need to be constantly present to ensure that our kids don’t fail. When they do, we think it’s our job to fix it. How will we ever know what they are capable of if we don’t let them go?

I have high hopes that our teens are going to rebuild the post-pandemic world into something more beautiful and more amazing if only we will give them the space to do it.

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