Parenting Teens | Ignore The Cautionary Tale

Have you heard the cautionary tale for parents of teens? The one which results in your kid living in your basement until they are 30? Have you heard, that, if you are not careful, if you do not parent your child correctly, they will have no job, no money and no motivation? Have you heard that you are in control of this outcome and that you alone can do what is right to avoid it? 

It is easy to allow yourself to believe that in order to avoid such outcomes, parents must push their kids to “keep their options open.” Keeping them open means getting the right tutors, staying on top of homework, raising their ACT and SAT scores, getting their kids involved in volunteering, taking them on a mission trip (or two), and if they don’t, well… there is no one to blame but themselves. They have failed as parents. And you certainly do not want to be the only parents who AREN’T supplying all of these opportunities.

Because others WILL judge you.

I clearly remember an early morning in November a few years ago when my husband and I were visiting our oldest at parent weekend at his college. He looked down at his plate at breakfast and said he wasn’t going back to school second semester. He had been talking to a recruiter and was joining the Navy.

We had talked about this option when he was in high school and yet my husband and I believed that if he didn’t follow the usual path he would have regrets. We “encouraged” him strongly to do well in school and get into a good college because he is a smart kid. We thought it would make him happy once he just gave it a try. He gave it a try and….he was miserable. We have since apologized for that nonsense.

He’s been in the military for three years now and it is THE BEST place for him. Does it make me comfortable? No. Do I like thinking about what he does for a living? Also no. Am I happy for him? Yes! We gave him a good solid upbringing but the stuff he’s doing now is ALL HIM. It’s all his internal motivation, his interests and his life. Not ours.

Yes, it’s competitive out there. There is no question about that. Getting into the school that I attended in 1991 requires WAY higher grades and scores than I ever had. I do not think there is anything wrong with supporting your kid in pursuing a secondary education. However, we must ask ourselves if it is in our kid’s best interest to push THAT path? Will they thrive there? How much of it involves you doing the work and how much of it involves them taking responsibility for it? And, what is your definition of success  for your kid? Is it possible that your kid belongs at a community college rather than limp along with your constant pushing to have them get into a four year school?

Maybe by putting so much pressure on our kids to get into a “good school,” we are closing off very valuable, very real possibilities outside of the college track. And WHY do we continue to perpetuate this belief system? Why do we think we can guarantee the outcome for our children based on our own actions? What are we all so afraid of?

Maybe we all need to back off more than is comfortable and let go of some false control (I KNOW, SO HARD). And while they do not have fully formed brains, that doesn’t mean that we know what is best for them at all times either because we do not know what the future holds. 

Maybe we can do “everything right” only for them to end up back at home after college graduation anyway. And, if that is the outcome, is that the worst thing ever?

Maybe we need to encourage our kids to simply do their best and to follow their passions. And, maybe, we need to be okay with some failures and false starts. Maybe we can handle the possibility that they may drop out or transfer after a semester if it isn’t working out. Maybe we can support kids in our community (yes even the smart, “promising ones”) to do what they want to do rather than follow one well-worn path.

Maybe… we need to change our attitudes and fight against social norms. It takes a little bit of courage to stand behind your kid and not parent by fear of the unknown. But maybe, that is exactly what they need.

Note: This article is not about those who have children who genuinely are in need of help to thrive. Rather these are my own observations regarding kids that I believe are fully capable in taking ownership of their own path.

Julie is a mom of five boys and one girl. She is a runner, biker, yoga instructor and socializer. That about sums it up. Believe it or not, she really does enjoy the soccer, cross country, swim team, track, dance classes, basketball, and theater her kids are involved in as long as she has another mom (or dad) to talk to during these events. Julie is starting a new adventure going back to school to get her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy at Edgewood College.


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