By Dr. Jan Hittelman
Just when we’re getting our parenting down, our children become adolescents and our old parenting strategies no longer are as effective. As our children change developmentally, so to must our parenting techniques. . The normal developmental progression from pre-adolescence to young adulthood requires a shift from dependence to independence. As parents, we need to teach our children how to behave more responsibly and yet not make their decisions for them or oppose their efforts to take control over their lives. Ideally, we want to nurture their responsible independence. The best strategy to promote a healthy shift from dependence to independence is regular and frequent use of empowerment. Whenever possible, include your child’s voice in conversations regarding school, discipline, risk behaviors, rules, etc. If the issue at hand is major and you do need to provide a consequence, empower your child by involving him/her in the discipline plan. If possible, do it at a less volatile time to promote a more productive discussion. As children grow older, parents need to place more and more of the decision-making responsibilities on them. As parents we are often reluctant to do this because we fear that our children will use poor judgment and make mistakes. While this may be true, how else will our children eventually learn to make good decisions? We learn through trial and error. Our children need to make mistakes along the way so that they can learn from them.
As our children shift from dependence to independence, we as parents need to shift from controlling to advising. The most important reason for this is that your child needs to learn to make his/her own decisions to function effectively as a young adult. In addition, the more controlling the parent, the more likely the teenager is to rebel and eventually defy the parent. In this scenario everyone loses. The parent is frustrated and the child loses the opportunity to get useful advice from someone with a lot more life experience. In reality, a parent has very little control over an older teenager’s behavior. You can’t control their school effort, the friends they choose, the places they go, etc. If you try to maintain control, it’s often a recipe for disaster.