Our Job as the Parents of Teens

When our kid is furious with us for actually calling that other parent to see if they’ll be at        

home for the party at their place on Friday night. . .

When we are stunned to see the conversation our child has on her text messages. . .

When he swears under his breath as he walks away from us, or she rolls her eyes in disgust at our suggestion, deep in our hearts, we wonder, where did they get          that sense of entitlement?

It’s a good time to remember . . .

The three primary jobs of the parent of teens are:

Bringing them safely across the finish line;

Developing in them a sense of decency;

Getting out of their lives.

When we keep these jobs in mind, many answers to day-to-day hassles are clearer. For example, it answers why our son has to wear a helmet on a motorcycle, or not ride one at all! Safety can extend to curfews and why it isn’t safe to be on city streets in the wee hours. Kids can dream up an outstanding and frightening array of dangerous “fun.” While we cannot control for every possibility, it is our job to do what we can to provide for and promote their physical safety. Our role in their safety helps them stay in one piece while their judgment matures!

Decency comes in many different sizes from the little stuff like, “Why do I always have to rake Grandma’s leaves, anyway?!” “Because young, strong, healthy people help old, infirm, weak people. It’s what our family does!” Larger issues of decency might include what’s wrong with porn sites on the web. One of the reasons that parenting a teen can be so exhausting is that virtually every day is chock full of wrestling with issues of decency: helping a friend to cheat; borrowing a sister’s sweater and returning it messed up; spending all his money on a concert ticket but not having enough to give his dad a birthday gift. By the end of adolescence, if we’ve done our job well, our kids are able to encounter a wide variety of values and challenges and still manage to keep their balance.

The last job of parenting a teen, even if you choose not to let your teens know, is to get out of their lives! Increasingly, parents are becoming “helicopter parents,” hovering nearby to be certain that their child’s each and every action are done to specification. Still, if most of us were honest, we’d acknowledge that we always learned Life’s most difficult lessons through trial and error. So today, if there is a question of doing it for her or teaching her to do it for herself, looking toward the time you’ll be exiting, teach her to do it herself. From doing laundry to balancing a check book to learning to read a bus or subway map, your goal, and theirs, is to help them be ready to move away from you. As my mother used to say, “A good mom’s job is to work herself out of a job!” 

Who’s driving this thing, anyway?

“I should be getting out of my child’s life?” demanded a perplexed mom. “But he’s only eleven!”

“Wait a minute…” I wanted to say. Clarification is needed.

Let’s consider the whole notion of the young person’s taking over his or her own life. It’s a little like when my daughter was learning to drive. The summer she was fourteen, we were driving across Texas and New Mexico on our way to Colorado. “Hey Mom,” she exclaimed. “How about I drive? The road is flat; there are no cars around. No one will know I’m driving without a license.” I wouldn’t agree to do that but we did make an arrangement where she sat in the driver’s seat with me and steered, with my hands still loosely around the steering wheel, while my feet remained on the accelerator and brake. Many a mile we passed as she happily “drove.” The following year, she was fifteen with a new learner’s driving permit. That summer, she sat in the driver’s seat and I sat on the edge, her feet on the accelerator and brake, my hands still loosely on the steering wheel, just in case! As the years went by, I relaxed in the passenger seat, still watchful… until the day when, an accomplished, experienced driver, she headed off to California and college by herself!


In a similar way, when our kids enter early adolescence, we begin to let them “steer” their lives while we watch closely, adjust the steering or speed as necessary for them not to crash. As we sense their improving ability to manage their lives, we back away, allowing them to drive. If ever we sense a wavering or a bumpy stretch in their road, we move closer, maybe even place our hands back on the wheel until we know they’re safe to resume control. We remain close enough to coach them through the rough parts. Heaven forbid that they drive off onto the shoulder, much less go careening down a hill. Then we may need to resume driving for a bit, getting them back onto the path, allowing them to return to driving when they and we feel confident. Together, we know that their goal, and ours, is for them successfully to drive their own lives. The moment we feel confident they can, we allow them to do so.

We can share this metaphor with them, helping them to understand we want out of managing their lives as badly as they want us out. Further, we can explain that we need to know enough details of their lives to be assured that they are managing okay. We’ll be watching, coaching, sometimes setting limits because we, like them, do NOT want them to crash and burn! This is why we ask questions, this is why we observe how they’re doing. Not to eliminate the fun, but to be sure their lives continue motoring alo
ng safely and decently. 

{Kathleen M. Fischer, longtime Dallas resident and mother of three, is a registered nurse with a master’s degree. In a career spanning more than thirty- five years, she has worked in public health settings; taught in public school and at the university level; and presented professional educational seminars. Kathleen continues to be a popular speaker in corporate, professional, church and community settings, often presenting topics from her recent book, Bringing Our Boys Through the Second Decade. Please visit her website (www.kathleenfischer.com) to purchase a book or learn more about Kathleen.}

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