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From Teen to Adulthood

November 1st, 2007

“What would you wish your parents would do differently?”

I asked this of some 10th and 11th graders in class today.

Several of them shouted out, “I wish they wouldn’t be so overprotective.” “I wish they would let me go out more.” “They should let me drive.”

I suppose that answer doesn’t surprise me. Every teenager I know wants to be more autonomous, to make his own decisions, to be the master of his fate, so to speak. Our teens are obviously no longer children. They don’t look like children, we don’t take care of them like children. In their mind, the next step is to be a grown up.

From the parent’s point of view, the next step is not full fledge adulthood. They are sort of one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood. Our teens lack the experience in life that allows them the wisdom to avoid mistakes. The teenager still needs to be protected from potential harm like a child. Sure, he can do a lot on his own, but there are many pitfalls waiting for our unsuspecting teen. We want to keep them away from bringing on trouble upon themselves. To us as parents, some of those are so obvious. Driving with a car full of friends late at night have a high chance of getting into some kind of trouble. Staying up late into the night playing computer games and not studying is not going to get you into the college of your choice.

How do we allow our teenagers more freedom to make decisions for themselves, yet protect them from harm?

It is our job as parents to formulate a plan to help our teenagers grow to maturity. After all, as much as they think we don’t want to let go, we really don’t want them to stay around forever, do we?

I believe if the teenager has shown responsible and good common sense in their past actions, he should be allowed to make his own decisions as much as possible. They will still make mistakes, perhaps some that could have been avoided if we had hovered over them. But if they did not act out of total stupidity, hopefully they are not ruined for life. Mistakes can make a very good teacher.

However, if your teen has regularly gotten in trouble by making poor choices, have been too easily influenced by friends, or willfully disobeys his parents regularly, then he does have to be watched more carefully. We can propose a plan for him to grow in maturity. If he is showing himself to be trying to improve, then he can certainly be allowed more and more freedom to make his own decisions.

Here are some suggestions on what the plan towards maturity should entail for your teenager:

1. Tell him he must do well in school. Grades do not mean everything, but they are a sign of being responsible, exercising self-control, and discipline. Not everyone has to be a brain and get straight A’s. Doing well in school could take different forms. It could mean doing well in sports, or in leadership in clubs and student government. However, no matter what you do, all students should be able to maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average. I have been to many junior high and high school classrooms as a substitute teacher. Unless your child has a diagnosed learning disability, going below that GPA probably means she is not attending class, not paying attention in class, and not doing any of the work. Putting in no effort is a sign of immaturity.

2. Tell him he must have a goal that he is working towards. I met a senior in high school who is enrolled in the school’s ROP dental hygienist program. She is not a A student, but she knows what she wants to do, she has passing grades, and she has plans to start working after graduation. That is showing good sense. It also gives a sense of purpose.

3. If he drives, he must not get any tickets, not even parking tickets, or the privilege is taken away for a time, like 6 months. We obey the law, whether we like the law or not. A defiant attitude towards the law will get your child in trouble sooner or later.

4. If your child is over 16, tell him to get a job and be able to keep it. Working outside the home is one of the best ways to mature a teen. He faces the real world, have a boss to work under, learns the value of money, and hopefully realize that his parents aren’t so stupid after all.

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