Teens have different needs than younger children, so parenting them means making some transitions. In addition to offering explanations for how you’ve made decisions (Part 1) and fielding their questions (Part 2), it’s important that you provide guided experiences and give constructive feedback. This pattern will help set the stage for your role as mentor, a role which you hope your teen will continue to allow you to fill as he transitions into adulthood.
Providing Guided Experiences
What you don’t want is for a teen who’s never made his or her own decisions to go out into the world and have the first independent decisions to be big ones with high stakes. It’s okay to let your child try and fail; failure is part of life, and we all need to learn how to handle failure without a defeated attitude or despairing thoughts. Even a bad decision can provide additional opportunities to guide your teen through choices. The important thing is to ask questions to help your teen think through potential problems and assess the risks before making decisions or engaging in various activities.
Something as simple as your daughter’s wanting to stay up all night to complete a project or study for a test can provide an opportunity for guidance. You might ask her about the potential negative consequences from lack of sleep, considering her responsibilities the next day. After helping her assess the situation, you allow her to make her choice.
Let’s say she chooses to stay up but then falls asleep during class the next day, keeping her from being able to even complete the test for which she studied. That natural consequence can provide a more memorable lesson than a parental intervention ever would. However, if the next day’s activities include her driving, you as parent might intervene for your child’s safety, as well as that of others.
Giving Constructive Feedback
Constructive feedback has the goal of helping your teen make better choices in the future. Since the aim is increased confidence and self-sufficiency, there is no place for name-calling or derogatory language. This is not punishment for a poor choice, but a sort of modeling of self-analysis. Unless major risks to safety or illegal or immoral behavior have been an issue, this time should be focused positive discussion in which you don’t lecture your teen, but ask questions to guide him or her in evaluating the outcome of his or her choices.
Hopefully, your teen will then ask you for input about the situation. Providing too much opinion can backfire, though; you want to encourage your teen to think through situations and make wise choices. You want to encourage your teen to ask you for advice, not to create a clone of yourself that will make choices identical to yours.
This same basic format can be used for a variety of life skills and choices, as you determine the skills and decision types you know your teen will need to be able to perform as an independent adult.