Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Don't Do Their Laundry:Tips on Raising Great Teens

It happens in my counseling office all the time. Just this week, I discovered several more parents of teenagers that are doing their teen’s laundry, even in the countdown months before college. Today, I have a few tips on not overprotecting the teen you love and contributing to a sense of helplessness, entitlement, and believing that others should be in their service. Just say no.

In recent years, college administrators throughout the U.S. are noticing a huge increase in the number of freshmen students who are poorly prepared for the emotional independence and self-reliance of living away from their parents. Many students struggle with the independent living skills of not only doing their own laundry, but also managing their own sleep schedule, waking themselves up for class, setting and maintaining a study schedule, managing their own food and exercise patterns in a healthy way, and dealing with budgeting and spending money wisely.

Here's a useful shift for loving (but overly involved) parents of high school students. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to identify and teach your teen as many independent living skills as possible. Many teens have no interest in learning as long as you are doing it for them, so turn over the task to them completely after you train them. If you turn a task over to them, and then sometimes do it for them, you are a part of the problem!

Basically, try never to do things "for" a child or teen that they are capable of doing themselves. Work yourself out of a job. High self-esteem in children and teens is related to feeling capable. Teens in particular are caught in-between independence and dependence. You job is to help them develop confidence in themselves, not just through compliments, but through realizing they can figure things out and develop a sense of mastery.

Since we will each live part of our adult lives alone (at the beginning, middle, or end of our lives, or in some combination, depending on what happens), I want all teen girls and guys to learn some basic life skills. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about what your teen needs to know how to do before launching to college. It's also where you need to reassign, train, and back off:

Before leaving for college, your teen should be able to:

1.      Do their own laundry.

2.      Make several basic breakfast, lunch and dinner items.

3.      Pump gas and maintain their own car. How to check tire pressure, call AAA (girls, too!)

4.      Call or email to make own appointments (doctor, dentist, orthodontist, career counselor, hair stylist, etc.).

5.      Pick up and clean own bedroom and bathroom.

6.      Wake up on time or deal with the consequences (at school, for example- without you rescuing).

7.      Have the experience of earning some money of their own. It's not easy, but teaches them about the value of money in a way no lecture from parents can.

8.      Manage the use of a debit card responsibly for budgeted expenses.

9.      Ask for what they need.

10.  Solve problems. You might try asking them what they think more about daily problems that come up at home, how they think a situation could be best handled, etc.

11.  In increasing amounts over the course of high school, have more freedom to plan their own schedule if they are being responsible, reasonable, and keeping you accurately updated.

12.  How to handle emergency situations, at home, in the car, and if away from home (earthquakes, CPR, procedures for fires, etc.)

13.  Create their own food and exercise plan. Get help if needed. A one-time consult with a dietician who can help your teen directly with building a plan for exercise and easy strategies to maintain fitness at college could be extremely valuable, and much more valuable than you lecturing. Sometimes teens just can't hear it from a parent, because they are busy trying to individuate from us.

14.  Scheduling their own homework/study times.

15.  Ask your teen to help identify what else they feel they need in terms of independent living skills. They may have other fears that can be addressed so they feel more confident when launching to college.

Of course, if your teen is dealing with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, or has learning disabilities or health problems, you need to pay closer attention. Always give out these increased responsibilities gradually and build skills along the way. We want to nurture our teenage sons and daughters’ sense of mastery and instill confidence. As a parent, sometimes the most loving thing you can do for your teen is to expect them to do more for themselves, and work yourself out of a job. I'd call that successful launching, and starting early is a really terrific idea.

In closing, as a gentle reminder to parents of high school students, summer is an excellent time to begin "Project Independent Living Skills." You can start with the lesson on laundry! 

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