Last year I put my 17 year old on a plane and sent him off on a 5 week school trip to Europe. It almost caused me a mini nervous breakdown. I was so proud of him but I was equally terrified for him. What happens if someone tampered with his bag whilst he stopped over in Dubai; what if he was mugged whilst exploring Rome; or abducted by a circus troop whilst in Paris? Yep I was becoming a little irrational, but the reality of not being able to be there to protect and defend him almost made me want to crash tackle security and throw myself at his ankles screaming ‘don’t go baby!’ Instead I smiled to hide the tears and terror and waved him off. He is a smart, independent mature almost adult about to embark on a journey of a lifetime. He was nervous but excited. The world was literally at his feet. Upon reflection, that moment was a snapshot of what parenting teens is all about.
Teenagers and young adults are blessed with a wondrous sense of invisibility and hunger for experience. Remember when things were exciting and new? Then we grew up. Many adults/parents forget that sense of wonder and excitement and interpret the lust for experience as recklessness and the inability to know right from wrong. If we as parents have done a good job of instilling love and confidence in them, then those experiences our teens seek will not be the ones we fear the most: drugs, alcohol, and so on. What they want is to experience catching up with friends, learning about the world, making decisions on their own and to explore the amazing the world has to offer.
My son could have been a victim of bag tampering in Dubai, he could have been mugged in Rome, maybe the circus abduction was a little far fetched, but the reality is there were ‘bad’ things that could have happened to him whilst over the other side of the world. But the good things that he DID have happen to him were worth the risk.
As parents we can jump to worse case scenario in a millisecond, and our reaction/actions can often be based on fear rather than fact. ‘Worse case scenario’ can be a sign of helicopter parenting. The protective impulse we had when they were little is similar to how we feel when they are teens, only when they are teens it is about a million times worse. The world is far bigger and far scarier than they can imagine and protecting them from all the bad out there is our job isn’t it? There is a danger to this level of protection parenting: the act of ‘protecting’ them from the bad by denying them at every turn is in fact a leading cause of them going out to seek the danger. How stifling and belittling to constantly be told you are not old enough, responsible enough, mature enough to do that/go there.
When my teens ask me to allow them to do something that does worry me, I tell them that it worries me because ‘this’ could happen. The discussion is had as to what could happen and the best way to avoid that happening. In most cases compromise can be achieved. I am honest in saying ‘this scares me because of…’ and it allows my teen to know that I care about them and I want them safe, not that I don’t trust them. Teens want to know you trust them, and actually appreciate that you care enough to voice your concerns. An honest “I am scared for you” is more powerful than a “No! Because I said so!”
The art of trusting them and allowing them to live and learn from life is challenging, but the rewards of watching them live life to the fullest should always be more important than the fear we naturally have to protect them from possible (?) harm. To let them live is the strongest sign that you love them. The teen years are as much about them spreading their wings as it is about us letting them grow away from us.
As seen in Avery Magazine Spring 2015