Vacating the Space you Want your Teen to Employ.

Two things cannot occupy the same space… and… nothing can exist in a vacuum.

As parents we COULD look at all of the things we want our teens to care about and see who is actually occupying the space. If we take up all of the “Caring about Grades” space, how can they care? If we take up all of the management space, what is left for them to manage?

Here is what I say to teens about their schooling, “If you don’t take responsibility for your schooling, your parents will. If they don’t, the teachers will. If they can’t, the principal will. If he/she can’t, the district will. If they can’t the judge will. No-one is not going to care about your education. Someone will give a crap. You have to decide who it will be and if it isn’t going to be you, then you don’t get to complain when when things go badly. You don’t get to cry when you don’t like the decisions that are made for you, and you don’t get the credit for your success.”

Addicts hit rock bottom when they realize that their lives have become unmanageable. It’s no wonder so many addicted teens cannot connect to this experience when their parents are managing all of their needs…food, school, legal troubles, automobiles… teens can look at their lives and say, “It’s working perfectly.” while everyone else is running around like a chicken with their heads cut off: stressed out, resentful, and overworked worrying about the very thing that the teen should be concerned with.

Of course we do this because we want our kids to be safe, but that begins to bleed into things that don’t really put them in harm’s way. I’m talking about intervening when life and limb is in danger. We have seen parents intervene in EVERYTHING! The concept of safety can be too closely linked with out own fears of success and failure.

If your kid gets and F on a test and the teacher gives them an opportunity to take the test again, how many times would you be willing to remind the kid to contact the teacher to make the arrangements? Daily? 5 times? Who cares about the grades more, you or the kid? Who is more afraid of the teens grades?

Who SHOULD care about the grades more?

Of course the teen should because it’s their life and the consequences of not following through or showing up belongs to the them.

Your teen might create the conflict between you and them by beginning to ignore your daily reminders, your lectures on the dangers of poor performance in school, being respectful of teachers time, and taking advantage of opportunities. All great life lessons that the teen has NO interest in learning from you.

What if you didn’t remind the teen? What if…

  • When the teen tells you about the grade you say, “That sucks.Let me know if you need my help ok? I love you!”
  • Then the teen tells you that he can retake the test. You say, “Whew! That teacher must like you. Well, that was a close call. Good luck on your retake!Let me know if you need my help ok? I love you!”
  • The teen doesn’t take the test, fails the class, and has to retake the test you say, “Oh no! That really sucks to have to sit through all that information again! Well it will be easier this time because you already have heard it. I bet you won’t do that again. Let me know if you need my help ok? I love you!”
  • The bad grades pile up and you say, “Well the good thing about being in the (8th, 9th, 10th) grade is that they will always let you repeat it. Of course you won’t get to graduate with your friends but y’know…it’s your call. Let me know if you need my help ok? I love you!”

Look at the life lesson you have offered the teen. By vacating the space of managing the situation. It’s up to the teen to take care of all of it. The biggest complaint that I hear from parents is about teens not taking responsibility and everyday we pass up perfectly good opportunities to give them the life lessons of it.

I know, I know, it’s because we don’t want them to fail. How do you handle failure? Do you roll over and quit? Do you try again? Do you “correct and continue”. How did you learn how to handle it? Cause and effect. Trial and error. Action and consequence. That’s how.

Did you learn about failure from your parents managing your life? What did you learn from constant nagging and reminders of what should be important in our lives? What did the lectures and oratories actually teach us?

What did life teach us?

Get out of the way. If it doesn’t kill them or harm them (life and limb folks) let the world take over and you can remain their ally through the whole experience (Let me know if you need my help ok? I love you!”). ASK them if they want your advise and support. When they say yes, give it to them. Let them choose to listen and follow it o not. Adults get to do that.

Your job is to teach them to be an adult. Not to get them addicted to your reminders of what’s important. They have been living with your value system for 15-17 years, they know what you think is important. Let them figure out what is important to them. Let them figure out if that works in the real world.

Let them have some space to care. The vacuum will win ultimately. Someone will show up to care. Give your teen every chance to show up and care.

If you are unclear about where the damage line is, get a second opinion from a parenting professional.