Letting Teens Pedal, Fall, and Get Back Up by Themselves
Making the Case for Submarine Parenting
What’s the hardest part about being a parent, particularly the parent of a teenager?
Think for a moment about that day you taught your child to ride a bike. And at some point, you had to let go of the bike seat and stand helplessly by, waiting for the crash and the skinned knee.
“A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom,” wrote author Sloan Wilson (“The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” and others). “The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.”
Hit hard, indeed. It’s terrifying to watch our kids wobble off on their own. But if they are too fearful of falling or aren’t given the opportunity to get up, dust themselves off, and get back on that metaphorical bike as teenagers, they never learn the grit, responsibility, and social skills needed to succeed in college and beyond.
“Helicopter parents” are always there to steady their children by delivering forgotten homework, confronting difficult teachers, even writing college application essays. It’s better for parents to be more like “submarines” – cruising just below the waters of children’s lives, supporting them and tending to their hurts as they try to learn things on their own.
But let’s face it: It’s really hard to back off and give teenagers the necessary independence to figure things out when they are living under our roofs. It’s so tempting to just solve it, especially when parents’ lives are so busy. Take forgotten homework, for example. Sometimes it’s easier to just drop it off than deal with the consequences of a teenager having to stay after school or miss sports practice.
So, what can parents of teenagers do that’s the equivalent of letting go of the bike seat?
For one, we can encourage teenagers to participate in an overnight summer program that requires them to report to adults other than parents, teachers or coaches; offers them new adventures or skills; and teaches them to problem solve with minimal interference. We can let them have an experience that is an end in itself, not just a path to trophies or a higher GPA. The journey should be as important as the destination. And, oh yes, it should be fun. Just check out these student testimonials!
Research shows a summer experience away from home is good for personal growth.
According to a 2001-2004 American Camp Association survey of more than 5,000 parents and campers, a summer camp or overnight program helps foster self-esteem, peer relationships, independence, leadership, and decision-making, among other so-called “soft skills,”.. And a white paper by Transforming Education, an organization dedicated to encouraging the teaching of non-cognitive skills, says those who learn self- control and social competence are more successful in academics, their careers and general well-being.
Besides, as parents we can also use some time off from the daily focus on our teenagers.
Letting go can be the hardest part of parenting. And with teens, it becomes more and more complicated, with consequences far more serious than skinned knees. But, unless we are brave enough to stop holding on to the bike, our children will neither have what they need to steer through life nor know the joy of real achievement.
About the Author:
Marie Schwartz is the CEO & Founder of TeenLife Media®.
TeenLife.com is a multi-media online platform that connects teenagers and their parents to academic and experiential learning experiences around the corner or throughout the world. Founded in 2008, the site attracts nearly two million visitors annually searching for STEM, college prep, summer, therapeutic, performing arts, community service, test prep services and gap year programs. TeenLife also offers daily blog posts, monthly newsletters, and several popular online and print resources that educate parents and students about experiences they never knew existed. Sign up today to receive “insider information” on a regular basis – it’s free!
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