When they were sweet and little, your job was to protect your kids and keep them safe. You used to put plastic protectors in sockets, hold their hand in a parking lot, test their food to see if it had cooled enough, stayed away from dangerous areas like thin ice, or walked them to the door of their friend’s house for a play date. And now that sweet baby is a gangly teenager! Short of locking them in the house, without access to social media and its inherent risks, it is an impossible job for you to manage anymore. Keeping little kids safe is a reasonable task because you can control their environment. Teens have their own environment, they leave yours often and they are exploring further and further into the world in new and exciting ways. And you cannot control their world.
The solution is simple. They must learn to keep themselves safe. The path to get there is not quite so simple. Teens need to start making their own decision, making mistakes they can learn from and start learning how to assess their own safety.
Instead of you asking all of these questions, you need your teen to intuitively ask themselves these questions. “Is this person’s house a safe place to be right now? Am I comfortable without parents being home right now? Would my parents say this is against the rules or not a good idea? Should I leave? There is alcohol here and I need to get out of here. My friends all want to walk to Starbucks but it is dangerously cold. My friend’s dad seems drunk; I’m not taking a ride home from him tonight”.
These are the decisions that we can’t protect our kids from after a certain age. These are the decisions we need them to make for themselves. There are two ways to make this happen. One is to teach them how to assess for safety. Teach them what you have been looking for all these years. Teach them the questions that you have asked yourself all these years, teach them to observe behaviors and to ask the right questions of the right people. The second task to making sure your teen can keep him or herself safe is to make sure to have clear freedoms earned when they do and clear consequences when they don’t. When they make good decisions to keep themselves safe, they can go out into the world again with more freedom. When they make a decision that puts them in danger, or is not a safe decision, they need a consequence. Show them the positives of making safe choices and the negatives of not safe decisions though creative consequences. Ultimately, the world offers consequences every day. Speeding tickets, loss of jobs, conflict with family and friends, and unfortunately much worse; divorce, death, or living with knowing you caused another person’s death or pain. Give them consequences now, even if they make it miserable for everyone else around them, so they never have to feel a real world consequence.
Start talking to your teen today about what your process is in making a decision rather than the final decision. They need to learn to make the final decision, but often don’t have a clue what led you to that decision. If they don’t have that information, they are going to assume you are a helicopter mom or dad who can’t let go. They are going to accuse you of hovering. Instead of “wear gloves today”, how about, “oh hey, check the temperature on the thermometer before you head out”. If they check it or not, it’s a safe bet the first time they won’t wear gloves. Ok, so there is a great consequence built right in. They are going to freeze. But next time you suggest checking the temp, they may just check. Or instead of “I’m going to call your buddy’s mom to be sure his she is going to be home Friday night”, how about, “Remember our family requires a parent to be home wherever you are going to be hanging out, so you will either have to ask your buddy that question by phone or text before Friday, or you will have to call me for a ride home that night if you get there and a parent is not home. Your choice, but I think asking ahead of time might save you some embarrassment”.
Are you stuck protecting your teen instead of teaching him to protect himself? Are you feeling overwhelmed or out of control? Want more ideas for instilling good decision making in your teen? Write a comment here and get ideas and support from other parents.