In the last week two of my kid’s closest friends committed suicide. In dealing with the resulting chaos it’s left me with some insight on something that I believe parents are missing these days. I hope that by sharing this insight I can help prevent similar tragedies from taking place and maybe in a small way help make this world a better place. This is mainly to help parents of teenagers but anyone that has kids or is around kids frequently can hopefully find some benefit as well.
In order to get across a bigger idea I want to first present a simple example that we can all relate with. At some point all of our teens reach the age where they are old enough to drive. There are three basic ways we can approach this point in their life:
1. We can hand them the keys and let them learn on their own.
2. We can take them out in our car, sit in the passenger’s seat and teach them to drive.
3. We can send them to a driving school and rely on a trained professional to teach them how to drive.
I think very few parents would choose the first option and some would choose the second option but I’m fairly certain that a majority of the parents would rely on the last approach as the best way for their teens to learn how to drive.
Unfortunately many parents are using the same model teaching their kids how to become happy, healthy adults. Parents often rely on the school system for this teaching, similar to how they rely on the driving schools. Unfortunately schools can only do so much with the precious few resources they have. Schools are there to give our kids a basic scholastic education and are not equipped or designed to teach our kids how to become well adjusted adults.
Sadly the end result is that most of our teens are growing up in a similar way to the first option of drivers training. They’re learning how to act and what to think on their own, from their peers and what they see on TV and at the movies.
We as parents need to be there for our teens while they’re experiencing teen life. To put it into perspective, when we take our kids driving we move from the driver’s seat into the passenger’s seat and let them take the role as the driver. We’re right there next to them helping them to know what to expect and how to deal with it before it comes, when it happens and what to do after. We don’t tell them how to drive then watch as they take the car out on their own. We also don’t tell them that the car has to stay in the driveway for their safety; they wouldn’t learn how to drive that way at all.
The point I’m trying to make is we need to transition ourselves from being the driver, to being the passenger, and eventually to be standing there as they drive away without you. If we spend too much time as the driver or too much time letting them be on their own then we risk them missing some very important lessons and they will most likely learn some very negative ones. I believe we need to spend a majority of the time from about 12 to 17 teaching them as the passenger, being there to help guide them but letting them take the wheel more each time.
Obviously we don’t give up too much control at first until we’re sure they can handle the basics. Then we slowly let them make more choices as they progress. They won’t learn how to be a happy, healthy adult without making mistakes and learning from them. If we’re in the passenger’s seat when they make the mistakes we can help make sure they are small mistakes and with guidance they get better and better all the time.
If we’re sitting in the passenger’s seat yelling at them or causing them a ton of stress then we’re interfering with their ability to learn. If we interfere, only let them practice occasionally or we don’t let them practice at all then they will learn so much less, so much slower. But all the while time keeps on moving and they are still going to be 18 when the time comes. And all the while they are learning from their peers and other people around them that don’t necessarily have their best interests in mind. The less time you spend helping them practice from the passenger’s seat, the more time they spend driving alone and getting directions from other people.
Let’s all focus more on helping them grow and learn while we’re in the passenger’s seat. Be there with them on their adventures when possible. Let them lead more and more so you can help guide them. Let their friends come over to your house and spend as much time as possible. The more time you can spend around your kids in “their” environment the more you will understand and the more you will be able to help them understand. Get to know their friends parents and keep in regular contact with them. Be there for the kids that don’t have their parents in the passenger’s seat as often. Working as a group, as a team you can all benefit from the shared ideas, resources and support.