Last year I put my 17 year old on a plane and sent him off on a five 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 if someone tampered with his bag whilst he stopped over in Dubai? What if he was mugged while exploring Rome? Or abducted by a circus troop 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 my tears and terror, and waved him off. As a smart, independent and mature almost-adult, he was about to embark on the 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 awe and hunger for experience. Remember those days, when things were exciting and new?
But as we grow up many parents forget that sense of wonder and excitement, and interpret their teenager’s lust for experience as recklessness and an inability to know right from wrong. But, if we as parents have done a good job of instilling love and confidence in our children, 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 exploring all the amazing things 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 on the other side of the world.
But the good things that DID happen to him were worth the risk.
As parents we can jump to worst case scenario in a millisecond and our actions are often based on fear, rather than fact. ‘Worst case scenario thinking’ 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?
But there is a danger to this level of protection parenting: the act of ‘protecting’ them from the bad, by denying them experiences at every turn, is in fact a leading cause of them going out to seek the danger. How stifling and belittling must it be to constantly be told you are not old enough, responsible enough or mature enough to do that or go there?
As parents we can jump to worst case scenario in a millisecond and our actions are often based on fear, rather than fact.
When my teens ask me to allow them to do something that does worry me, I talk to them abut my concerns. 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 to be safe, not that I don’t trust them.
Teens want to know you have confidence in them, and they actually appreciate when you care enough to voice your concerns. An honest “I am scared for you” is so much more powerful than a “No! Because I said so!”
The art of trusting our children and allowing them to experience and learn from the world is challenging. But the rewards of watching them live life to the fullest should always be more important than the fears we naturally have about their 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.