By Meghan Vivo
Adolescence is full of opportunities for success and failure – and to be well-adjusted, teens need to experience both. Your daughter may miss the tie-breaking shot in a hockey game or be the only girl that doesn’t get invited to a high school party. Your son may blow his chance at a college scholarship. And every teen is likely to feel the rejection of their first break-up.
And though parents can create a soft place to fall, depriving your teen of these experiences by protecting them from challenges and shielding them from the natural consequences of their actions can cause a lifetime of hardship.
Overprotective parents don’t like to see their kids hurting and instantly go into fix-it mode. Rather than letting their child experience the consequences of their decisions, these parents step in to defend the child and alleviate any discomfort they may feel.
There is a fine line between responsible parenting and overprotective parenting. No one would tell a parent not to protect their child – just don’t over-protect. Parental involvement is essential for a child’s healthy emotional, social and academic development. But when your love and concern manifest in the following behaviors, you may have overstepped their bounds.
What’s Your Motivation?
In most cases, overprotective parents’ primary motivation is to protect their child from harm. But they may also be motivated by other less admirable intentions. For example, parents may be partially motivated by a desire to look good in front of other parents by having their teen reflect positively on them.
For example, a parent may intervene at school and do their child’s homework assignments so that their teen can go to an Ivy League university. Although their primary goal may be to provide the brightest possible future for their child, they may also be acting out of a desire to look like “good” parents.
Some parents are also driven by a desire to feel good abut themselves. Parents may view their family’s happiness as a measure of their own success. Although they want their families to be happy for the sake of each family member, they also protect their teens because they’ve lost their own identity apart from their child.
Overprotective parents tend to produce children who are fearful, anxious and lack confidence in their own abilities. Even though the parents are undoubtedly acting out of love, their actions are often based on their own worries, fears and feelings, not necessarily what’s in the best interest of the child. If teens aren’t given the opportunity to face and overcome challenges, they never learn that they are capable of doing so.
Here are a few ways parents can begin to let go and help their teen blossom into a healthy adult:
Trust Yourself. You’ve spent many years teaching your child important lessons and grooming them for adulthood. Adolescence is the time to put what they’ve learned to the test. Trust that you’ve raised your child well enough to make sound decisions and be there to offer advice when solicited.
Take a Time-Out. Before intervening to fix a problem for your teen, step aside for awhile and let the situation play out. Ask yourself how your child’s needs would best be served.
By allowing your teen the time and space to resolve an issue and experience the full spectrum of emotions that come with a success or failure, you help your child learn how to manage difficult emotions without escaping (whether through asking for a parent to rescue them, buying new things, using drugs and alcohol or some other quick fix). Give them a chance to realize on their own that everything will be okay. This will help them develop important coping skills.
Learn New Communication Skills. Instead of telling your teen what to do, resolving their problems for them or protecting them from the consequences of their choices, practice active listening. While parents can give suggestions, teens are old enough to make their own decisions and deal with the consequences.
Evaluate the Worst-Case Scenario. When your teen is facing a difficult situation, ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen?” If the worst-case scenario is hurt feelings, disappointment, anger or any other emotion that people regularly face, let your child resolve the problem themselves. Try to intervene only if your teen is in physical danger or is at risk of severe emotional harm.
Let Your Teen Make Decisions. From a young age, kids shout with glee when they discover they can do something by themselves. Whether walking, getting an A on a test or winning a game, kids have a natural desire for independence. Nurture your teen’s growing desire for independence by letting them make their own decisions.
Teens who aren’t encouraged to make their own decisions grow accustomed to having their parents make decisions for them. As a result, they never develop valuable problem-solving skills or the confidence that comes from making good choices. While you can be there to offer guidance and advice when needed, your teen is capable of finding answers on their own.
Let Your Teen Fix Their Own Mistakes. What follows naturally from letting your teen make their own decisions is letting them experience the consequences of those decisions. If you want your child to be resourceful and self-reliant, you have to let them work through issues on their own. For example, if your teen hurts a friend’s feelings, it isn’t your job to apologize and mend the relationship. Let your teen realize the need for an apology and take action to repair the damage on their own.
Learn to Say No. It is unrealistic to expect your teen to be happy all of the time. If you’re going to great lengths to satisfy their every desire, you risk raising a spoiled teen with a sense of entitlement. Your teen may become accustomed to having things done for them, assuming the rest of the world will do the same, which they will eventually learn isn’t true. They should earn the things they’re given, both material goods and privileges, and should be encouraged to get involved in volunteering and thinking outside of themselves.
Teach Your Child Self-Advocacy. When your child was young, you were their strongest advocate. As they grow into a teenager, they should gradually become their own advocate. Teach your child how to work through problems and encourage them to state their needs at school and in relationships, without needing you to do their work for them.
Get Help. An overprotective parenting style may be deeply ingrained by the time a child reaches adolescence. The family may be struggling with codependency and other unhealthy attachments. In these situations, professional help may be needed to teach parents healthier parenting styles and improve the teen’s ability to cope and make decisions.
Therapeutic boarding schools provide family therapy and workshops to help parents adopt different parenting styles and roles, and teach parents how to avoid rescuing their teens. By providing structure and intensive individual and group therapy, the therapists, teachers and staff at private boarding schools teach adolescents problem-solving and coping skills, personal responsibility and more effective forms of communication.