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In nearly 30 years of teaching school, I have seen hundreds of cases where parents involve themselves in their adolescents’ problems. Sometimes, that’s the right thing to do because the problem is too great for a teen to handle alone. But most of the time, the problems are minor&mdash...

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Adolescents Should Solve Most of Their Problems Themselves

Posted by: Livia McCoy on Feb 13, 2014 in Teenagers, Social and Emotional Development, Parenting, Livia McCoy


Livia McCoy
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In nearly 30 years of teaching school, I have seen hundreds of cases where parents involve themselves in their adolescents’ problems. Sometimes, that’s the right thing to do because the problem is too great for a teen to handle alone. But most of the time, the problems are minor—like when to start doing homework, whether to go to the late basketball game, or who to take to the dance. If kids are allowed to make decisions on their own and suffer the natural consequences of those decisions, they will be better equipped to handle bigger problems when they arise (like whether to smoke that cigarette or drink that beer).

Let’s pretend that Maria decides not to wear leggings, boots, and a heavy jacket to school because she is hoping for warmer weather in the afternoon. The weather does not get warmer. Instead it gets colder and windy. Maria gets chilled when she goes outside. This is the natural consequence, and it will not hurt her. Next time, she is more likely to pay attention to the weather forecast when getting dressed for school. (By the way, it is a myth that you catch a cold from getting chilled. Colds are caused by a virus.) Parents often involve themselves in these decisions which lead to arguments in the morning before school, and their children do not learn about consequences of their actions.

A few weeks later, Maria’s friend Alex tries to talk her into leaving campus during lunchtime even though it’s against the rules. Because Maria’s parents have allowed her to make lots of decisions by herself (like what to wear to school), she thinks through the possible consequences of going with Alex and decides she doesn’t want to take the risk. If Maria’s parents make all her decisions for her, she might not think about consequences of her actions.

The most frequent parental involvement I have had as a teacher is after a student does poorly on a test or project. The parent will call to find out why. This is a student and teacher issue, and in most cases the student should handle this by himself. Instead of getting involved, encourage him to go talk to his teacher himself. It is fine to coach him on how to do it. He should make an appointment to talk to the teacher alone instead of when other students are around (perhaps before or after school). He should ask for help to understand what he missed and why he missed it. He might ask if his teacher can show him an answer that got all the points. He should tell his teacher he would like to do better next time and ask for advice on how to improve. This approach teaches him that he can solve problems on his own. He is a capable person who can figure out how to do better in school. He will earn the respect of his teacher who will be impressed with how mature he is. He is a step closer to independence and self-discipline.

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Comments

  1. avatar

    Posted by LiviaMcCoy on Feb. 19, 2014

    Anna, I totally agree that some decisions teens are not equipped to make. We need to give some thought to decisions that don't really make that much difference and allow children to make a few mistakes. Additionally, some parents get involved in every disagreement their children have with their friends. Often, when they call me, my advice is for us (parents and I) to stay out of it and see if the kids can work it out themselves. Usually, they can!
  2. Posted by - Anna Kaminsky on Feb. 16, 2014

    While it makes sense to let teens make decisions on their own so that they are forced to think about consequences, one has to also wonder how far you let the teen make their own decisions when their brains are not yet equipped to think that far into the future. In addition, perhaps the student who refuses the hat and mitts is doing so because of peer pressure to be "cool" among friends who don't wear them. He might be cold and uncomfortable, but feel there is no choice in the matter. Hard situations for parents to deal with - a balance between offering advice and letting the teen learn on their own. Perhaps choosing battles, as always, is the best idea.

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