Updated: Apr 6, 2018
I remember all too well raising my daughter. Granted, it was a while back, and she has her own little one now (a girl, as karma would have it), but those days have left an imprint on me that no mother would forget. Don’t get me wrong, she was wonderful in so many ways. It’s just that those times of tumult seemed to highlight her teen years that one never forgets.
They labeled it ADD then evolved into oppositional defiance disorder but, frankly, I didn’t need a psychologist to verify. It was rough. Teen years are rough for all involved. As I have said and heard from other grown-ups repeatedly through the years, I wouldn’t want to relive those moments for a million bucks!
I used to remind myself daily that the job of a teenager is to move away from total dependence to total independence. They so badly want to stand on their own and resent that they really can’t. And, they resent their parents for being that source of, well, everything they still need. So, as they move away from us, they do so in the most awkward and sometimes cruel ways, leaving us shaking our head in disbelief and, so often, horror. Those ungrateful little @#$%^.
As a parent, we go through great lengths to help our children in every way. Often, our careers and dreams are forfeited as we have a finger on the pulse of their every whim. We essentially give up our own identity for them, not that they asked us to. But that’s what parents do. So, how could they treat us like this?
Supporting teen growth is like giving someone enough rope to hang themselves. You don’t want to stand in their way because they need to learn to function in the world on their own. It is their life, after all. But are they prepared? Letting go of your baby is a tricky balance especially since every parent and every teen has their own boundaries, values, personality, and hang ups. And, not to forget, no one comes with an instruction manual!
The best we can do, as parents, is prepare them for the real world so they have what they will need to cope and succeed. This means we teach them from the beginning how to take care of their bodies, how to dress, have manners, learn, relate with others, and so much more. And, most importantly, we teach them how to be safe. The power we have is extraordinary, when you think about it. The responsibility? Immense.
How do we do this? One day at a time.
Giving them the power you once had is bumpy for both parent and teen. It’s worse than nailing jello to a tree cause at least jello eventually disintegrates. Teens grow up to be adults, and parents, and the repercussions are enduring. And when our offspring hit the therapist couch later in their life, forget about it. We are to blame for it all. And then some.
So, how can we get through the teen tumult without too much despair? How can we possibly feel we have done enough to let them go?
It is their life, after all.
One of the most important aspects of handing over responsibility is knowing our kids will be safe. If they don’t learn to dress themselves in the way we might not choose, well, we can live with that. And manners? Well, apparently they pick that up from watching us. But safety? That needs to be taught.
Especially in this crazy world, where females are victimized at a much higher rate than their male counterpart, we had better impart some real skills and information if we want them to journey forward in safety.
Remember Stranger Danger? It was the rave when my kids were young. It opened the conversation about general safety and gave some great real-time solutions to our children. As a parent, it gave me confidence in my child’s success and felt great to know I was proactive on some very real threats.
As our children grow, we need to continue that conversation. We need to continue to teach them the skills they will need when we are not around to micromanage them. As the teen girl safety book Taking Flight For Girls Going Places stresses, girls must take responsibility for their safety once their parental safety net is gone. Girls will eventually get what they wish for – independence - and they need to know how to handle it!
When girls accept responsibility for their lives, they have the power to create a life they choose for themselves. Girls are not helpless victims. It simply takes a commitment to self-care and some practical education - starting with their safety. For without that, all else is hindered.
There are general safety tips they should remember from childhood: look both ways before crossing the street, never get into a stranger’s car, and tell an adult if you need help. These still apply into adulthood. But there’s so much more. Especially as they venture out into the world at-large, they will meet new people and situations which can be overwhelming and challenging - especially if they don’t have the skills necessary to deal with the obstacles or threats they will face.
Are your daughters prepared to move out on their own? Whether for college, career, or simply the mall with their friends, are they ready for the challenge?
#girlsgoingplaces can help!
Kathy Greene Lahey, LMSW, AC, is the author of Taking Flight For Girls Going Places, a preventive tool to help independence-bound girls stay safe, confident, and empowered. Check out her weekly blog for girls and monthly “for the moms” at https://www.girlsgoingplaces-us.com/