The Art of Letting Go, Pt 2
by: Alan W. Carson ACPI® Coach for Parents
In my first article on letting go, we focused on the importance of parents requiring that their kids accept an increasing amount of responsibility as they mature. The goal is that our children can largely succeed on their own by the time they graduate from high school. Therefore, some of the traits and qualities our kids have to possess are self-discipline, time management, a good work ethic, resilience, passion, and strong people skills. If we are always hovering and rescuing our kids, we are sacrificing long-term success for short-term success.
In this second article, we’ll discuss letting go from our child’s point of view. In a nutshell, tweens and teens want more and more privileges and freedom. As I mentioned in last week’s article I was a middle school guidance counselor for fifteen years and consistently interacted with parents, often as a result of their child’s underachievement. In attempting to gather more information from these parents, I would often ask about the child’s routines, obligations and activities outside of school. It was often the case that underachieving students lived the good life: time with friends, minimal responsibilities at home, an iPod and cell phone, and lots of screen time (TV, computer games, and social networks). When I hear these kinds of stories, I ask myself, “Why is this child given all of these privileges devoid of expectations? What is this student learning? How is this child going to afford this lifestyle as an adult if he has never acquired a work ethic while growing up?”
Our children need our love, attention, acceptance, support and time. Our kids want but do not need computer games, iPods, Facebook, sleepovers and ultimately get their driver’s license and go to parties and concerts. We parents cannot let go and just give these kinds of things to our tweens and teens without requiring that they earn them.
Our kids are given what they need and earn what they want. If we raise our kids to understand that privileges are earned, when they haven’t earned a privilege who are they going to direct their anger towards? They need to be mad at themselves. We cannot allow ourselves to buy into their manipulation and conclude that we’re unreasonable parents.
We’ll look specifically at our child’s desire to have a cell phone. Most kids start begging their parents for a cell phone in 5th or 6th grade. We’ll say my daughter, Annie, brings up the issue of a cell phone in the summer before her 6th grade year. If I am on the ball I say, “Annie, I have to think about this.” One of the questions I ask myself is, “Does Annie normally display responsibility?” If the answer is yes, I continue to give her request consideration and start thinking about the guidelines I expect her to follow.
If Annie is fairly irresponsible, she is not ready for a phone. These two issues are directly related. If I bought Annie a cell phone she needs to be responsible enough to:
– know where it is and not lose it
– keep it charged
– keep it on silent in school, church, etc
– keep it away from water
– turn it off at bedtime
– not misuse the phone by sexting or by sending nasty e-mails.
If Annie is not ready for the phone, here is what I say:
“Annie, I have given your request for a phone a lot of thought. At this time, the answer is no, and here is why. Having a cell phone is a significant responsibility. Thus far, you haven’t demonstrated to me that you are responsible enough. I have to nag you to do your homework, you don’t clean up after yourself, it is almost impossible to get you out of bed in the morning, and most of the time I end up doing your chores. Work on these things and we’ll talk.”
This approach to earned privileges is beautiful. We don’t argue, we don’t attack, and we don’t criticize. We place the burden where it belongs– back on our child. We use the cell phone issue to influence her to become more responsible. If she wants a phone badly enough, she’ll shape up. If Annie responds with a disrespectful tone, we say:
“Annie, why are you giving me an attitude? I know you want a phone and lots of your friends have them. I know you are missing out on all the texting that goes on. But the bottom line is that I am happy to buy you a phone when I feel comfortable that you’ll take care of it. To buy you one before you are ready is to set you up to fail.”
[For the benefit of those of you with young kids, even impressive kids make mistakes– they are kids. My superb daughter, a graduating high school senior is on her 4th phone. The first went through the laundry because my wife doesn’t check pockets, the 2nd fell in the toilet and the 3rd broke when it fell on a concrete floor. None of us are perfect.]
This philosophy holds true for all privileges: sleepovers, parties, getting your driver’s license, and video game consoles. When our kids display the qualities they need to display, they get more perks. They get more perks because they have demonstrated the ability to make good decisions. When they continue to make good decisions, they earn more privileges. If they make poor decisions, privileges are removed until they convince us they have learned their lesson. We should not agree to a privilege an then sit and worry all night about them.
Let’s prepare our kids to be successful, healthy adults!
Alan is an ACPI® Coach for Parents, and author of Before They Know It All: Talking to Tweens and Teens About Sexuality, which is available from his website as an e-book– www.coachforparents.net