When to step away from rescuing - a fine balance?
Recently I was asked to speak to parents of older teens aged 17/18yrs about how to build confidence and resilience in their teens, ready to equip them for leaving home to go to Uni, go travelling or for work opportunities.
I must admit that my initial reaction was that it was too late at that point. It felt like bordering on abuse to suddenly change tack from doing everything for your teen, to stepping away and letting them find things out for themselves. Then I stopped and thought about it and realised that there must be some things one can do even at this late stage. So what might these be?
1. Make a list of their strengths
Make a list of everything you know they can do, what they're good at and the qualities they already have that will assist them in different situations. For example if they're quite good at asking for help or good at working things out for themselves, this will help.
Now add to this list those things you're not sure if they can do for themselves and try to find an opportunity to get them to do it so you can check.
Ask them what they might need to know before heading off, show them your list and ask if they want to add anything because there will certainly be situations for them that you did not encounter at that age.
2. Get them used to self-sufficiency starting now!
Teens quite enjoy having the kitchen to themselves and pottering around with the music blasting as they ask friends round to put a meal together. But this can be a bit embarrassing if they've never been allowed to do anything beyond making cookies or cake.
Depending on the level of competency of your teen, you could order some boxes from Gusto, Hello Fresh or Green Chef - choosing the recipe with them and then tell them that you're going out for the evening and would they like to cook one of these meals with a friend?
What are you doing for them at the moment that they will need to do for themselves? I'm sure it's quite a long list! They will definitely need to know how to use a washing machine so you can ask them to do their own now. Maybe pop some basic instructions by the machine including a reminder to check washing instructions on each garment.
3. Talk about money
Money can be a real problem when kids leave home because it takes a while to learn how much they need to allow for expenditure and how to factor in those unexpected costs. Talking about money at home will help them with this.
They might not want to talk about it directly but you can mention it in a way that they will hear it. For example, maybe mentioning to your partner that you need to put some money away for something or you need to allow for a big bill later in the month or someone's birthday present.
Some families make it a rule not to talk about money or keep it quiet that they are a bit short this month but it's not helpful to teens to think that money sorts itself out because it doesn't!
I certainly remember running out of money when I was a student because I had to buy a text book and hadn't allowed for it so I had to really cut down on my spending which was already quite meagre. In fact I got a job a couple of nights a week in a pub so I could save my heating costs, save the money I would have spent on going out and have some spare which I put into a savings account. As it happened some of my friends popped into the pub to see me, so I didn't really miss out much!
4. Help them know when to say "no"
Saying 'no' is a great skill for teens leaving home. Perhaps you've had to say 'no' to them but when they leave home there will be no-one to regulate what they do apart from them. In their enthusiasm to make friends and enjoy uni life, it will be extremely tempting to say 'yes' to everything even if their studying will suffer and even if some of the things they'll do, may not be safe.
In this time before they leave, when they ask if they can do something, ask them what they think. Get them to use their own intuition and judgement. Ask them if they can afford to this week? Ask them who they're going with, how they'll get home, and whether they know the place they're going to. While they're living at home it's quite easy for you to go and pick them up but it won't be once they leave home. They need to be prepared for this.
5. Step away from rescuing!
They are used to you being their fixer. They now need to be preparing to do their own fixing. Trust that they can do this and accept that mistakes will be made along the way. Better they make the mistakes on home turf.
Just ask them what they feel they should do or say and accept their answer. The map is not the territory. They already have all the resources so step away and watch them shine!