Updated: Dec 1, 2019
I am a big proponent of empowering children, but also recognize the risk that accompanies. To offset the risk I believe we as parents have to invest in teaching our teens to appreciate and respect owning responsibility. This "dance" is relative to each parent and the respective teen. I am offering techniques we used and how they played out for you to consider in your situation. As written before, there is always context, and mine started during the critical shaping years and is grounded in one of our philosophies, "raising functional adults." The general approach included having mature, advanced talks about post-high school / college responsibilities and challenges. Using failure as opportunities to teach and not shying away from adult topic areas. Treating the girls “age-appropriate” and increasing levels of responsibility as they got older. One of the implicit components to being a functional adult - owning your situation.
This philosophy helped guide us as they moved into the teenage years and was reinforced by transferring power to help them influence different aspects of their life. I give three specific examples to demonstrate some techniques we used. A couple are fairly straightforward, but I included a third that is perhaps "non-traditional" but yielded the same result. Sports - We consistently told our girls that it was their decision to participate in their respective sport and routinely discussed the purpose of playing it. We openly asked if they intended to play sports in college, challenged their level of commitment and tempered sports with their primary job—school. Empowerment required that we not take over and impose our goals and aspirations on our girls. We also sought to publicize their success and introduce them to forums that motivated them to continue high levels of achievement. An example was we coordinated to have a local newspaper reporter interview them, which ultimately led to a published article in the paper. It showed them what success can yield, forced them to talk about themselves and their achievements and showed how a 45 minute interview can be translated into a one page newspaper article. But all of the above put them in a position of control or responsibility for their choice to play sports. Money - The sharing cost construct helped me empower responsibility in a more social setting. Even if 90/10, the girls were invested since they had a portion of the bill. A specific example of this approach is when we went to restaurants. I would always pay for the meal; but since water was free, I left to them to decide if they would use their money for soda, tea, juice or lemonade. This caused them to actively read the menu and even though drinks were only a few dollars it forced them to make a decision. Based on how much money they had and / or what they wanted, it was on them. It only lasted a few years, but it tied them into the financial piece of "going out" and put them in a position where they made decisions about what they wanted and what they were willing to spend for it. School - This one was a little more unique. This example is related to the decision on what high school our oldest daughter (Jaelin) should attend after we moved to Virginia Beach. During this transition, we made a concerted effort to empower Jaelin with not only deciding when to leave Northern Virginia but also which schools to consider in Virginia Beach. This created the perception that it was her choice, which to a certain extent it was, if she chose correctly. The art was how to shape the situation so Jaelin prioritized the key determinants that would naturally lead to our preferred choice. With that in mind, in our conversations with her we included the strengths and weaknesses of each school, the potential conflicts with extracurricular activities, and the flexibility she would attain or lose. All were helpful in guiding her in the direction we felt would be best. Admittedly this was somewhat manipulative but knowing her personality, and the second order effects of "the wrong" choice, we felt it was in everyone's best interest to steer this in the way it should go. After a few days of discussion and consideration, we were proud when she decided on our preferred choice. We confirmed that was her decision, and we proceeded to enroll her for the upcoming year. Although we shaped the situation, our daughter felt like it was her decision. This helped her transition as she “owned” the school since she selected it. In the longer term, the process improved her confidence in making somewhat difficult decisions.
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