We want to wipe his tears, bring him his forgotten library book, and "help" him, by reminding him of due dates and obligations. There is a time for each of these things, but there is also time for discomfort. The greater his discomfort, the better. It is hard to intentionally allow him to go out on a cold day without a jacket, however, you know he will be cold and uncomfortable, and will remember a jacket next time. This is an easy lesson. The hard one is when you know that he is making a huge mistake that will cost him tears, heartache, or money. Being comfortable with his discomfort as a teen is the only way to let him grow. I heard a fabulous quote the other day. Sadly, I cannot remember where I heard it. But it said, "All lessons are valuable, some are very expensive." As your teen makes mistakes, like forgetting to register for an event on time, and subsequently having to pay a late fee, he will learn small lessons that will add up to large life lessons, ultimately creating a stronger, wiser adult. Even if this mistake costs him a lot of money, I guarantee there will be a more expensive life lesson as an adult that you may be saving him from.
Our job, as parents of teens, is to step away from the lessons we threw at them repeatedly during childhood. Our new job is to create a safety net, offer constructive feedback, and allow him to learn how to handle things on his own. Trust me! It will be hard at first, but in the long run, it will be freeing, as you realize you are doing him a favor. You can be very upfront about it when he asks you for things you know he is capable of doing. Simply state, "I could help you with that, but I am completely confident that you've got this." The look on his face the first time he hears this is priceless. When he asks what he should do about something, (Let's be honest, Moms love it when their children seek out their brilliant wisdom.) pause for a moment and ask, "What do you think you should do." You will likely be surprised that he has the right answer inside. This is a win on many levels. First, he gets to experience your confidence in him, which will grow into confidence in himself. Second, you get insight into what he is thinking about a certain issue. Finally, you have the opportunity to redirect, if necessary.
By allowing our children to face natural consequences, we are removing ourselves from the equation. We will not be there forever to guide him through every decision. It is our job to help him have the motivation to make the right decision. James Lehman, MSW, had the perfect analogy….If you are speeding, you will get a ticket. That is your natural consequence. But, the officer doesn’t then follow you home to make sure you don’t speed again. It is your job to have learned the lesson, and not repeat the choice.
We never like to see our children unhappy, but allowing a little unhappiness now, will prevent a lot of unhappiness later.