When we contemplated having children, what did most of us think about? Likely, our minds were filled with images of babies, toddlers, and elementary aged kids. Visions of their first day home, first steps, first words, and their first ride without training wheels gave us joyful anticipation. Honestly, few of us (if any) pictured a teenager being launched from our loving arms. After all, we have so much time before we get to that point. Or so it seems. Then reality hits—and they’re off!
In our work with educators, youth mentors, and business and community leaders, we are hearing an overwhelming and urgent cry. They tell us the current generation of young adults, generally speaking, is emerging into the world grossly underprepared to succeed. Statistical research supports this concern. In fact, in a ranking of eighteen industrialized nations, the United States ranked ninth in college enrollment and dead last in college completion. Repeatedly, we hear that many employers prefer to hire older job applicants, because they are more reliable, better mannered, more motivated, and have a stronger work ethic.
Clearly, many young adults are leaving home without the vital life literacy training they need to thrive in independent living. Book smarts don’t always translate into life smarts. With this in mind, what can parents do to reverse this course and to equip our teens for success?
The good news is we are uniquely positioned to offer that training and to lay that vital personal leadership foundation our children need. In our book, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, we offer strategic insight and practical how-to’s to help you thoroughly prepare your teen for independence. Here are some strategies as you ready your child for the inevitable (and all too quickly approaching) launch.
1. Talk with your teen about the changes they will experience and some successful strategies for navigating them, particularly coping and relational skills.
2. Help them plan ahead for ways to meet new people, and reassure them that it takes time and trust to build new friendships. Where might they meet people who share their interests and values? What are their must haves in a true friend? The most common de-railer for young people after the launch is loneliness, whether they are on a college campus or living at home while their friends go off to college. Set them up to choose wisely.
3. Teach them time management and organization strategies. All too soon, they’ll be managing their own schedules with loads of opportunities for distraction. Equip them for this challenge.
4. Facilitate self awareness of their value, assets, and dreams. One helpful resource we’ve developed is a Personal Balance Sheet (available free at http://www.dennistrittin.com/resources/PersonalBalanceSheet_05-15.pdf). This family exercise will offer an invaluable perspective on your teen’s unique assets and constraints for this pivotal time of life.
5. Cover all the above bases and more by including a leadership and life skills component to your homeschooling curriculum.
1. Build an enduring relationship that will transition from parent-child to adult-young adult. Carefully monitor your “relationship capital” with your teen. (Do you have a positive or negative balance in your account?) Time your delicate conversations strategically when they’re willing to engage.
2. Discuss communication expectations for after they leave home. If your young adult will be away at college, how often will you expect to hear from each other and under what circumstances? If he/she will still be living at home, what will be the new, more adult boundaries and expectations? Being realistic and respectful on both sides is the key.
3. Consider a weekly meeting at a coffee shop (neutral territory) to discuss the upcoming transition. Go through a book together that can help raise pertinent questions and guide your conversations, such as What I Wish I Knew at 18 by Dennis Trittin.
1. If you haven’t already, begin to incrementally release control by allowing more decision-making freedom and holding back on minor corrections, reminding, and overly helping. This is the time for you to move from driver to passenger seat in your teen’s life.
2. Speak positively about your expectation of their success and your unwavering belief in them. Avoid emotional expressions of the sense of loss you will feel. This can erode their confidence and lead to feelings of guilt over leaving home.
3. Celebrate a rite of passage to mark the transition between childhood and adulthood, such as a simple ceremony, special gift, or letter of affirmation. We aren’t always good about this in American culture, but it can help tremendously in terms of empowering young adults and releasing them with blessing and confidence into the next season of their lives.
To help parents in this crucial preparation process, we’ve developed a parenting checklist that assesses where you and your teen are in the process, and areas for further work. Check out our free downloadable Parenting Preparation Checklist, at: http://www.dennistrittin.com/resources/LifeSmart_ParentingChecklist.pdf.
We also encourage you to develop a parenting mission statement to help set your goals and chart your course in preparing for the eventual launch. This blog post can help you create your own.
Going from director to chief encourager in our children’s lives is one of the biggest challenges for parents during the years leading up to and including the launch. Change isn’t easy for any of us. But if our teens are going to be successful, confident adults, they need to be able to operate independently. The time to start working on it, if you haven’t already, is now.
The most important thing that parents can teach their children
is how to get along without them.
~ Frank A. Clark
Dennis Trittin and Arlyn Lawrence are the authors of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real Word, and of What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead (available as a book and as leadership and life skills course, in standard and Christian editions). Dennis and Arlyn speak to and provide resources for parents, teens, educators, and mentors about building “life literacy” in teens, empowering them to live strategically and successfully, with integrity and impact. Visit their websites at http://www.dennistrittin.com and http://www.parentingforthelaunch.com You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter!
This article was originally published in Homeschooling Today Magazine. Get great articles like this, plus lots of homeschool resources with your subscription to Homeschooling Today Magazine!