Bittersweet Bonding: Getting Your Teen Ready to Launch

DON’T hold onto your teens too tightly, parents. The high school years are meant to be a preparation to launch them from home out into the world. Bear in mind that entire books have been written to help adults recover from the behavior of their misguided parents, who unconsciously clipped their wings be-cause they couldn’t cope with the uncomfortable feelings that come with letting go. Your goal is to stay alert as you bravely prepare for a separation that is inevitable.

IF you feel weepy and clingy about the physical distance that will arise between you and your future young adult, you will set her up for feelings of guilt and obligation that won’t serve her as she forges her own path in the world. Teens need incremental independence and appreciate your assistance getting used to the consequences of their choices. If you coddle your teen, do all her thinking for her, intercede in the face of every life challenge, swiftly grant every whim, and then abruptly withdraw your assistance after college, your child is bound to struggle.

DON’T set your child up for a big fall, especially if you have well-behaved or reticent teen, skilled at avoiding parent upset and disappointment. A rebellious or strong-minded teen will be less concerned about hurting parent feelings and can make choices that please him more easily. But teens of any disposition need support and encouragement to make a smooth transition from the safe haven of home into self-reliance. Besides, there are ways to keep teens close to your heart while gently encouraging the independence that will help them grow the wings they will need to soar out into a world full of happy life choices.

Illuminate Paths To Earning
Most teens like money. Money means, among other things, freedom to a teenager. Modern money skills include exploring the possible ways to earn as well as the savvy ways to save, spend, and invest. If you find you spend a lot of time discussing managing money, maybe it’s time to educate yourself on current paths to earning. Try to keep your fearful assumptions about possible career paths in check. If your teen is an artist, explore the plethora of online earning opportunities that exist today. If your teen enjoys physical movement, research the jobs that al-low her to be on her feet rather than sitting behind a desk. And try not to obsess about future job security. Get a career counselor involved to help your teen explore jobs that maximize her natural talents and curiosities.

Create A Say Anything Space
Don’t shy away from serious topics with your teen. Drugs, alcohol, date rape, sexual assault, gender identity, sexual preference, and birth control are just a few topics that need to be faced squarely and discussed openly with your teen before he leaves home. One way to broach these topics might be to watch and discuss topical films together that you wouldn’t necessarily share with younger children. The key here is to establish an open door of communication through which no topics are off-limits. If this makes you squeamish, it’s time to deal with un-comfortable topics whether you like them or not. Enlist your spouse’s ear to get your concerns off your chest first and share the responsibil-ity of holding challenging discussions. Everyone in the family will likely become more accepting, mature, and open-minded thanks to your willingness to open up.

Discuss Relationship Wisdom
Intimacy with another person requires a strong sense of individuality. Encourage your teen to see all relationships as learning opportunities. Use high school social situations as opportunities to discuss what she needs and wants in various types of relationships, to consider what attracts and repels her, and to explore which groups feel the most comfortable. Peer pressure is strong in high school, so if you don’t ask these questions, your teen’s self-awareness may not increase. Conversations about the role of relationships encourage self-knowledge, which can lead to happier connections in the long run. When it comes to creating lasting relationships with others, self-awareness is paramount. Therefore don’t place too much emphasis on finding “the one” or being part of the popular crowd. Your acceptance of the needs and wants of your teen will go a long way towards her future happiness.

Interrupt Anxiety With Spontaneity
Making the leap from home into the big wide world is a major life transition that can trigger worry. A helpful technique for any parent to learn to help break the cycle of negative thinking is anxiety interruption. When you notice the tight shoulders or the snappy disposition, why not suggest a little walk or drive or maybe even a spontaneous shopping trip. This may seem like a strange parenting habit but what you are helping your teen do is break the cycle of stress before it starts affecting the decision-making process. Focusing constantly on the problems at hand blocks spontaneous solutions from bubbling up. So when your teen is struggling with what feels like a big decision, teach him how to move away from stress, let go of anxious thinking, and shift focus until clear thinking returns. Sometimes the easiest way to have a break-through is by getting into a calmer, more receptive state of mind.

Reconsider Ultimatums
Let your teen decide where he stands on family traditions and rituals. “As long as you are living in this house, you will go to church every Sunday along with the entire family,” is one possible approach. But another way is to establish a cut-off date for family obligations. Perhaps after the age of 16 your children could decide whether or not they will attend a family commitment like religious services or not. If your teen does not wish to join in, let her experience what it’s like to abstain. Then, if she decides to come back around you will know it’s because she wants to rather than because she must. And if she does not wish to participate right now, it’s your job to get used to the idea. Your teen will grow up and make her own choices in the future, anyway. If this is a hard truth for you to swallow, perhaps you need to start practicing re-linquishing pressure now.

Emphasize Ways To Decompress
Anticipate alone-time shortages, especially during the emotionally intense graduation year. Then strive to instill self-reflection, self-care, and self-expression, so these habits will be there to comfort your teen in the future. Writing, drawing, biking, and knitting all induce a state of creative flow. As the departure date to leave home approaches, you may notice teens are more absorbed with friends and social activities than interested in spending time alone. But moments of quality down time are when people connect with inner guidance and are crucial to leading a healthy, well-rounded life. And remember, if you want your teen to discover and follow his bliss, you are going to have to set a good ex-ample. Your hobbies will come in handy, as you both cope with the natural feelings of grief that are sure to arise as you and your teen pre-pare to part on happy terms.

Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina Katz is readying herself for the inevitable day she has to say goodbye to her teen. But, like many parents, she can’t say she’s looking forward to it.

Guest Contributor