By Dr. John Townsend, Ph.D.
One of the realities that every parent of a teen must face is that ready or not, the job is almost over. That is, you are in the “deparenting” years, and you have only a short time to do all you can to help your adolescent be equipped and prepared to become something called an adult.
It is important for you to think about this in terms of future launch, not just in terms of today. Certainly you want your teen to behave well and make good choices because it’s much less disruptive at home! But keep your eye on the ball: It’s about the future, not just about today.
One of the most important skills that your adolescent will need is competence. Competence is a “doing” skill more than a “relationship” skill. Simply put, competence is the ability to do tasks well. That can include a number of areas, such as homework study and research paper skills, finances, housekeeping, chores and planning. If teens do well in these areas, they are much more prepared to take responsibility for future career growth, marriage, family and service involvements.
Here’s how you can help them achieve competence:
Assign home chores. If you haven’t done this since age 3, start now! We learn to work by the work at home. That means everyone pulls their weight, for example:
- Cleaning the common areas
- Cleaning up after meals
- Pet care
Your teen’s future spouse will thank you!
Get them involved in teams. People who are successful in the long term usually are able to work well in groups, teams and organizations. The ability to trust, give and take, and move together for goals is a very strong skill. As much as possible, help your teen get involved in sports, clubs, student organizations, church groups or leadership. It will pay off.
Require them to finish what they start. Any great college, trade school or future job will be exacting on results and performance. They have much less tolerance for “my dog ate the homework” or “I was in a bad mood” sorts of excuses than high schools tend to. Adolescents have the disease of finding reasons not to finish things: “I was tired,” “I’m just over it,” “I’m too busy.” As much as possible, be the loving but firm parent who simply says, “You started this and I need you to finish it.” Words first, consequences if necessary (my book Boundaries with Teens explains this process in detail).
Praise results and great efforts, not just what is expected. No one ever was motivated to accomplish great things by being affirmed for doing the minimum: “Way to go, you got to school on time!” That just reinforces minimal behavior. Instead, give teens props when they knock it out of the park or stay up late studying in an attempt to do their best. They do not even need to win accolades from others to earn praise from you: “I am so proud of how much of your heart and soul you put into the science fair project, even though you didn’t get an award.”
Help them discover and develop their talents. Adolescence is a key time for teens to realize their natural strengths and gifts. For example:
- Relational skills
- Spiritual matters
As a parent, notice these things, as your teen may not be aware of them. And go beyond noticing these talents to helping them find contexts to grow and develop them. Talk to your school’s guidance counselors. Find mentors. Get them involved with teachers who have that expertise. Have them intern with organizations that are engaged in the area.
Model competence. Teens who grow up in a home where parents are competent, work hard, and know what they are good at tend to follow what they have witnessed over time. Let them see your own life, and see the positive results.
Adolescents are built to be competent, and they need a guide for that skill. Be that parent.