When my children leave to go out into the world, I want there to be no really big surprises – at least no bad ones! I want them to look around and say to themselves – “Yep, this is exactly what I was expecting!” There are definite life lessons we must learn, and the earlier in life you learn these, the less they cost.
I believe that part of our job as parents is to allow our children to experience as many life lessons with us as possible. Let me explain what I mean.
For example, take the story of my friend whose son had acquired money from birthdays and a summer job. He wanted to spend that money in November on a popular computer game system which, had he waited, would probably have been updated and possibly under his tree at Christmas. Mom’s idea was to tell him that under no such circumstances could he spend that money so foolishly.
I countered with: “So how would you respond if your boss handed you your pay check and said, ‘And don’t be buying any shoes this weekend. That is not what this money is for.’”
She answered, “But I am an adult.” I responding by asking, “And when are you going to let him learn how to be one?”
She did relent after a very long discussion to spread out her safety net and let him learn this life lesson with her. As I predicted, by February he came to her and shared his disappointment in his decision. The game was not what he had expected, and now he wished he had that money for something else.
Not only was she not the bad guy, he learned a valuable lesson. Allowing him to stub his toe on this decision probably prevented a broken leg in the future. His ‘broken leg’ might have looked like a house he could not afford that she would now be expected to make the mortgage payments on, or a car he could not insure.
As the parent of a college-bound student, you need to assess what life lessons your child has learned to date and which ones he or she is going to need before they head off to the dorm. Overprotection only leads to handicapping your child, which is the last thing you want to do as a parent. We want our teens to have a base knowledge, understand the risks, and be decisive enough to make good choices when we are not there to help them. If you continue to make all the decisions for your teen, you get better at making decisions and they never learn the process. Decision making is a process, and one that needs to be taught and practiced. Don’t let the first decisions your teen makes on their own be a big ones – start small and start now!