One of the hardest tasks of being a parent is to let your child be who they are. From the moment you learn that you are going to be a parent you start to envision what your child will look like, how they will behave, what social group they will be a part of and sometimes even what they will grow up to become. The fact of the matter is that there is no way to pre-select how anyone will be. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have hopes and dreams for your child to become the best that they can be or not to wish them happiness and success in life. This is simply a reminder that you cannot make someone into something you want them to be, however, you can guide them to learn right from wrong. Here are the top 3 struggles that I see parents have when it comes to letting go of their own wishes for their kids and allowing their teen to just be themselves.
1. CLOTHING: One of the easiest and most effective ways for teens to express themselves and to let others “know who they are” is by the way they appear. Parents always worry about this one. Their kid’s clothes are too baggy, too tight, too short, too masculine for girls, too feminine for boys, too this and too that. My advice…let them create their OWN identity not who you want them to be. Does this mean that you should approve of your teenage daughter (or son for that matter) running about in a bra and booty shorts with their G-String hanging out the top or to let your teenage son (or daughter) have their pants so low that his belt can’t hold them up forcing his rear to hang out? Of course not! There are limitations. As a parent it is your job to teach them about keeping their private parts or “goodies” covered and not to over sexualize themselves with their clothing choices. Another worry of parents is, “how will anyone take them seriously looking like that?!” My answer is simple. They are a teenager! They have all the time in the world to act, talk, and dress like an adult. There are so few years in a person’s life that they CAN get away with it so why not let them. The fashion choices they make today will not mean they will where that same outfit to a job interview as an adult. The fact of the matter is that your teen is growing up a different era than you did. Fashion has changed and even though you might not get it, they do. Is it possible that your parents thought the same thing about how you dressed?
2. FRIENDS: The peer group that your teen chooses to surround themselves with is more like a family. It is family of their choosing. No matter how much you try and tell them not to hang out with “so-and-so” you will most likely just make them do it more. If there are serious reasons such as that friend engaging in illegal or negative activity then you should plan to have a genuine sit down conversation with your teen about your concerns. Simply telling them NOT to hang out with someone “because they are not a good person” will likely be taken as you judging and insulting their friend whom they consider to be their brother or sister. Friends are who teenagers usually turn to when they have a new crush, make a mistake, or just need someone to talk to. The more you stop trying to control who they hang out with and who they turn to in times of need, the more likely they will stop to think of the support network at home too.
3. THE FUTURE: Of course every parent has hopes and dreams of their children growing up and becoming successful. The problem that often arises is when your dreams and your teen’s dreams collide. So whose dream should override and win out on this battle? Your child. Even if you see the potential for them to become a doctor or a lawyer that will make six figures a year plus, if your teen doesn’t have the passion or even the slightest interest in this path they either will not do it or will try their hardest to fulfill your dreams instead of their own possibly ending in unhappiness and even resentment. The best advice I can give here is to support and encourage them when they express any interest about the future. People respond much more positively with this approach than trying to change them into something they are not.
Frequently parents feel like the choices their teens make, are simply an attempt to defy them. The truth is that your child has now become a teenager. This life stage is all about expressing yourself, finding out who you are, and gaining independence. It is very likely that the vision you had of your child when they were first born is not what you are seeing and experiencing now, however that is ok. This does not mean that you have failed as a parent or that they hate you. It means that you are respecting the fact that they are their own individual and not a “mini you”. Parents can’t help but to think back to their own adolescence and project their own experiences on their children, but this is their time to be who they are not who you were. In the long run by allowing them to create their own identity, you will be able to build a better foundation of support that will make them feel more comfortable engaging with you without fear of you judging or trying to change them.