Is your 17, 18, or 19 year-old lacking necessary life skills? It’s not too late. It’s true, by the time your kid reaches late adolescence she should have all of the base skills necessary to function in the adult world. These skills may be rough but they should be there.
At 16, a youth can legally operate a motor vehicle and hold a part-time job in most states. At 17 a youth can serve as an active duty service member in the United States Armed Forces. At 18, although he’s still your kid, he’s a legal adult for all intents and purposes. In no other time in life is there such rapid growth coupled with ever-increasing responsibility than in adolescence. A high rate of change is happening to them and around them. No matter how old, adolescents need your guidance navigating the weight of adulthood well into their early twenties.
We know that becoming an adult doesn’t mean the “childhood spell” is broken when the clock strikes on your kid’s 18th birthday. During my 14 years of working with high-schoolers, I’ve seen the gamut; from 15 year olds who have the poise and pleasant disposition of a brilliant college student, to 18-year olds who are still stumbling through high school trying to cope with teenage angst. If your kid falls into the former category, there’s plenty you can and should do.
What’s A Parent To Do?
1. Keep a Proper Perspective:
Your kid is a continual work-in-progress. Everyday brings new intellectual maturity, emotional development, and brain growth. This is what I enjoy about working with youth; the hopefulness. For every bright kid I interact with, I know with a little guidance, tomorrow she will grow to be brighter. And for every struggling kid I interact with, I know with a little guidance, tomorrow he’ll grow to overcome that struggle and become a better person for it.
2. Be Patient, They’re Not Done Yet!
I enjoy gardening when I have the time. I have taken pumpkin seeds from the same parent plant. Planted them on the same day in the same soil. Inevitably, the plants sprout on different days. The buds form in different weeks, and the plants yield fruit sometimes in different months! That’s just how plant life is. And in many ways, it’s the same for human growth and development. Your kid is not done growing until around 24 or 25 years old! You can’t rush a pumpkin to grow faster, nor can you rush a kid’s brain to grow faster. It will grow as it grows.
3. Don’t Compare
I’ve witnessed lots of parental frustration when mom and dad compare their son Johnny against the neighbor’s son Billy. They say things like, “Billy has already been accepted to four colleges and Johnny hasn’t even….” Or, “Susie has a 4.0 and or Sally can’t even…” Parents can save themselves a lot of frustration by measuring their child’s accomplishments against their child’s personal goals and not against the neighbor kid. There is value in comparison to peers, we do it all the time in my line of work, but so many other factors must be considered. Remember, some of the latest blossoms end up producing the finest fruits in life.
For Your Teen
4. Develop Strategies of Change With Your Teen’s Input
Many times parents want to create a plan with their kid’s teacher, counselor, or therapist without the kid. This usually is not a good idea for a high school aged student. Draw your kid into the plan for change. Present two or three options and allow your teen to choose. Ask them to provide areas that they want to improve on. For example if your daughter has poor study habits, ask her what she thinks she can do to improve them. Although you know the answers, her contributions will allow her to own the proposed solution. When she knows she had a hand in creating plan, she’s more likely to make it succeed.
5. Implement Change Gradually
When you want to implement a plan for change for your teen, avoid abruptness. For example, you may decide that Johnny has terrible sleeping habits and by golly he’s gonna change that habit today! Expect nothing but resistance from Johnny. Remember he’s not a year old. At a year old, you could dictate his every waking moment on a whim at your discretion. Now, he’s got his own life in parallel to yours. He’s got friends, plans for the evening, plans for the week, even for the month. Give him a heads up – maybe a couple of weeks. Give him a chance to make the change on his own, but let him know that if he doesn’t (which he probably wont if he’s a typical teen), then beginning on X week, we begin our new plan ________________ fill in the blank. It could be a new bedtime routine for him. For example, he turns in his phone to you by 9:00 PM and his room light is off by 9:15 PM. He still may not like the change but most likely there will be far less resistance because he’s had a chance to acclimate to the idea over the past couple of weeks; and he helped create it.
6. Be Consistent
Your kid is an ‘old’ kid now, no room for letting a routine slide or skipping an activity you planned with your kid. Your teen doesn’t have much time under your direct guidance. Make every day count in a positive way. Of course this doesn’t mean you nag, or arrest their development by smothering them; but it does mean you must be consistent on a daily basis with whatever plan you’ve established.
When you’re dealing with an adolescent, the possibilities are truly endless. One of my former students who lived a life of gang-violence and substance abuse, matured over the years to end up graduating from college and studying at one of the nation’s most elite law schools. The last time I checked in with him, he was on his way to practicing law. There is always bountiful hope in a young life.