During the teen years, parents walk a fine line between supporting independence and rescuing their teen from setbacks and failures. There are certain times when parents need to step in but too much rescuing prevents teens from developing the important skills and mindsets they need in their adult life. Teens need to solve problems and manage certain aspects of life without their parents.
Here’s a quick guide on when to step in and when to step back:
Step back: In high school, teach your teen about prioritizing and time management. Provide her with the tools she needs to stay on top of her assignments and activities, then step back. With each passing year, give her more opportunities to manage her time and appointments. By the end of high school, she should be the one scheduling appointments and planning her day.
Step in: If you see your teen struggling or her stress level rising, check-in and ask what support she needs. It may be time for a discussion on prioritizing and time management or she may need support in other areas, like learning how to manage stress or practice self-care.
Step back: Your teen needs to experience hardship and failure in order to build resilience and learn important life skills. When you see her going through a hard time, show your support by listening, talking through her choices and desired outcomes, and encouraging her to make decisions.
Step in: If you notice your teen is stuck, ask if she would like your support/help before giving it.
Household chores –
Step back: Even pre-teens should have certain responsibilities around the house. With each passing year, responsibilities should adjust to reflect new capabilities. Talk with your daughter about what chores she can take on and teach her how to do basic things like laundry, cooking, and cleaning. By the end of high school, she needs to have these basic skills in order to take care of herself when she moves out.
Step in: Create and enforce fair consequences when household responsibilities are not met.
Communicating with teachers –
Step back: It is OK to have a relationship with your teen’s teachers, but your teen should be the one communicating with her teachers about absences, missing assignments, grades, and make-up work. Empower her to self-advocate and teach her how to ask for what she needs. Remind her that teachers are there to support her and it is their job to help, especially when asked.
Step in: If your teen has made an effort to self-advocate and a teacher is non-responsive.
Step back: Maintain an ongoing conversation with your teen about values and what matters to her in friendships and romantic relationships. Show an interest in her friends or partner but unless her life is in danger, do not forbid her from certain people. Set firm boundaries that allow for flexibility as your teen shows more responsibility and trust.
Step in: If your teen is involved in illegal behavior, such as drug use, or if she is experiencing bullying or abuse, intervene. It is also important to have open, honest conversations about topics like sex, pregnancy, and consent. Provide your teen information and normalize her curiosity so she will come to you with questions or concerns.
Screen time and social media –
Step back: As hard as it is for many parents to understand, social media is your teen’s mode of staying connected. Sharing her interests and showing curiosity about her online life will indicate to her that you respect how she communicates with her peers. At that same time, make sure she knows that her phone (and the apps that come with it) are a privilege and with the privilege come certain responsibilities. At the onset, create and enforce fair boundaries that keep her safe. Talk about appropriate and inappropriate usage. Trust her to know the difference. If you plan to check her phone, tell her there will be random checks. As she demonstrates more responsibility with social media and screen time, allow more freedom.
Step in: If your teen is experiencing or perpetrating cyberbullying or abuse, or if you are suspicious of it, intervene. If you notice your teen is starting to withdraw from other activities or her grades are dropping significantly, renegotiate the boundaries and limits.