Every teen has grand ideas about parenting. Despite the majority never having been responsible for little more than a houseplant, adolescents are prone to criticizing their parents’ every move. Teen wants to hang out with friends after school? Mom thinks homework is the first priority. Teen wants to learn French? Dad thinks Spanish is more valuable. Teen wants to clean their room tomorrow, not today? Mom takes away an electronic.
While these examples may be stark and stereotypical, they illustrate a fundamental aspect of the parent-child relationship: the former guides, and the latter resists guidance. This is universally true of such relationships, yet a divide exists in parenting approaches. There are those who ‘manage’ their children, and those who ‘assist.’
First, it is vital to clarify that in both instances, the parent is still a ‘boss’, not a friend nor subordinate to their offspring. Discipline occurs – Lucy has to go to the family reunion she is going to hate, Mark has to cheer on his little brother at his baseball game, chores must be done, and grades maintained. The divide in approach manifests elsewhere.
In childhood, where a kid is still very much a kid, the differences are minute, often distinguishing little more than who can and cannot attend sleepovers, or who does their middle-grade homework immediately after school. As my parents remain solidly planted in the ‘assistant’ camp, by seventh grade, I was able to ride the CTA to and from home alone and go to the mall with friends, so long as my parents knew my whereabouts. In comparison, a number of my peers were unable to go to a well-known friend’s house without supervision or navigate the city in any vehicle other than their parents’. My parents did not check my book bag for school forms or help with homework or make my lunches unless I needed and asked for help. From a young age, they recognized the capabilities of their children and permitted us to manage ourselves, always nearby to help, but never imposing. This precedent was monumental for my adolescence, and continues to define my character into adulthood.
In high school, I slept whenever I wanted (or didn’t, as the case may be), joined only clubs and sports I was personally interested in, and was free to spend time with friends. I managed my own rigorous schedule, eventually beginning to work at a grocery store, lead after-school clubs, and integrate smaller adult tasks, like scheduling my own dentist appointments. This transition to pseudo-adult begins for every high-schooler, regardless of their childhood, but how one reacts to such changes is key. Some fail to embrace their new adolescent status, choosing to cling to parents who continue to do their laundry and tell them when to do homework. Others, who spent so much of their youth behaving like grown-ups, revel in these changes.
However, every coin has two sides, and a lack of enforced structure from parents is not without its pitfalls. For example, when I became interested in video games, my dedication to school faltered. Unlike ever before, my grades fell and, having no precedent for parental micromanagement, I floundered alone. My parents took notice of my sudden apathy and tried to help, but, having never had reason to manage me before, their attempts were rebuked. Despite knowing that their stern guidance was appropriate and necessary, I resisted being treated like the child I was. In essence, this is the one drawback of such parenting – you are treated like an adult, a capable and independent person, throughout your childhood, and then it becomes near impossible to see oneself as a kid again.
I eventually recovered from that particular lapse, but my high school experience was riddled with them. I was prone to procrastination. I had poor time management, and an irregular sleep schedule. For a time, my academic future was threatened. Yet, I remain grateful for my parents’ approach. It worked for me. I excelled with minimal parental involvement, and eventually learned when to ask for help. Adolescence is about making mistakes, dealing with them, and becoming a self-sufficient adult. Hardship, even if self-inflicted, is a vital part of the learning process.
Neither of these styles is necessarily superior; a time and place exists for each. Children vary immensely and some will simply require a stronger hand to guide them. That being said, overall, for those apt to take a stricter approach, it is key to not allow fear for your child – whether fear of failure or fear of harm – to drive one’s actions. Fear of failure need not exist. Children are a curious and creative demographic who, when left to their own devices, will not drive themselves to nothingness. Similarly, the world is a big, scary place, but kids and teens gain nothing by being sheltered from it. When allotted an opportunity for independence, children will clutch it and prosper. Today, I am a fiercely independent, self-confident person because my parents assured that their children knew that they loved them, but, in many ways, could live without them.