This morning I was up at 4am. My young baby was downstairs crying in his crib. I was fighting every urge to go downstairs and help him get back to sleep. It is emotionally painful to let our kids suffer through things, even when we know it’s for their benefit. In the case of my son, I want him to learn how to self-soothe. This is a skill he will need for the rest of his life. Had I gone in there to comfort him I would have denied him the opportunity to learn this skill. Even still, it was heartbreaking. He fell asleep within minutes of course, but I sat there realizing this is the same feeling I will have as a mom when he is older.
I’m guessing if you’re reading this, your child is older and you are facing some situation where you have to decide how to best help. Is this a time where you let your teenager cope with their sadness/anger/stress/frustration? Is this a situation where you step in because it is simply too much for a teenager to handle on their own? These are two of the toughest questions we face as parents.
I have worked with a number of teens whose parents have always intervened for them. I bet you can guess the result. These teenagers are indecisive and scared of the world. They do not know how to deal with anything uncomfortable. If there is a class that is too difficult, their parents have called the school counselor to help them switch out. If there is a job they don’t like, their parents have let them quit. Unfortunately these teenagers have been taught they are completely unable to cope with discomfort. Until they learn otherwise, they will have a very challenging adulthood.
On the other hand, there are parents that force their kids to stick through absolutely everything. There is a time when it is appropriate to quit. This refers to unhealthy dating relationships, unhealthy friendships, making a wrong choice and stopping the course, etc. It’s not that parents ask their kids to continue these particular activities, but their kids have internalized the idea that it is never okay to quit anything. These kids have to learn when to just let something go, which is often a challenge for them.
So, as a mom or dad, how do you deal with this dilemma? As carefully as you can, you try and guide your children. It’s important to always keep the big picture in mind. What do I want my teenager to learn from this situation? The big goal is to raise healthy, functional adults. As a parent, what do I do in this scenario that helps my teen reach the big goal? This is more important than them feeling good about something right now. Do I call my kid out of school today because they aren’t ready for that math test, or do I let them get a failing grade because the painful lesson will make them more responsible in the future? Every choice has its consequences.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT