3 Steps To Empower Instead of Enable Your Tween or Teen

Raising Gen-Z is hard work. These kids are growing up in a culture that is wildly different from anything we experienced in our own youth. Technology, society, safety, everything is different. Some changes are for the better, and others make it very difficult for us as parents. It is so hard to know what boundaries to put in place to protect and guide our kids, or when we need to step back and let them learn on their own. I think this balance has probably always been hard on parents, but it is an even blurrier line in today’s generation. Many of us grew up in the “toughen up” era, we were sent outside to play and told to be back when the streetlights came on. For most of us, allowing our kids that level of independence in the world today wasn’t a safe or plausible option. We grew accustomed to always being there for our babies, protecting them, rescuing them, and healing their hurts. Much of this generational shift is a good thing; more involved parents, more understanding of mental health, and closer connection with our kids. These are all good. But at some point in our children’s lives, they reach an age where our over-involvement begins to teeter on the line of enabling. Enabling becomes a slippery slope that can lead our children straight into the epidemic of entitlement. And most of us are painfully aware of how difficult an entitled attitude can be to live with. We absolutely always want to be there for our kids, but we don’t want to sabotage their futures by enabling them. Instead, there are ways to empower our kids to succeed and thrive in the real world. 

We enable when we constantly rescue our teens. We empower them when we allow them to take responsibility and experience natural consequences for their behavior.

We are mama bears. We don’t want to see our kids suffer in any way, even if it is by their own doing. But when we jump in and rescue them from every minor misstep, we create a false sense of how the world operates and enable them to never be responsible for their own decisions. They begin to assume their actions don’t matter that much and someone else will always be there to clean up after them or solve every problem. We certainly want our kids to know they can always come to us for help and we will be there to guide them, but we don’t have to rush in every time a natural consequence for their behavior occurs. If they get a bad grade on the test because they stayed up playing video games instead of studying, that is on them. It’s not our job to go ask the teacher for extra credit. If they don’t have the money to pay their cell phone bill because they spent it on fast food all week, we don’t need to give them a pass that month and cover the bill for them. Life is the best teacher and letting out kids face the natural consequences for their actions is the best way to help them learn how to make better choices in the future.

We enable when we bribe, overdo, manipulate and plead. We empower them when we have faith that they will figure it out.

As a mom, and as a parent education coach working with other moms, I have found we all struggle with an overwhelming responsibility to ensure our child’s success. The turbulence of the teenage years terrifies us of what our kids’ futures might look like without us stepping in. We allow this fear to control us into doing whatever it takes to get our teens to make wise and responsible decisions. So we bribe, coax, threaten, plead, guilt. manipulate, and nag them into what we want. Believe me, I am SO familiar with this particular form of enablement. We once bought our daughter a Shih Tzu puppy in exchange for her going away to a Christian summer camp. Yes, we bribed her. She went to camp, but we were left with a very stubborn dog that bit neighbors and was impossible to potty train. If we step back and believe in our kid’s processes and allow them to make their own decisions (with boundaries and natural consequences), we empower them to be independent. capable,  and responsible individuals. 

We enable when we lack healthy boundaries and do things for our kids that they can do themselves. We empower when we model living our own lives and find meaning, passion, and purpose.

We are ALL guilty of doing things for our kids that they can do themselves. Whether cleaning up after them, constantly reminding them of homework being due, or providing them with everything they want without making them learn to work to get it. Our teens are young adults. Only a few short years from living on their own. We want to be giving them opportunities to be responsible and independent. They don’t really need us to do their laundry or make their lunch every day. Of course, there are times when these acts of service are a way to show our love and support for our kids, and that is totally fine. But we also need to make sure we aren’t constantly doing everything for them when they are able to do it. At this stage of parenting, you don’t need to be spending so much time attending to their every whim that you don’t have time to do things for yourself as well. If you are feeling burnt out and drained, you may be overdoing things for your kids. When you model healthy boundaries and take time for your own passions, you are not only empowering your kids to be more independent, but you are showing them how to live a balanced life themselves. 

Your teens may protest at first to you doing less for them when you begin implementing these changes, but over time they will feel more fulfillment and satisfaction from being given more responsibility over their own lives. In the end, you both will be happier when your teen is empowered instead of enabled and entitled. It may be a bumpy ride to get there, but it will be worth it! Raising Gen-Z is hard, but we can still raise them to be responsible, kind, and respectful humans even in an entitled society. 

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