Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day;
teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
~ Unattributed Chinese proverb
As is often the case, one of the best things a parent can give their teenager is hardly a thing at all: it’s room.
- to make their own decisions and to enjoy the sense of accomplishment associated with wise choices—or—to endure the consequences or poor choices;
- to learn life lessons never taught in a class or between pages in a book; and
- to grow.
Parenting is tricky; time doesn’t play fair.
Days are long, years are short—before we know it, our pre-pubescent grade-schooler is learning to drive! There are no defining lines to mark seasons in development; they rarely occur overnight. Sometimes shift is so subtle you don’t even realize it when you’ve left one stage and entered the next.
During your child’s formative years your job is to feed your child a lot of fish; but over time, gradually, it’s crucial to teach him how to fish for himself.
There will be a point when all the training, teaching, coaching and leading by example will have to be enough. It is imperative that parents step back from managing their children’s lives and allow them space to work through issues themselves.
Giving your child room allows her to grow.
Recently my son, a junior in high school, suffered a mild concussion during soccer practice. In the midst of an excellent season; his school has one of the top-ranked teams in the state. Their team has talent, crazy skill and depth; for my son, his concussion proved to be a set-back. He went from starter to bench warmer.
Without him having to say a word, I sensed his bruised pride. As his mother, champion and biggest fan, it broke my heart. The first game I was able to attend after returning from an extended trip, he didn’t play at all! I knew he was disappointed and I dreaded the ride home.
I was already imagining conversations with the coach, where I would beg him to let the kid play; conversations I knew would never take place but made me long for those days when he was little and everyone got to play every game.
But it’s a different animal when you earn the right to join a team and play competitive sports. Equal play, regardless of ability, serves no one and teaches nothing. But it sure is tough to swallow when your kid is the one not playing.
When he got in the car, I braced for his reaction. But instead of wallowing in self-pity and disappointment, he praised his team and the game they played! Enthusiastically, he recounted his favorite moments.
Sitting on the bench and me not trying to do a thing about it was giving him the necessary room to build character. He learned as much about being part of a team by sitting on the bench as he did by playing every minute. Maybe more (I think it’s harder!).
Had I stepped in to try to pressure or persuade the coach, my son would have been cast as a victim (which I absolutely detest); it also would have fed the notion that parents can bail you out just because you don’t like something. It would have undermined the coach.
Had I smothered him in the name of love and “fairness,” I would have robbed him of a far greater good.
Sometimes intentional parenting means not doing anything at all. On purpose.
I wonder if helicopter parents ever realize they’re hovering? Take a minute to consider if you’re allowing enough space for your teen to grow. Are there areas or issues where you should take a step back? Maybe a candid conversation with your teens would reveal a blind spot.
Do you have personal examples to share where you’ve allowed your child growing room in the midst of challenge? Encourage us by sharing what works for you!