The Tricky Line Between Autonomy and Discipline
Your child is your child. Your child is also her own person. Between these obvious facts, there is ample opportunity for confusion and conflict between the two of you. The line is a tricky one, the trickiest part being that it keeps moving. In certain situations, it’s proper for your teenager to assert her own burgeoning maturity; in others, you need to be the hand of authority and experience. Here are a few tips to know what situations require firm control vs. those which may be best served by relinquishing some of that authority. (And in both cases, how best to do so.)
Trust and confidence
This is a vital component in any healthy relationship, even when it is between parent and child. Along the steppingstones to adolescence, has your child earned some trust? If so, then remember to emphasize the word earned in your own mind: this is something she has worked for and deserves. So, don’t be scared to give it — if your child never breaks curfew as she’s grown older, consider that maybe she’s earned the trust to have curfew pushed back another hour. If your child has consistently kept up her grades, maybe don’t require designated study time anymore — assume that she has a good handle on this.
Of course, there’s the flipside: Maybe this trust hasn’t been earned. In that case, it’s important to keep asserting discipline and firm boundaries. Cliché but fact: There are few free passes in the adult world, and that is the place you’re preparing your teenager to enter. If they want privileges, they have to earn them.
A Huffington Post article recently noted the new concept of the Submarine Parent. It is basically the inverse of the Helicopter Parent: instead of being uber-involved and constantly hovering, the Submarine Parent keeps below the surface, often out of sight, and lets the child find her own context, develop her problem-solving skills, work out thorny issues and make decisions. In this way, her own autonomy evolves and isn’t stymied by regular interference from the looming adult who is always eager to step in.
However, it is important to see what Submarine Parenting entails, rather than what it doesn’t. Because this parent is always watching, always observing, they are able also to educate themselves about which situations call for a passive approach, and which may require intercession. By watching, the parent is getting her/his own grasp of their role, and the line that often appears so blurry slowly gains some clarity.
Mistakes will be made
Letting your child make mistakes might well be the consistently toughest part of parenting. Mistakes can hurt, be embarrassing and are disappointing. Alas, it is a part of the job. No child is well prepared for life without having been given the opportunity to make some mistakes, without Mom and/or Dad always just around the corner to clean them up. An important duty for you as a parent is to allow your teenager enough room to screw-up, stumble, blunder and fall flat on occasion — and deal with the repercussions. Short-term, it can be painful; long-term, you’re doing your child a great service.
You are raising a child to one day not be a child anymore. And to rear them into adulthood, of course, requires discipline, rules, standards. But it also requires the slow but steady evolution into being an adult, with all its own challenges, pitfalls, and rewards