Dear Dr. Allen: Give the kid a chore.
We know the world is a challenging place and because of this, we often want to protect our kids from stress and disappointment. However, in our desire to provide a safe, comfortable family life, we can actually be impairing our kids’ abilities to function independently and with confidence.
Here are some important things to consider when your goal is a healthy 24 year old (even though your child may be 6 or 12 or 17 now).
Encourage self-reflection. Your child/teen will have the ability to stop and listen within himself or herself to thoughts, ideas and options for whatever situation they are facing. To do this, we need to allow them the space to brainstorm and identify the different options to challenges they are now facing.
Whatever your kid/teen can now do for themselves allow them to do it. This includes how to tie my own shoes, remembering to take my lunch or homework to school, figuring out how to deal with a peer/social challenge, communicating with another significant adult (such as a teacher, coach, relative, family friend), managing time, being organized and planning for the future.
Remind yourself you are aiming for a confident and capable 24 year old who can negotiate challenges and live independently, likely with roommates in an apartment somewhere, and actually enjoy his or her life and make healthy decisions. To have this ability, they need freedom to think, make choices and experience the consequences of their choices.
This means pulling back from covering mistakes for them, overprotecting them, solving problems for them, planning and scheduling for them, reminding them of things to do, and basically taking away responsibility and the freedom to choose or to think for themself. Many teens feel their lives are not their own, but the adults’ in their lives and their goal is to follow instructions daily/weekly.
Colleges are full of freshmen who can’t manage their daily schedules because they haven’t been allowed the freedom to develop their thinking, choosing, deciding and problem solving skills. Many young adults have become experts at following instructions but not in how to guide themselves through life’s challenges. Life is more than academic achievements. It is also about managing relationships with people who may have good and not good intentions towards us.
Research on successful, 24-year-old adults shows they did family chores growing up. Chores teach planning, time management, using your hands, responsibility, accountability, independence, and contributing to the greater good.
Let kids learn from their decisions and from the behaviors of other people. Let them gain the confidence that comes from being familiar with coping with stressors and disappointments and solving challenges that come their way.
In this way, we will be able to sleep better one day, when they are on their own living as a healthy 24 year old.
Dr. Greg Allen is a Licensed Therapist practicing in Palos Verdes Estates. (drgregallen.com). He is also the founder and director of Freedom4U, a non-profit that seeks to guide youth towards their life purpose and thereby reduce risky lifestyles. (freedomcommunity.com). Pen