Are You Supporting Your Teen or Enabling Them?

As a parent, you are used to helping your child. When he or she was little, you had to do everything for them. Now that they’re a teenager, though, it can be hard to let go of the reins and let them make their own choices. Making poor choices at times is par for the course when it comes to being an adolescent. Sometimes, parents feel as though they should be there to clean up the figurative (and occasionally literal!) messes as they happen in order to be supportive. However, there is a difference between supporting and enabling your teen. Take a look at these tips on supporting your teen rather than enabling them as he or she is on the journey toward adulthood.


Listen More Than You Speak

You might have heard the adage, “you have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you speak.” When it comes to supporting your teen, your primary role should be listening, not talking. In a few years, your child will be solving most of his or her problems on their own, so letting them work out their own solutions to their issues is great practice for them — and for you!

Many times, teens simply want to vent and don’t want their parents to suggest solutions to issues that come up with friends, school, sports, and their jobs. If your teen seems stuck, it’s fine to offer a suggestion or two, but a good strategy most of the time is to say something like, “what are some ways you can think of to handle this problem?” You might be surprised at what your teen comes up with when you are not the one supplying the answers.


Don’t Lie For Your Teen

One big clue that you are enabling your teenager is if you are lying for them. This can take many forms. For example, you might agree to write a note to the school to excuse them for an absence that was due to your teen staying up all night and then sleeping in. Or you might make excuses for your teen’s bad behavior, saying things like, “That’s really not like him at all; he must have been getting sick.” Insist that your teen take ownership of his or her own behavior.

When supporting your teen, if you find that you are going against your own value system, this is a red flag that your teenager is too dependent on you and that you are going too far in enabling him or her. Also, it sends a very mixed message to your teen. Presumably, you are teaching him or her to be honest and to have integrity, but when you go against that yourself, it shows them that you think they are above these rules of decency. Don’t be afraid to tell your child that you are sorry, but you simply will not lie for them.


Remember That Your Teen’s Problems Don’t Belong to You

When your teen was a toddler, his or her moods probably vacillated wildly between glee and intense sadness. While you probably felt bad when your toddler was unhappy, you soon learned not to take it personally. The same goes for your teen. You are not responsible for every fluctuation in his or her happiness. The problems that they have, particularly the ones that are self-created, are not up to you to solve.

This can be a huge burden lifted off of your shoulders. At the same time, it will throw a previously enabled teenager into a tailspin. “What do you mean you won’t call my teacher and explain why my project is late?!” You are supporting your teen by letting him or her handle their own problems, as long as they are age-appropriate and not likely to result in great harm. A failing grade or a lost part-time job now will teach important lessons that can help your teen achieve success later in life.

Create and Stick to Boundaries

Do you say what you mean and mean what you say? If your teen is constantly trying to cajole you into doing things you’ve already decided not to do, it could be because you’ve enabled them by not sticking to the boundaries that you’ve set. Throughout life, your teen will be encountering obstacles that they must navigate. There will be rules that they don’t like. Do not get into the habit of letting your teen do whatever they want. Create reasonable boundaries, discuss what the consequences will be if those boundaries are crossed, and stick to whatever you’ve decided.

It can be very difficult for the teen who has not had boundaries all along, but it will be even more difficult if your teenager becomes an adult who has never had to follow rules and face consequences. Remember that the consequences you impose on your teenager are not going to be as severe as those faced by adults who do not follow the rules or the law. Being grounded or losing their driving privileges now can help your child avoid losing a job or being arrested later.


Seek Help When Needed

When it comes to supporting your teen, it’s important to remember that sometimes, people need professional help with certain problems. If your teen is showing signs of depression, anxiety, or other types of mental health conditions that can cause misbehavior, withdrawal, or other problems, it’s important to seek help right away. First, it will help immensely to get the professional support needed. Secondly, this sets a good example for your teenager that he or she can follow later in life: When there’s a problem, we take steps to solve the problem. It also helps to remove some of the stigma surrounding mental health issues and it can help prevent the issue from getting worse.

Parenting is a delicate balancing act, and it’s never more true than when raising teenagers. It’s easy to get into the trap of going too far when it comes to being unsupportive or being an enabler. Always keep in mind that the eventual goal is that your teenager will be a productive and happy adult, and make decisions based on what is most likely to get him or her to that point.