We Need to Step Back and Let Teens Learn Life Lessons the Hard Way

“You have to tell us where you are going, and you lied,” my son’s father said to him after telling him he wouldn’t be able to go to town and hang out with his friends for two weeks.

My youngest knows the rules: You have to tell us where you will be at all times, and if the plans change, you have to ask before you participate. I’ve drilled this into his head over and over because I’m that mom; the anxious one, the one that worries, the one who is afraid her kids are going to get into a bad situation if she doesn’t repeatedly remind them to make the right choices and follow the rules.

Parents can constantly tell their kids to follow the rules, act polite. and do things the “right” way. We can text them reminders, and try to scare them by telling them stories about kids who didn’t follow the rules and share the consequences of their actions.

two teenage girls
Teens need to learn life lessons themselves, sometimes the hard way. (Twenty20@Jess.xn)

We can teach them the lessons and hope they follow our advice. But the truth is, even if your child can hear your voice in their ear while they are getting ready to stick their big toe into something that they know would make your head spin, it might not be enough to stop them.

How Teens Learn Life Lessons

There are times when they need to experience feeling scared, uneasy, or guilty in order to learn and (hopefully), keep them from repeating the same mistake over and over again. It’s one of the scariest realizations I’ve had as a parent, but after living with three teens for a few years it’s my truth—and it’s the truth of every other parent of a teenager.

The same goes for taking our advice about completing projects, how they deal with relationships, or their organization skills. My life would be so much easier if my son would listen to my advice about not procrastinating when it came to school work.

And if all my kids believed me when I told them they’d feel healthier and happier if they took the dirty dishes and the trash out of their bedroom each night before they fell asleep surrounded by ice cream bar wrappers, bowls with dried cereal and crusted avocado, I wouldn’t be so frustrated. I wouldn’t feel the need to sport-eat potato chips over the sink, but this is where I am in life.

When they learn things on their own they will change and evolve. And their changing and evolving may mean they never take my advice about not eating sugar for breakfast. they may realize that protein will make them feel sharper than sugar-loaded cereal but they may not.

Our kids, especially teenagers, are trying to find out who they are. They are individuals and all we can do is teach them what we know, lead by example, accept and support them and hope they don’t screw up catastrophically along the way. This is the time in their life when they are trying to gain autonomy and we need to let then figure it out on their own, even if we think it won’t end in their favor.

I know nothing really sank in for me unless I experienced it for myself. Like when I stopped eating chocolate late at night and found I was finally able to sleep at night. It took me eons to stop sabotaging my own sleep even though not eating the chocolate was the simple solution. And I am not a stubborn teen.

I’ve realized the importance of stepping back (just a bit), and letting my teens navigate their own way. It’s made all the difference. Consequences such as not being able to see their friends outside of school for two weeks, because you decided to ignore the rules and got caught, takes care of future behaviors a lot better than lectures from parents.

The hard part is knowing when stepping back and allowing them to experience a little bit of self-induced pain is in order.

You Might Also Enjoy Reading: 

Grown and Flown: The Book

I Will Not Take Good Moments With My Teen For Granted

About Katie BinghamSmith

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, shoe addict and pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram .

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