How To Avoid Over-Parenting Your Teenager’s Relationships

High school is all about (or should be all about) handing over the reins of your child’s life to them. They need to be responsible for their entire lives by the time they get to college, and many parents realize that. They no longer write notes to teachers about why their child couldn’t complete a homework assignment. They no longer pack lunches, decide which classes and extra-curriculars their child will participate in, they no longer pack a kid lunch and by no means do they ‘just talk to’ the soccer coach to try to get their kid moved to first string.

Some of us have one weakness though – a temptation that is hard to resist: weighing in on, or worse yet controlling, your teens love life and friendships.

For me, it started near the end of eighth grade – Song & Dance dumped her boyfriend a mere two weeks after he had told her he was thinking of dumping her because he didn’t like her new haircut. I didn’t react to that aside from an eye roll, but when she severed the relationship, he wrote a note that I found both offensive and alarming, and said horrible things about her. The temptation to show the note to the administration and talk to his parents – who seemed like reasonable people – was overwhelming. But sometimes your kid is wiser than you are, and at the age of 13, she warned me that getting involved wouldn’t actually do anything but satisfy my urge for justice.

It wouldn’t make her life better.

It wouldn’t teach him a lesson.

His parents might not take away anything other than ‘my, that woman is high strung’.

She was right, of course, and now that she’s a senior in high school and she’s got a steady boyfriend, I try to remember not to meddle. Not when they have fights over text (because texting can ruin any romance) and I’ve told her not to talk via text to her boyfriend at all if she wants to retain the relationship, not when she talks about breaking up with this boy whom I’ve come to adore but isn’t perfect. Not when I worry the distraction will prevent her from getting in to college somehow (I have a vivid imagination). I even try to remember not to meddle when I really had a long day at work and I still have miles to go before I sleep and she needs 25 precious minutes to vent and ponder about her boyfriend’s shortcomings when I really just want to write for a few minutes, start the dishwasher, read a book for 20 minutes until I pass out for 7 short hours before it’s time to do it all again. Sometimes, I am amazed at my own stamina.

So here’s how I prevent myself from meddling:

If it’s not dangerous, it’s just a thing that’s going to happen – now or later.

Unless someone is in danger: i.e. they are being encouraged to try drugs or alcohol, have sex before they’re ready (or unprotected sex – every household has a different threshold on whether that’s okay or not, but I hope we can ALL agree that unprotected sex is dangerous no matter what age) or is in a car repeatedly with someone who is driving distractedly or drunk, well….think about it. If none of these apply and the worst that could happen is they could get their heart broken: well. That’s going to happen someday, isn’t it? Might as well get that first one out of the way.

Remember, your child might not have good taste yet.

Picture this: Your son knows this girl. She’s got class, intelligence, wit and kindness. However, she doesn’t curl her hair into loose ringlets, wear super short shorts, and isn’t outgoing enough to be popular. He’s friend-zoned this diamond in the rough, and you want to hit him over the head with a frying pan.

Happens. All. The. Time. Don’t try to get them together – it would be like trying to feed your kid brie when they have only recently developed a taste for Velveeta. When he’s ready to date someone fabulous, he will. This lovely lady may still be around, or someone new might be in the picture. There are two humans living their own life here – the girl who doesn’t do everything she can to project that ‘I’m on the Market’ vibe and the boy who doesn’t notice a good thing even when it’s his lovely lab partner and they play Overwatch together. They’re not unhappy this way – just let your kid mature. If you push him into something he’s not ready for, he’ll screw it up.

Keep in mind that everything we do makes us wiser years later.

Think back to everything you did romantically- or even to your friends – in high school. The things people did to you. Makes you wince, right? But you’re a better, more mature person because of it. Our teens spend so much time in school that we forget sometimes that they are learning things from human interaction as well (and thank goodness – I see so many adults who telecommute, keep their noses in their phones when they’re on public transport, and they only posts they make on Facebook are about what they’re binge watching on Netflix that the interactive learning is clearly over). Every success, every failure, every time they’ve made someone happy or sad, they’ve learned something. We cannot TELL them what these skills are they need to know, it really does fall under the heading of something they need to know themselves.

Get your own life.

I have a high school senior, and I see far too many parents whose sun rises and sets on what the world thinks of their kid. Yes, I get it, it’s just the norm right now, and these parents may have a rich life in other areas – but if they’re THAT invested in their kids, it’s not rich enough. Their work should be important, their relationships. If all your friends are people you see because your kids do things together, that’s nice – but if you really like them, have a relationship with them outside of soccer practice/PTA/marching band boosters. Ask a favorite couple of parents out for coffee, or try to start a book club, and if that doesn’t work, develop your own hobby, take a class, volunteer for something that doesn’t involve your kid, because if you’ve done your job well, soon that kid will be an adult and you will have years ahead of you, hope willing, before you’re a grandparent and those parenting instincts can kick in again.

Prevent yourself from more work later.

After they leave home, I want my children to call me with their successes and failures, I want to be able to discuss interesting things with them (books! Politics! Psychology!) and I want them to take some interest in my life and that of far-flung family members. That could eat up 2 hours of phone time per week right there. So here’s what I don’t want: to be making all my kids friendship and relationship decisions for them. That would not only eat up all the time talking to someone I’ve taken great effort to make interesting, it would mean that she might feel that she couldn’t make a move in her personal life without consulting me, or worse yet, that I have all the answers about life. (I don’t, I’ve been able to confirm this numerous times.) So if there was ever any doubt about how to avoid over-parenting your teenager’s relationships, I’m pretty sure we’ve clarified the why.

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