Let me take you on a ride. A space launch to be exact. Ever been on one? I didn’t think so, as there have only been about a hundred or so American astronauts. This space launch is a metaphor for how your teens become adults.
As shown in the recent movie, Hidden Figures, and more fully in the past movie, Apollo 13, it takes a team for any space launch to be successful. There are a whole bunch of people at ground control. For the US, that’s Houston, TX. Remember the famous line from Apollo 13? “Houston, we have a problem.” Also, these launches take years, decades of preparation, with new technology always adding to the mix. And astronauts are groomed, prepared, and meet certain criteria of stamina and expertise even to get into the astronaut training program. No space launch is exactly perfect, so the spaceship trajectory is adjusted, mid-course corrections, by the ship’s pilot, in consultation with ground control.
I know you see where I’m going with this. As we prepare to launch our teens from adolescence to adulthood, we see the parallels to manned space flights. We, the parents, are their primary ground control, although we ask extended family and experts to give us help and counsel. When did ground control start its work? When your son or daughter was born. Their entire life is a preparation for launch.
Finally, the day arrives. Your child fills their car with their stuff and is off to college or work, with a different place to live. Suppose he gets lost? He talks to Siri or consults his GPS app on his phone. Suppose he runs short of funds? He goes to his local ATM or, more likely, he calls you for a “loan.” These are the mid-course corrections of his space flight, for which he is primarily responsible, but not without your wise counsel.
As he continues his space journey of exploration, are you hawking over him, ready to advise and protect? No, advice-based parenting was appropriate in his teen years. When he becomes an adult you switch to consultative parenting. “I have some thoughts about what you are going through, son. Do you want to hear them?” And then wait for him to give you permission. What about Sunday dinners back home with you? Mission to ground control, we have successful space launch to adulthood.
Our children go through specific developmental stages as they grow. Most of the time, we parents simply hang on. But did you know that we parents have developmental parenting stages as well? If our stage is not lined up with the one our child is in, there might be trouble, if not simply a misconnect.
When your child can't to for himself, and is totally dependent on you for everything, ages birth to five, then we have to do for him. This is Hands On Parenting. Telling your child to tie their shoes before they can or know how is setting them up to fail and be frustrated. "Here, let me do that for you."
From ages five to twelve, children are exploring, understanding their world, and trying to make sense of everything. As they learn new things, shift to Directed Parenting. Lots of teachable moments in this stage. If you're lucky, they will even ask you for help. "Can I help? Let's try together."
From ages thirteen to eighteen, teens know everything and (usually) make lots of mistakes and have lots of regrets. Offer him Advice-Based Parenting. You have the wisdom of having been there/done that. Your gift to your teen is to share that wisdom with them in an accepting, non-condemning, helpful way. "You know, back in the Stone Ages when I was your age, something like that happened to me. Wanna hear about it?"
As your child/teen now becomes a young adult, after age eighteen, treat him like one. With respect, collaboration, and acceptance, move to Consultative Parenting. His choices, his decisions, but you can offer perspective, a sounding board, and ideas. "I have some thoughts about what you are saying. Can I bend your ear?"
As child/parenting ages and stages line up, you continue to be a powerful, helping influence in your child's life.