The answer could be “nothing,” other than the typical struggles adolescents have always faced, says Jeffrey Leiken, author of “Adolescence is Not a Disease: Beyond Drinking, Drugs and Dangerous Friends – The Journey to Adulthood” (www.Leiken.com).
As CEO of Evolution Mentoring International, Leiken provides mentoring for teens and young adults, going beyond the typical work of a therapist by building a relationship so that they come to see Leiken as a trusted confidant who answers their late-night text messages and isn’t quick to label them.
“I don’t start with the premise that there is something wrong with them that needs to be fixed,” Leiken says. “The teens and young adults I work with often are saner than the system they are in – a system that seems to forget we are raising humans, not building robots.”
Parents sometimes get caught up in that system, too, but in many cases they just need to chill, he says.
Leiken says parents who want to prepare teenagers for the day they will venture out on their own should:
- “Great advice, wrong source” – Enlist the aid of other adults. Parents are puzzled when they give excellent advice that their teenager promptly ignores. But adolescents often discard words of wisdom from their parents that they would embrace if the guidance came from someone else. That’s why it’s important to enlist the help of other adults who can offer coaching, training and guidance to the teen.
- Avoid letting fear be the guide. Too many parents are on edge, worried that if their teen isn’t in the top 1 percent of the high school class, they will be denied hope for economic prosperity, status, and independence. Their anxieties can rub off on young people who become hesitant to take risks for fear of endangering their future. Instead of scaring them, parents need to encourage teens to step outside their comfort zones and take risks that will help them grow into confident, well-rounded adults.
- Help teens eliminate choices. One popular bit of advice parents hear is they should encourage teenagers to keep all their options open. That sounds like a good strategy, but isn’t. In reality, parents need to encourage teens to eliminate options – such as for colleges or careers – that aren’t and never will be right for them. The teens’ decision-making abilities will increase as a result.
“Parents also need to realize they don’t have to become experts in raising teenagers,” Leiken says. “They just have to become an expert in raising their own teenager.”