Empowering Vs Protecting 

When you have a thirteen year old going on fourteen, the question on our mind is

  • How much do I empower?
  • Do I just protect my child ?
  • How much do I push?
  • When do I hold back?

This is a struggle we face almost every day, from helping them find their socks to what they do online. The pressures and challenges of life, along with the teenage blues can become a nightmare or an enjoyable phase in our lives.  It is that phase when we see our child blossom into a young adult, as they progress through these teenage years. Some values which are helping us enjoy this phase are

1. Help them develop their Identity by allowing them to choose early.

‘How early’ would be the next question? From the day they can make choices and I should say its child specific and parent specific. Start as early as possible. One of the first choices kids want to make is the clothes they wear. I remember our
son crying he did not like the clothes we picked up but wanted only full length jeans and some round neck T-shirts. We realized it was not a tantrum but to do with his identity. It next went to the colors he liked.  Already the choice for boys is limited and now our son made it narrower. We wanted to see our son in shorts and shirts, formal wear but he did not like it.  Once we gave in he would accept the boundaries we set. Though jeans and a round neck T-shirt were ok most of the time, there were occasions where he was expected to wear formals etc which were nonnegotiable. As they were agreed on it was easier for all of us. Now as a teen he has not given up on the round neck t-shirt but yes he wants only shorts how times change!!! I would add that we need to allow them make age appropriate choices. We don’t get them something just because they want it or demand it.

Some of the rules we follow are

  • We don’t get something just because our friend’s have it.
  • Is it a need or a luxury?
  • Can we afford it right now?
  • Even if we feel it is a need and we can afford it, can we wait for some more time before we actually get it? This has been crucial as when we wait, sometimes we may realize it’s not a need and we have saved ourselves from buying a white elephant and other times we get better deals cost wise product wise.

2. Be consistent, this helps them trust you.

We need to earn our children’s trust. Yes early on we are their world. As years go by we start competing with their friends, friend’s parents, teachers and society in general. I fondly remember the days my son would come and argue that the method I taught him was wrong and his teacher was right. Letting go of my ego I encouraged him to learn from his teachers and also to make sure he went to the teacher to get his doubts clarified. In the process I taught him to learn on his own at school. In the meantime as a parent I told him how the teachers would ask extra questions to see who the smart kid was to have learnt the whole lesson. I remember my son thinking I was just trying to make him study more, but when the questions I had prophesied came in the paper he was overjoyed and would look forward to my opinion.  This happened in grade 1.  Today I am that annoying mom who gives him my two cents but in his heart he knows it’s for his good and is willing to engage in those conversations.

As they grow old they are evaluating us against what we teach them and what they see us practicing. They need to see us consistent in our words and actions. As parents this is important to capture their trust and also protect us from not being taken for a ride by our kids. This will also help them to trust us and allow us help them during their difficult times.

3. Start money management small.

In this age of supermarkets, when the kid friendly racks are arranged at their level, it’s not a surprise many of them appear in our trolleys at the billing counter even if we did not pick them. When our son was small it was mainly snacks and every trip the no of items seemed to increase. So we had a family meeting and it was decided that he would pick five items every month. He was only about three at that time.  Slowly the bill value was increasing though the number of items was only five. So now we agreed on a budget for the five items. We moved from the quantity to quality. He started making his choices. The next logical step was pocket money and though he was five we decided to go ahead. So we decided on a monthly allowance for our son and he was to put into three boxes – offering for church (10%), saving (50%), treats (40%). He had to remember to take his offering to church on Sundays. He could not touch the savings. He could use the treats to buy what he wanted at school or when we went out. This money was for the whole month. He had the choice to keep it for a month or finish in a week. At the end of the year depending on the savings he was able to pick up toys in this budget. Within a year or two he realized that if he saved his money on treats he had more money to spend at the end of the year. As years went by my son comes up with his plans for spending money and has even learnt to get the best price deals. Now he has moved to three year plans. He now negotiates with us as to how much he would give and how long he would have to wait if we needed to fund the rest.  Having said this, it was tough as a parent to actually make him give his part of the money. At times it was also difficult to stay in the budget but this is where consistency helps. He has made mistakes but he is also learning to handle money effectively. It takes a lot of letting go on our protecting nature but I would encourage parents to try it and you will be surprised. Important principle here is to lead by example. If my spending habits are bad I can’t expect my son to be better.

4. Make them accountable for their decisions.

To be accountable, boundaries need to be set. Right from when they are small, be vocal with your expectations. When our son was about two I remember having conversations in the car telling him what we expected in terms of behavior when we went to a particular place. It had a list of do’s and don’ts. On the way back we would evaluate saying where we were happy because he followed the expectations and where we were upset that he failed us. The do’s and don’ts were not a set of rules, but we tried explaining why we expected that behavior. I was surprised it worked.  Always have a discussion of what you expect from them and also ask them to come with a punishment which is agreeable for both if they fail to deliver.

Once we are vocal with our expectations and are willing to listen to their limitations, we empower our kids to choose what they want to follow and along with it decide the consequence if they fail.  Again start young with age appropriate issues. Gadget time is an issue across ages but the consequences need to be revisited as they grow old. It’s important to stick to your side of the deal and to be consistent.

5. Protecting is easy and false, empowering is the hard reality.

As parents we need to realize protecting is easy and it creates a false sense of safety. In a world of protection we create the world we want for our children, shutting out those we don’t. The more we protect the more we live in a false world.  For example we teach our kids honesty. We may be honest, but unfortunately we live in a dishonest world – how are they going to face it? We try to shut out dishonest people from our lives and then we live in this bubble of ‘we are honest and others are bad’. When we choose to empower them we teach them how to stay honest and teach them when to trust people and when not to. It takes hard work. It means making mistakes and correcting them. Isn’t this the reality of life? We understand situations and we learn to come up with solutions not letting go of our values in life.

The small changes  we embraced  when our son was small is paying off now. The issues we deal with now have changed but the principles remain the same. Life is about enjoying every stage of our children let’s do our part to make it stress free for all of us.

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