Teens learn on own

Expert says if teenagers make their own decisions it helps emotional growth

The next time your teenager doesn’t wake up in time for school, don’t bother dumping a bucket of cold water on his head.

In fact, psychologist and co-author of Drop The Worry Ball Dr. Alex Russell suggests you go ahead and let him sleep in — even if it takes him a week to get to school.

“It’s going to feel like you’re being neglectful,” said Russell during a presentation at St. Patrick Catholic Secondary. “But in fact you’re being a good parent.”

While it may seem counter-intuitive, Russell said it’s crucial for parents to let their teenagers take ownership of their own actions.

This is the only way to build a responsible teenager, he said.

“You should be concerned that your children develop their own relationship with school and achievement,” Russell said. “They need to have their own source of motivation, and that can be tricky as a parent.”

To illustrate his point, Russell shared an anecdote in which he told a family to stop waking their son up for school.

It took several days, but eventually, as the student’s marks dropped, he was finally motivated to go to school — out of his own volition.

Russell contends that once teenagers realize they are alone with the problem, they will realize it is up to them to solve it.

A failing grade is an example of what Russell calls a “non-catastrophic painful failure”, which is essentially a wake-up call.

“Put the worry ball down and they’ll pick it up,” Russell said. “Let the non-catastrophic painful failures work their magic.”

That’s often easier said than done. This is because Russell said society drills it into parents’ brains that everything their kids do is their responsibility.

“It’s really difficult for us as parents to put our kids in a place where they really are responsible for their own choices,” he said. “And that’s so critical in terms of helping them become responsible for themselves.”

Russell has a few other tips that may go against conventional wisdom. For one, don’t finger wag or scold your teenager when they make a mistake.

“You’ve taken his attention off learning and put it right back on you,” Russell said. “And he’ll be mad at you.”

Instead, it’s more effective to show sympathy and understanding.

It’s also helpful not to be a gatekeeper as teenagers start to deal with issues such as curfew and alcohol consumption. While it’s important to make rules as to what is acceptable and what’s not, letting teenagers make personal decisions will help with their emotional growth.

“That part of their brain won’t kick in if you’re doing the worrying for them,” Russell said.

The presentation provided some relief­ — and validation — to parents such as Cathy Ludlow, who refuses to do her teenager’s homework and tells them they own their marks and if they pass or fail, it’s their own fault.

“It made me realize that I’m actually not as bad a parent that I thought I was,” Ludlow said. “Because I watched other parents that are doing (their kids’) work and it terrifies you, and makes you wonder ‘Am I doing the right thing for them?’ ”

Others, such as John MacKenzie, said Russell’s words helped him realize where he had gone wrong in the past.

“I had a granddaughter that didn’t turn out so well because I did everything for her,” MacKenzie said. “We’re going to start following his advice … Let the kid fail, so he doesn’t go to school for a week, and he’ll learn from his own mistake.”

That isn’t going to be easy for most parents. But Russell notes that it’s necessary, and you may actually find yourself having an easier time with parenting in the end.

“These days we have a generation of parents working harder than their kids,” Russell said in closing. “It’s about letting your children worry about themselves.”

About this article:

By: Omar Mosleh
Posted: Apr 19 2012 6:01 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto