Rachel Paxton

Raising a Self-Sufficient Teen

Teens don’t learn responsibility overnight. If you haven’t been working with your teen on gradually giving them a sense of independence and ownership of their lives, then you’re going to have your work cut out for you. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

By the time your children are in high school, they should be doing for themselves a lot of the things you’ve been doing for them all of their lives. What does your teen do when they have a problem? Run to you? Or try to solve his/her own problem, maybe coming to you for advice when they’ve exhausted their own resources?

I don’t know about you, but I want my daughter to be self-sufficient when she heads off to college. I want her to be able to choose her own friends, manage her own expenses, be up to the challenge of solving everyday problems in an effective and positive manner, and generally get her adult life off to a good start.

Sound difficult? Not if you start out with the small things. My teen told me most of her friends don’t even know where their moms do their grocery shopping. I couldn’t believe it. My daughter is involved with planning our meals (it’s in her interest if she wants a say in what we’re having to eat), and she goes to the grocery store with me every single week and helps me mark each item off the list. She reads labels, compares prices, and tells me when she thinks I’m spending too much money on something. And why does she care how much money I spend you might ask? Because our family’s finances are tight, and she knows that any money we save at the grocery store our family will be able to spend somewhere else. What a great life lesson.

Because our family’s finances are tight, my daughter has also learned how to budget. She is not directly involved in our financial planning, but she sees me making our budget and deciding the way we spend our family’s money. She knows that when more money than expected has to be spent in a certain area, that something else has to give. She knows that money doesn’t grow on trees. She’s started to budget her own money–tithing, spending some, and saving some.

A lot of my daughter’s friends wear expensive designer clothes. She knows we can’t afford to buy clothes like that for her, so we frequent local thrift and clothing consignment stores, shop bargain sales, and do a lot of yard saling. Sure, I wish I could spend more money on her clothes, but she still finds much of the same designer clothing her friends wear. Other friends are jealous of the good buys she finds. When my daughter grows up part of me hopes she can afford nicer things for herself. But deep down, I’m grateful for the life lessons she’s learning. Whether she has money or not, she will never want for anything because she knows how to get by no matter what her circumstances.

You might think your teen would think it a chore to go grocery shopping and shopping for second-hand clothing. My daughter doesn’t look at it that way. Partly she’s bored and wants to get out of the house, but going through these daily routines together is much of the time we spend together, hanging out and talking about other things on her mind. More than half of the time we spend in deep discussion takes place in the car driving from one place to another. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.

I’m not worried about whether or not my daughter is going to be able to take care of herself when she goes off to college. I’m certain she’ll be up to the challenge.

A freshman in high school this year, she has four more years to practice before she’s on her own. She cooks dinner once a week or so, does some of the laundry, and helps clean up after our pets keep the house clean. At her age, homework is most important to us and that takes priority over other things, so we don’t overload her with chores, but my main concern is that she knows HOW to do these things. Especially with something like cooking it takes time to learn some of these skills. And if you don’t have enough patience to help them learn something like how to cook, then let them learn through trial and error. Let them cook what they want to cook and let them even go buy the groceries to make it.

Let your teens schedule their own appointments and make other phone calls you normally make for them. I think everyone has a little fear of the phone at first, but after the first few times they’ll enjoy the responsibility they’ve earned.

And did you notice what effect these changes will have on your life? Less responsibility and demands on you! It’s a little hard to let go at first and you might have to take baby steps in handing over the reigns a little, but you’ll be so proud of your teen the first time they take initiative on their own. When they leave home you’ll worry less and know it was a job well done.

Published August 28, 2006 by:

Rachel Paxton
Rachel Paxton is a freelance writer and mom who is the author of What's for Dinner?, an e-cookbook containing more than 250 quick easy dinner ideas. For more recipes, organizing tips, home decorating, crafts, holiday hints, and more, visit Creative Homemaking at http://www.creativehomemaking.com.
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