A recent article in The New York Times reported that 30 percent of college freshmen do not return their sophomore year. Teens are heading off to college only to find that they are unprepared for newfound responsibilities and independence. According to the article, many have not developed skills to manage daily life: filling prescriptions on time, getting homework done (without being nagged), or turning off phones long enough to focus on the task at hand.
One reason so many teens are unprepared is that they’re not given opportunities to develop autonomy and responsibility. When they leave for college, they may lack necessary life skills to be successful, independent students.
So, how can parents ensure teens thrive when they start the first chapter of adulthood? Here are five ways to promote responsibility and independence:
1. Foster self-advocacy skills.
Stop doing everything for your teen. Instead, empower her to ask important questions, schedule appointments, manage projects and solve problems on her own.
2. Balance support and rescue.
There may be moments when you need to rescue your teen, but as she gets older, those moments become less frequent. Step back and let her take the lead. Instead of asking, "How can I help you?" ask, "What support do you need?"
3. Teach teens how to perform real-world tasks.
Teens need to learn to schedule appointments, make meals, do laundry, complete paperwork and manage money. Provide plenty of opportunities for practice.
4. Encourage thoughtful decision-making.
Talk about the differences between reacting and responding. Typically, a reaction lacks thought—it is automatic and highly emotional. A response is thoughtful and considerate, taking action that leads toward a positive outcome. When making decisions, encourage your teen to stay calm, acknowledge all possible outcomes, identify pros and cons, and listen to and trust her gut.
5. Teach strategies for self-soothing and self-help.
Self-soothing strategies are essential for stress management. Talk about ways to self-soothe and try a few together. Some of my favorites include yoga, beach walks, talking with friends, journaling and taking a hot bath.
Develop a teen's capacity for self-help by pausing before you offer advice. Instead, ask "What do you think are your best options here?" or "What is your desired outcome?" Open-ended questions are an excellent way to get teens to think creatively and critically.
Erica Rood is a parent, teen and preteen life coach at InspireBalance in Del Mar. Learn more at www.inspirebalance.com.