How To Launch Your Child with Courage

Imagine these scenarios: A young, female college student returning after winter break, requests a ticket from the train conductor. He gruffly tells her that she should have purchased her ticket in the station. Flustered and panicked that the train is almost ready to leave, she reluctantly leaves her seat to follow his instruction. The train pulls out with out her. Another young man, in tears with desperation in his voice, telephones his father from his freshman dorm to express his frustration that he can’t seem to get out of the “triple” he was promised was temporary. The father empathizes with his son’s dilemma, but encourages him to contact the housing manager and work through the problem on his own. The father, a good friend, later confesses it would have been easy for him to help his son, but allowing him to problem-solve is practice for working through life’s real problems.

Did you find yourself wincing at the discomfort these young adults were experiencing? As committed and loving parents, we all want what is best for our children. Yet, how do we prepare them to be competent, self-assured and successful adults in today’s often harsh, complex world? So prevalent in today’s tough economic climate, we often hear of the twenty-something’s who seem unable to “launch” themselves from the comfort and financial security of their parents’ homes. How can we be sure that we are giving our adolescents the tools they need?

Many educators, parenting experts and psychologists have written about the practical knowledge they gain from working directly with adolescents, while researchers and theorists define and study the skills needed to launch adolescents successfully into the world. H. Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., (Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World) for example have devoted their careers to educating parents on how to instill these skills in their children. They have identified seven attributes, or beliefs, they think adolescents must have in order to become competent adults. The following is only a partial list of their “Significant Seven”: “I am confident of my personal capability when faced with challenges; I have a positive influence over my life; I take responsibility for my choices; I have strong interpersonal skills and I am able to effectively communicate, negotiate and empathize with others. I have strong intrapersonal skills and I manage my emotions through self-awareness and self-discipline.

Others, like Madaline Levine, Ph.D., (New York Times Bestseller: The Price of Privilege) inform us that in our modern culture, parental pressure and affluence have created some new and complex challenges for parents and children alike. She extols the virtue of developing “a truly warm relationship” with our children while at the same time managing our “anxiety about letting our kids struggle”. A “truly warm” relationship is one in which children are heard, understood, valued and accepted for their accomplishments, as well as their mistakes and failures, and where they are offered a multitude of opportunities for making “safe” mistakes. Levine assures us that these attitudes are “strong predictors of academic success, social competence, and a low incidence of conduct problems in adolescence”.

Jane Nelson, Ed.D. and Lynn Lott, M.A., (Positive Discipline for Teenagers) teach parents to identify their parenting style, whether it be authoritarian or permissive; and inform them of the positive and negative outcomes of those styles in the context of parenting. They also help parents to learn about “unfinished childhood” issues, which might complicate their ability to focus on the proper tasks in parenting.

To be sure there is no single “blueprint for success” when it comes to parenting our children toward adulthood. But there is a wealth of research, expertise and information available for parents to gain much needed wisdom and insight. A wise parent is one who seeks out those sources and welcomes the opportunity for growth and learning.

Heidi B. Roeder, MS, LPC, LMFT was a former therapist at Franco Psychological Associates, P.C.