To EMPOWER our teenagers is to allow them to feel in control. The opposite is to take their power away through over parenting (too controlling), or under parenting (no boundaries) which both result in our teens feeling unsafe.
Confucius (Chinese philosopher, 551 BC - 479 BC) once said:
"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
Much of our work as parents is concerned with empowering our teens - In essence empowerment is having or taking more control over aspects of their lives.
The aim is to build confidence, develop personal skills, insight and understanding and allow them to be able to evaluate situations and communicate with others more effectively. It involves building trust, cooperation and good communication between teen and parent and can lead to increased emotional maturity and increased tolerance of other’s views and behaviours.
The key to empowering our teens is always good communication. We must build into their lives an opportunity to discuss and exchange views and opinions, and ACKNOWLEDGE and AFFIRM what they bring as a contribution.
Let's take an example:
Johnnie comes to you and says he is going out tonight with some friends:
“Hey tonight I am going out with friends”.
He has made a statement TELLING YOU what he is doing. Note he is not engaging in a conversation and there are no boundaries in place around his plan. By telling you, he has aimed to stop a response from you. As a parent our first responsibility is to open up a doorway to conversation. We can follow a protocol to EMPOWER our teen but also place boundaries around the outing:
HONOUR - “How lovely that you are going out. You need a change of scene after your study / I am pleased you have the chance to go out and get out of the house for a while.”
TRUST - “Last time you went out you apologised for being late and that showed that you respected I might be concerned when I don’t hear from you. That meant a lot to me.”
BOUNDARIES - “What time do you aim to be back tonight and how are you aiming to get home?”
EMPOWER - “Instead of waiting up for you (ie you are no longer a child), I will leave you to turn the lights out and lock the door” (giving responsibility).
Many conversations between parents and teens are statements made to them, rather than questions asked which open up the talking to a two way conversation! INVITE your teen to engage in the conversation by asking questions WITHOUT being over protective. I call it ‘The Tennis Match’: A question is the ball being hit to the other person, which means we hope they will also hit it back by answering the question. We can then hit another ball back by continuing to engage them.
Here are some indicators that you are EMPOWERING your teen:
When you recognise that their choice matters.
When they see they have power to affect their lives.
When they stop blaming or making excuses.
When they start to listen and realise that they can learn from good advice.
When we stop telling them what to do but allow them to decide.
When we place responsibility into their hands and they accept it.
When they take responsibility for their actions.
In essence empowering our teens shifts them from a possible victim mentality where ‘dependence’ and ‘false control’ take the power into a negative mindset where it learns to ‘manipulate’ situations, people and relationships.
To empower our teens means we develop measures to increase their degree of independence, autonomy and self esteem, in order to enable them to represent their interests and desires in a responsible manner, acting on their own authority. The vital key is that it enables our teens to overcome their sense of POWERLESSNESS and HELPLESSNESS and to recognise that they have much to bring to our lives and the world in general.