Turning over control of our children’s lives happens whether we want it to or not.
If we resist this transition or ignore it, we reduce our influence as they navigate becoming adults. [Read part one of this three part series: Lap driving]
As our children grow older, they enter stage two. This is when we move from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat and let our kids take the steering wheel of their life.
One of my friends is teaching his fifteen year old daughter to drive. There is a subdivision near his home that has all the streets put in, but nothing else—a common remnant of the housing crash. This is the perfect place to let a new driver take the wheel for the first time. She can practice turning, stopping, accelerating and shifting gears, without any real-life dangers.
As we move to the passenger seat of our kid’s lives, we need to find safe places—like an undeveloped subdivision—where they can grow. We could send them to a week long camp, but make sure they’re in a cabin with a counselor we know or a group of friends we trust. We might let them walk with a friend to the store if we know the neighborhood is safe. What we can’t do is place them in a situation that is likely to require advanced decision making instincts when they don’t have enough experience. This is like teaching a fifteen year old to drive by dropping her in the middle of a major city’s interstate highway.
As our kids build confidence and improve decision making skills, we move out of the unbuilt subdivision and take our lessons to more demanding environments. Only after they’ve mastered parking lots and side streets and major city streets do we direct them onto the highway on-ramp.
Each of these transitions is scary.
Often before we’re comfortable with our kid’s instincts at a particular stage, they’re begging to move to the next lesson. If we wait too long, we risk frustrating or alienating them. If we move too quickly, we risk putting them in a situation they’re not capable of handling.
But gradually moving through the stages of increased exposure to the real world is a lot less scary than dumping it all on them when they turn 18. We’re helping them gain confidence, improve reactions, develop critical thinking and increase decision making skills until they begin to handle more and more of the driving without any feedback or input from us.
Here are a couple of practical ways to gradually increase our kids’ exposure to real-world risk while we ride in the passenger seat of their lives:
Leave them home alone. As soon as we felt the kids were old enough, Anna and I occasionally started going out to lunch, running errands and going to movies as a couple. As long as they didn’t do anything to break our trust, we left them home alone for longer periods and more frequently. They felt good that we trusted them and it gave them the chance to practice their independence.
Give them a budget for necessities like clothing. Rather than buying all our kids clothes, we started giving them a budget each month for clothing. It was up to them to figure out when they would need new clothes for each season. If they blew it all on a pair of jeans, they had to wear hand-me-downs or shop second hand for some of the other things they needed. I knew we succeeded when they began checking name brand tags and exclaiming about how much things cost.
Get them a job that doesn’t involve working for a family member. Jobs are one of the best methods for curing flakiness, entitlement and laziness. Working for grandma or dad is great, but kids learn a lot more when they work for someone who isn’t a family member. Plus, the extra cash helps kids with the budget I mentioned above. They don’t need to be working 40 hours a week at 12 years old, but a few hours here and there, increasing slowly as they reach adulthood, goes a long way.
We can’t fool ourselves into thinking we can delay our kids transition to the next stage of life.
They’re going to drive whether we let them or not. The only choice we have is whether we’re in the passenger seat, or someone else is.
Calling shotgun is a time-honored method for deciding who gets to ride in the passenger seat. Whoever calls shotgun first, wins the rights to the coveted front seat. Raising our kids is no different. The way to ensure we have a seat in the car while our kids are learning to navigate life is to call shotgun before anyone else does. It’s either us teaching our kids about life, or someone else.
Watch for final installment of this three part series, coming soon.
About a special project from Justin Blaney for pre-teens and teenagers
I launched a graphic novel project Nov 5th that aims to provide great values and role models for pre-teens and teenagers. Through this project, I also hope to build awareness for great nonprofits with young adults and their parents. It’s called Isfits.
What Is Isfits?
- – A cast of characters sampled from icons of adolescence, re-imagined.
- – A completely new genre of fiction. Since that’s hard to describe, let’s call it a graphic novel like you’ve never seen before.
- – 6 short stories in one full-length book, illustrated and graphically designed to tantalize your senses.
- – Nearly 200 original designs, optimized for inspirational display in your home, office, prison cell, igloo, or hut.
Download the first Isfits eBook, part 1 of 6 short stories, at isfits.com and watch our amazing video!