6 Ways to Empower, Not Enable Teenagers

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We’ve all been there before. We have that one “problem child” who always seems to be in crisis mode. In fact, you’re more surprised if they’re NOT in a crisis. And just like a homing device, that teenager always seem to find that one adult who will rescue them and bail them out. If that adult happens to be you, guess what? You’re enabling behavior that is detrimental to them and those around them. I know that sounds harsh, but I think some teenagers have an uncanny ability to drain our energy, deplete our patience, and abuse our kindness.

Don’t get me wrong, I know we’re talking about our children, and they don’t do it intentionally, but they sure seem to do it repeatedly – causing us to take on their drama and even suffer the consequences of THEIR choices. Ask yourself, do you have a teenager who is repeatedly…

  • wearing you down with their burdens?
  • asking you to repair things in their life you didn’t break?
  • taking advantage of your generosity?
  • making you feel guilty when you say, “No, I won’t help you this time?”

Allow me to share with you 6 simple ways to avoid enabling your teenager.

1. Don’t help them until they do the LAST thing you told them to do.

Why should you offer to solve their current problem if they’re not willing to follow the advice you gave them concerning their last problem? For example, when my son was a freshman in college, he asked me if he should take out a loan to pay for some additional expenses, and I advised against it. But he took out a loan anyway and went into debt, and then he asked me if I would co-sign for him to get another loan to pay off the first debt. I think you can predict my answer.

2. Stop trying to push a rope.

Meaning, most of your time should be spent talking to them about how to apply the solution, not convincing them about the solution itself. Any discussion beyond the application of the advice given is only futile persuasion on your part. For instance, my teenage daughter asked me to sit down and meet with a young man who wanted to date her. And after spending several hours with him, I told her, based on my experience in working with men, I wouldn’t advise her to date him at this time. My daughter had me spend more time justifying my opinion rather than accepting my wise counsel and listening to the best way to let him down easy.

3. Determine if they’re really in need or if they just need to act.

Just because you can rescue your teen, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.In other words, if your teen knows better, but doesn’t do better, then it’s better for you to say, “You don’t need my intervention, you just need to do the right thing.” This can be called tough love. Just because you can rescue your teen, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Sometimes we have to allow them to live and suffer with the consequences of their choices, even if hurts them.

4. Let them know you’re just a sower, not a grower.

It’s okay to help your teenagers succeed, but you can’t allow them to suck you into planting, watering, and growing the entire tree. God is the grower, you’re just the sower; because if you keep “growing” them, they’ll keep depending on you. A great example is helping your teen find employment or applying to college. As a parent (sowing), it’s our job to provide them with everything they need to prepare them for the opportunity for employment or school, but it’s their job (watering) to plan their schedule, fulfill their responsibilities, and to make sure they show up on time for work or class. And if they do those things, God will be responsible for ultimately growing them.

5. Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves.

I’m not going to say much about this, other than, if God loves them and won’t do it for them, then why should you?

6. Only pull them out of a hole if they agree to stop digging.

Common sense tells us that the first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging. If your teen comes to you for help, but they insist on digging themselves into a deeper hole, then you need to back off before they pull you into the hole with them.

So that’s it; six simple ways to encourage without enabling. I guarantee, if you do this, you’ll no longer allow yourself to be manipulated, stressed out, take advantage of, or worn out by these strange creatures we call “teenagers.”

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “When you are making a decision about something important, what do you think you should do first?”