What kind of parent are you? Are you a micro-manager, a sort of helicopter parent, keeping close tabs on your kid's every move, hovering to ensure his decisions are the right ones, etc?
Recently, a friend of mine introduced me to the concept of "submarine parenting." Ellen Rogin is the author of Great With Money: 6 Steps to Lifetime Success and Prosperity, and her success and prosperity is not only in money -- but also in parenting her teen son and daughter. Ellen's teens are doing a great job in navigating the stormy waters of adolescence in this chaotic world, so I picked her brain to find out her secret.
Submarine parenting, as she explained it, is to stay out of sight under the surface letting the kids manage their lives as things come up. It's keeping the proverbial periscope up, so parents are aware how things are going with their teens, how their decisions are turning out, and being available to step in as needed. By maintaining this stance in their teens' lives, parents empower them to work their way out of problems, issues, decision-making, etc.
Onlookers might see the submarine parent as detached, disengaged, or uninvolved, however the opposite is true. Submarine parents practice "parenting with intention." Purposely backing off but keeping a hidden eye on their kids' progress. Purposely giving them the room they need to succeed and to fail and bounce back again.
In Ellen's case, her kids exhibit confidence, because they know what they can do. And they have the self-assurance and history to try more things, because of what they've already accomplished. They're proud of themselves and know their parents are proud of them too.
When adulthood seeps in they'll be ready for it, and will continue in the growth vector that's already set and working.
So what are some ways to use "submarine parenting" with your own kids? Here are five ways to take action with your teen by parenting with intention:
1. Back off on purpose. This isn't checking out, ignoring, or any other form of apathy or poor parenting. Instead, it's the exact opposite. By checking their grades, making all their appointments for them, keeping up with their schedules for them, they never develop the skills to do these things themselves.
However, when you leave it to your teen to keep up with these things, and he suffers a setback because he missed something, that's good. It teaches him to dig his own way out of the consequences that fall as a result of his oversight. This is the natural process of growing up.
How will he grow up if you do everything for him? How will he be successful in the future if he doesn't learn how to become an adult? Allow your teen to develop... don't stunt his growth.
2. Let your teen make his own decisions. In my work with my clients, I often see teens in this state of ambivalence between what they believe they want and what the world pressures them to think they need. It's an extremely stressful place to be. At this point in their lives they should be ready to begin making decisions regardless of their friend's, or parent's, or society's opinion about the decision. If they screw up, good. Pick them back up. They'll learn from the decision. Experience is still the best teacher.
And sometimes, not addressing their problem is actually a really great move. It leaves the responsibility for solving it in their court. Adolescence is a great opportunity to learn to be an adult and try decision-making skills while still in that safe place with parents. Your teens won't be there with you forever. Give them the space they need to practice.
3. Talk to your teen with respect, like the adult he is trying so hard to become. When you talk to him like he's a child, you stop the growing-up process. So discuss things with him in a tone that conveys you're interested in his opinion. He'll reach forward to fill the shoes you set before him.
4. Model healthy behavior for your teen to follow. Rather than telling him how you think he should be living his life, put your attention on your own life and the things you enjoy, and your child will emulate what he sees in you, and put his attention on his life and doing things he enjoys.
Show him how to take care of himself by taking care of yourself. Whether through exercise, getting a mentor of your own, good habits, hard work, show your kids what living healthy is. Live it yourself and you'll be pleased with the changes you'll see in your child.
You can still be available as a sounding board when needed. Otherwise, keep your attention on yourself and your interests and responsibilities, resisting the urge to micromanage your adolescent's life... and let him put his own energy on finding his own solutions.
By staying back, and not hounding your teenager with your solutions, you're communicating to him without words that you have full confidence in his ability to handle his situation.
Not surprisingly, this needs to be consistent since things don't just change overnight but develop through a process over time. But, over time you'll notice that he's handling his own life better and better.
5. Let go of the power struggle. Submarine parents understand that the power struggle is a pattern that needs to be broken. Once parents engage in that struggle, they've lost. Picture a game of tug-of-war. Just drop your end of the rope. As a parent, you aren't in a competition of wills with your teen.
Your role is more like a curator, overseeing his development till he's ready to go forward on his own. You'll spare yourself loads of stress if you resist the urge to get caught in the tug-of-war of wills.
It helps some parents to hear that a teen's behavior is only a symptom of his emotional state, so looking past the behavior and drilling down to what's behind it can take some of the mystery and disappointment out of your teen's unexpected behaviors. Sometimes teens will make immature decisions out of their emotional need to move forward, not realizing the decision isn't necessarily a healthy one.
Rather than reacting to the behavior, it helps to try to understand what he's trying to accomplish and respond to that.
And often, seeking the help of a professional, such as a mentor like me, can help parents make decisions that foster their teen's continued development, rather than entering a tug-of-war where everyone is confused and hurt.
Because a mentor isn't the parent, the autonomy-seeking teen is open to listening to his advice. Teens literally have to learn how to grow up. They're ready to let go of parent's direction like a bird ready to fly out of the nest. But they still need to hear counsel from someone as they try out their new skills.
Wise submarine parents set their teen up for future success by putting a mentor in his life to provide safe direction that their teen views as a product of his self-reliance. By doing this, they're supporting their teen's desire to gain independence and showing respect for his need to grow up...while still providing the added support he needs to get there.
Submarine parenting isn't for cowards. It's a generous and intelligent approach to helping teens navigate the tough times of adolescence and gain independence and confidence for success as adults.