When asking a few people in their twenties and thirties, "What did your parents do that made a significant difference in your life?" Never did they say they appreciated the fact that mom and dad bought them whatever they wanted or did everything for them. What they most appreciated were the ways in which their parents had shaped their lives by letting them take on responsibility. Not one said, "They made life easy for me, and it has helped me in my life."
Instead, I found that young people appreciated that their parents made life more realistic. When mom and dad showed their daughter or son that certain consequences result from the choices we make in our lives, that child learned a valuable lesson. When parents have gently pushed and pulled their kids, guiding them with love, it has shaped them rather then letting them wander around aimlessly.
Some young adults have commented that they appreciated the fact that parents showed them life was not a fantasy. As kids we think the toy in the cereal box will be as big, and durable as it seemed on TV, but when that fragile, piece of plastic breaks the first time we play with it, we start to learn this lesson in life. Teach your teen the same thing.
Through your expectations and reactions, show your teen that life is real. Encourage them to learn that reality hurts, feels lonely, cries, laughs, and gets put down. It includes all the emotions life has to offer - both happy and sad.
Help dispel the "life can be perfect" myth.
One young man commented that the greatest thing his father did for him was the thing he hated most at the time. He grew up on a farm, and his dad continually made him do chores. That alone doesn't seem unusual, but his father also expected him to do a good job and inspected the job to see that his son had done it properly. If he had not done the chore properly, his father made him do it again. It didn't matter if all his friends had invited him to play in a ball game or to be part of another outing, his dad didn't accept excuses. If the job was not well-done, he would have to do it again.
His dad gave him one of life's greatest gifts when he taught him that: Life has consequences. Letting a child go through life thinking that a sloppy job will be accepted by employers and the world, sets him up for failure, and heartaches.
Our responsibility as parents is to prepare our children for their future. The bible says in Proverbs 22:6 to train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
When young people have not had responsibility placed in their hands they have no resources with which to face the adult world.
Over the past 50 years or so, my generation has missed the privilege of doing without. We all need to learn that it is okay not to get everything we want. When we have learned that lesson, we know that life does not always give us every desire, that we can stand up under pressures, and can enjoy ourselves in tough situations. Let your kids discover this at home, before they go out into the world.