Dear Dr. Wes & Kendra: Everyone needs to leave me alone about a job and school! It’s my life. Why can’t I live it the way I want to?
Wes: This one comes from the pithy universe of Twitter, where we enjoy 4,600 followers worldwide. Feel free to follow @wescrenshawphd and tweet your 140-character question.
Here’s your problem, dear #oomf (one of my followers): As an average American #teenager, you have an overdeveloped yearning for freedom and an underdeveloped capacity for independence. You want to do as you please but haven’t purchased the right to do so. That right doesn’t come cheap.
Any competent #parent expects you to be interested in graduation, education and/or employment. Bringing that up over and over feels a lot like nagging, when it’s really the ‘rents keeping their end of a life partnership. You both have a ginormous stake in the outcome of that process. We call it adulthood.
Each week I sit in my comfy leather chair and listen to parents and young-adult children living with them, anxiously discussing how to get out of a the ditch of poor planning, low effort in school or work, or genuine #badluck. Too often, those kids aren’t exactly fulfilling their end of the bargain — which is to try, to grow up and take age-appropriate responsibility for their lives. Kids who won’t are neither free nor independent.
The goal of parents is to be fired by their best customers, to send kids off into their own lives. If circumstances — say, learning problems or a bad economy — make that difficult, it might take longer. But regardless, your job is to do your best so you don’t end up in similar circumstances. Maybe you shouldn’t work so you can concentrate on school. Or maybe #school isn’t your thing. Graduate and find a trade so you can enter the workforce. Either way, you have to try.
When you make a decision for yourself you make a decision for everyone. That’s especially true right now as you begin that transition, but it will be equally true with a life partner, career and family of your own.
In the end, independence is really an #illusion. We are all interconnected and interdependent. Think about your parents’ demands in that light and they may seem less a burden than an invitation.
Kendra: This topic seems especially perfect just a few days prior to me turning 18. Unfortunately, although I will legally be an adult, I will in no way become an adult overnight. When I wake up that next morning, I will still be a high school senior, still financially and emotionally supported by my parents.
Although I like to think I have great responsibility in all my extra-curricular leadership roles, I still rely on dinners made by my mom as she helps me with my math homework.
We may not like it, but Wes is correct — we are ready for independence, but not yet ready for the responsibility that adulthood necessitates.
I do understand your feelings, however. As soon as we hit high school, parents are ready to talk about college whether we like it or not. Unless you’re already committed to a major school on a full-ride scholarship, that’s a stressful discussion to have. My academics often seem the sole topic of interesting conversation. Family gatherings turn into a game of “What is Kendra doing with her life?” rather than a time to eat my grandma’s spanakopita and take care of my little cousins. It gets old.
It is possible to please yourself and your parents. Keep living your life on your own terms, but slip in a few things that help your future and alleviate conflict. Try to be proactive. For example, if they’re upset to find you playing video games before you’ve done your homework, get some of it done before gaming. Set up your own reward system. As soon as you get home from school, do an assignment for your favorite class, take a snack break, and then continue on with any other homework. By the time your parents get home from work, you’ll have already demonstrated effort. That makes it harder for them to be upset.
And in return, they should agree to acknowledge your determination and turn off the nagging.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his new practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.