Ten steps toward fostering an independent teen

Teens can drive a parent crazy.  AB Teens, Special Needs Teens, It Does Not Matter.   The inability to make a decision, the lack of organization, the lack of time management.  I want to blame the above on Mel’s nonverbal learning disorder; however, I think a part of it is just the teen mentality of today.  Not all teens; but it seems many of todays teens, especially girls, avoid decision-making and pre-planning with all they’re being.  Mel is definitely part of this group.

It’s hard for all parents, especially parents of special needs kids, to push a child toward independence.  For me, its of constant struggle of when to push, when to hug and when to just let the dominoes fall.  This constant mental struggle takes its toll.

What can parents do to foster independence? What can parents do to promote decision-making?  What can be done to develop time management skills?  I wish I had the answers.  Below are suggestions that just seem right to me.

The concept of time and the passing of time can be hard for a child with a nonverbal learning disability to master.  Hard but not impossible.  Practice is important.  Yes, teens need to practice time management.  Instead of directing their time, ask for their input.  The game is at 8, what time do you want to leave? I see you have lots of homework, what time shall I have supper ready? You need a ride to school. So does you sister, what time should we leave?  Supper is served at 8.  Be at the table on time or eat your food cold.  My first attempt to improve time management had to do with Mel’s nighttime routine.  It seemed to take hours.  It did take hours.  My solution-A wall clock in the bathroom.  Mel’s solution-She turns on her iPad and measures time by the number of songs that have been played.

Chores are great opportunities to teach time management.  Make a chore list and expect the chores to get done.  Work on less cueing, less reminders, less hands on.  If the chores are not done by Saturday Night, guess who is not going to the movie.   Laundry is a lesson in time management.    You want those jeans for tomorrow, I guess you need to find the time to get them washed and dried.  I actually blogged the first time I heard Mel doing her own laundry.

Extracurricular activities are great but allow the teen to decide the level of intensity.  Allow them to drive the choice. Just because you spent thousands of dollars in drum lessons does not mean your teen has to continue playing percussion, forever. At some point, they’re true interests become clear to them.  They are not letting you down, their managing time. I am interested in this so I am not going to enroll in this other group next semester.  Coleman taught me this lesson.  I was sure he was going to get a college scholarship playing the oboe.  However, by the end of his senior year, band was now longer a 24/7 obsession.  This is Texas so I like the following data:  According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). 59% of high school football and basketball players believe they will get a college scholarship. 98 out of 100 high school athletes never play collegiate sports of any kind at any level.

Teens at some point need to be in charge of their own schedule.  They need to make sure all tasks fit and if not prioritize.  They need to consider all in the family and make sure the Mom Taxi is available to get them to and from activities.  It’s ok for teens to wait,  instead of re-arranging your schedule around theirs.  I’m going to focus more on this next year.  This will be a necessity as it looks like I will be sharing a car with Mel.

Medication Re-orders.  You have only 10 pills left, CVS requires a 2 day notice. When are you going to re-order.  I keep a bottle with several extra pills in a different pill-box.  If the medication runs out, I have a few extra but a discussion is also going to take place.  Planning for tomorrow is such a vital skill.

Support positive habits.  It’s just as easy to develop good habits, as it is to develop bad ones.  If your teen is to live on their own, good habits need to out number the bad ones. Examples:  The earlier a teen starts a medical routine, without parent intrusion, verbal prompts or just bodily presence, the sooner the medical routine becomes a life habit.  Drinking enough water as another good  example.  I wish, oh wish, we have prompted better hydration in elementary school.  I still need to order her a cup holder for her wheelchair.  This is just not something we pushed. I’m hoping that it does not cause Mel problems in College. 😕

During the teen years, it is vital to support their decisions and let them make mistakes.  Mistakes are opportunities to learn.  It is best for that learning to happen while they are still under your care.  Mel is a junior this year.  I no longer cue her to complete her medical routine.  I no longer check on her grades.  I occasionally ask but sink or swim, getting to her senior year is up to her.  Yes, summer school is my back up plan.  So far, so good; however, I have been focusing on this for several years now.   🙂

Natural consequences need to happen.  Teens need to get a bad grade, or not be allowed to do this or that because they did not meet a deadline.  It’s hard to let them fail, however, failure and success at some point have to be a result of their decisions.

Good decisions are also learning opportunities.  Both good and bad decisions offer an opportunity for discussion.  It is through the decision-making processes that a teen learns their own strengths and weaknesses. They learn to problem  solve.  I see progress in this area.

When a parent fosters independent thinking, the teen learns that independent thinking leads to trust building.  Trust brings more independence.  Independence leads to learning.  I sure hope I’m getting it right.


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