Twice in the past week, I have heard about a teen who has been kicked out of his or her home at 16 or 17 years old, essentially (in the parents’ mind) “aging out” of the need to be sheltered, nurtured, and—no doubt—financed. In one case, the individual came home from school on his sixteenth birthday to find his belongings outside the house, the locks changed, and a note on the door saying, “You’re 16. Get your own d**n place.” Happy birthday. In the other case, the mother decided she needed space for her newest project, so she told her daughter, “You need to leave as soon as possible.”
In both cases, the understandable response of the teen in question was to cry. No doubt, these tears originated from an array of emotions: grief for the loss of a “parent,” sadness and self-doubt at the depth of such rejection, fear and anxiety over the completely overwhelming thoughts involved in, what happens next? And in both cases, even though I do not know either of these individuals, my heart breaks for the young adults who are not yet ready to fly, but are being pushed out of the nest.
I have worked with teenagers for thirty years [which definitely makes me sound old…]. I have worked with teens in classrooms, in dormitories, on the playing field; I have worked with teens in large groups, small groups, and one-on-one. I have been a teacher, a coach, an advisor, a dorm parent, and a parent. From my [somewhat extensive] experience, I will say, it is a rare kid who—at 16, 17, or even 18—is ready to be self-sufficient. It is an even rarer kid who can pick him or herself up from such devastating total parental rejection and move forward unscathed.
As I look at my children, I can see the hints of adulthood emerging from their more-adult-than-child physical selves. I see responsibility coming through in more areas of their lives each day. I see them beginning to take the lead in situations in which they might have been followers in the past. I see glimpses of the adults they are becoming.
But their “formative years” are not over just because they are teens or they reach the age of majority. As they begin to navigate some of the biggest decisions of their lives to date, the groundwork may have been laid early in their lives, but the direction, the guidance… these things are such an important part of the parenting process. Guidance in these big decisions will help my children to learn to be better decision makers as they proceed through their lives. My willingness to be available as a shoulder, an ear, a sounding board will help my teens to grow their self-confidence and learn how to consider all sides of an issue. And it will let them know that they are not alone. If they stumble, I will be here as a safety net.
Leave my kids to their own devices and kick them out of the house? No friends, my job here is far from done. I only hope there is someone to pick up the pieces left by the parents who are done.
[Image is a picture drawn by my daughter and used with her gracious permission.]