If you’re a parent, there’s one area in which you’re most likely not that unique: You want the best for your child at every stage. Unfortunately, there’s an epidemic of well-meaning parents unknowingly stifling their teens’ success by committing a few cardinal sins that, at the surface, don’t seem all that bad. However, that’s exactly why these 10 parenting mistakes are so common: They don’t seem like mistakes at all, until or unless you take a closer look at the long-term impact on your teen.
These days, it’s not uncommon for young people to question the value of higher education, to feel like the traditional school system let them down, or to wake up one day in their mid-20s or 30s, only to realize they’re miserable, lost, or burnt out with the misguided path they’ve taken. Luckily, as a parent, you have the rewarding and unique opportunity to be the influence that cultivates your teen’s optimal success, fulfillment, and happiness.
Once you realize which mistakes are getting in the way of that success, reversing the curse and instead instilling a new set of inspiring values will not only foster your teen’s confidence, competence, and positive perspective, but will almost undoubtedly improve their relationship with you and the respect they award your suggestions.
Let’s dive into those 10 things parents need to stop doing if they want their teen to be successful. These grave parenting mistakes may be inadvertently hindering your teen’s success, so let’s ensure you can right the ship and guide them towards achieving their greatest potential – even if that looks different than you initially expected.
1. Encouraging the traditional sheep
It’s no secret the “rat race” of school has only become more competitive in recent years. Students are taking more honors and AP classes, piling on the sports, clubs, and extracurriculars, and striving to get into their short list of a dozen esteemed universities. Sounds impressive, right? Well, actually, no.
While a challenging course load or diverse extracurricular involvement may be impressive, once all the high-achieving peers in their school or graduating class are doing the same, the impressiveness wears off a bit. In fact, what was once extraordinary now seems just plain ordinary, and that’s the problem.
If you simply allow your teen’s peers, high school guidance counselor, and conventional wisdom around a “well-rounded” high schooler’s schedule dictate your teen’s pursuits, they’re unlikely to break out of that crowd and become truly exceptional. Instead of simply pushing the same core values and traditional school-affiliated activities and priorities, seek out influences, information, opportunities, and inspiration to spark your teen’s unique interests and potential.
Following the sheep probably won’t put them in the 0.01% of teens who reach their maximum potential, and most impressive teens’ aspirations can’t – and shouldn’t – fit in one traditional box.
2. Overstepping these bounds
The best parenting technique is to inspire your kids, which – if we’re honest – can be easier said than done for most. On the flipside, one of the worst, though most well-meaning, parenting techniques is to insert yourself too heavily into your teen’s obligations, pursuits, and responsibilities. It’s these very well-meaning parents who are crippling otherwise competent teens’ confidence and producing young people with stellar resumes who don’t actually have the skills or experience to back them up.
There are teens out there running global nonprofits, managing thousands of volunteers; there are others coding new technologies, building new inventions, and creating successful businesses that in some cases far surpass their parents’ household income.
Those teens are rarely the ones who suffer from the overinvolved helicopter parents; instead, these most successful teens – with the tangible, concrete outcomes and results to prove it – are typically driven by their own intrinsic motivation and pursue most of their accomplishments with little parental assistance.
If you’re constantly swooping in to take over the hard or tedious tasks or shield your teen from an obstacle that might cause them stress or discomfort, you’re quite literally robbing them of the confidence, competence, and fulfillment they would otherwise acquire from tackling hard things. Teens are resilient, and they just may surprise you and swoop in to be their own heroes – if you let them.
3. Failing to explore this question
There’s one simple, but crucial question that both the school system and many parents fail to ask – or wait far too late to introduce. The ubiquitous delay of this question to post-graduation or post-college days is one of the biggest developmental delays and career detriments to even the most ambitious of teens. That question: What do you actually want in life?
Teens are often asked where they want to go to college, perhaps what they want to major in, what’s their favorite extracurricular, and maybe what jobs they’re thinking of pursuing. It’s shockingly rare, however, for parents to explore or probe what their teen actually wants their longer-term life to look like, and those desires transcend beyond just a university acceptance letter or even a job offer.
Do they ultimately want to have a boss or start a company? Do they want to live in a certain geographic area, and is that in this country or international? Do they have any lifelong goals or pursuits they’d like to build a career or structure around?
If we fail to ask teens this question and to re-ask it as they evolve, how can we – as parents, educators, or mentors – possibly guide them down the right path to arrive at their dream life? Your teen can spend four years in high school and in college without ever stopping to assess what their dream life actually looks like and how they want to game-plan achieving it, and that’s perhaps the biggest travesty of all.
If we want to empower teens to follow their dreams, we have to probe into what those dreams are, rather than letting society, the traditional school system, or their peers railroad them towards arbitrary goals without questioning why they’re doing what they’re doing and the long-term impact or pay off.
4. Providing a bad example of this
If you’re a parent, have you ever groaned about your boss or lamented your job in front of your teen? Do you do it regularly? If you’re honest, have you cultivated a positive, uplifting, motivational, aspirational example and household for your teen to grow up in? Sadly, for far too many parents, the honest answer is a blatant “no”.
If you’re exemplifying career dissatisfaction, negative or unhealthy relationships, lack of motivation, and an overall uninspiring vibe within your household, how can you possibly expect your child to want to emulate or listen to you? Setting a good example isn’t something you should only do for your teen; you owe it to yourself to cultivate that positive, uplifting, healthy household, career, and relationship.
If you get honest with yourself and realize you aren’t, perhaps it’s time to hit reset and start becoming the adult you truly want to be and exemplifying the parent, mentor, and role model your teen would look up to.
All that said, it isn’t incumbent upon you to embody the perfect role model to foster your teen’s success; it is, however, beneficial if you can introduce to them the role models they can look up to. Whether it’s through friends, family, books, or podcasts, introducing those positive influences to your teen is a brilliant way to offset whatever shortcomings you may have and set your teen up for even greater success.
5. Creating this negative connotation
Believe it or not, teens are people, and just like all people, the way we say something can be just as important to how it’s received as the “what” that you’re saying. Specifically, we’re referring to the negative connotation school, parents, and many adults in general attribute to things like chores, work, jobs, homework, etc.
You may be surprised just how influential your tone and language can be, and the more times your teen hears the same stern, authoritarian tone in response to their chores or the way their homework is pitched like a “punishment”, the less they want to do either.
If you want your teen to evolve into someone who has a positive relationship with work and sees the value in the obligations and responsibilities that occupy their time, you’re going to need to create a positive connotation with those activities. No, this doesn’t mean bribing them with treats or rewards. Instead, it means putting a positive spin on what they’ll get out of the activity at hand or in the future. The saying “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” 100% applies.
6. Keeping their learning in the classroom
The most successful and impressive young people are the ones who autonomously pursue learning far outside the classroom. These are the teens who acquire skills on their own time, because they want to – not because they have to. These impressive teens have found a way to associate learning with personal improvement, growth, goal pursuits, and achievement, rather than with a classroom, test, assignment, or a GPA.
If you want to encourage your teen to rise to their potential, challenge themself, and pursue goals that aren’t purely classroom prescribed, you’re going to want to position learning as their secret weapon to getting or achieving anything and everything they want in life, rather than limiting its relevance to grades in school. The classroom may be where some structured learning habits are formed, but oftentimes the real magic happens when they seek information that isn’t on a syllabus.
7. Believing or suggesting that careers start after college
For some reason, the traditional education system has cultivated a rigid structure in which career planning – for most students – begins during or after college. There are many parents that suggest kids should make school their one and only priority, as they’ll have the rest of their lives to work.
While this is one perspective, it perpetuates the idea that “work” is bad, while school, conversely, should be all-consuming for the first 18 to 22 years of a person’s life. For some students, this model works perfectly fine; however, for others, it dramatically hinders their desire to learn, do, and explore more.
As technology has rapidly advanced to become more accessible and affordable, in tandem with the vast democratization of education and information, it seems like a static, dated mindset to assume teens can’t take advantage of this age of information. There are teens building their own blockchains, others creating patented inventions that create jobs, and many others eager to gain early experience through an internship or apprenticeship under the wing of a career role model.
Whether your teen takes a part-time job waiting tables to learn the value of a dollar and hone their professional interpersonal communication skills or partakes in an internship or apprenticeship that exposes them to early-stage startups or cutting-edge technology, there’s really no drawback to encouraging them to leverage their resources and start exploring career paths early on. If technology, the economy, and the employment environment are all dynamically evolving, shouldn’t our views on career planning catch up, too?
8. Keeping this secret from them
In recent years, the dearth of financial literacy amongst young people has been starkly exposed. While allowances have long been touted as the tool to teach kids “the value of a dollar”, there’s really much more about finances young people ought to learn to set them up for financial success. Unsurprisingly, many parents have taken the stance that money is a taboo or private matter, and have thus neglected to discuss it openly with their teens.
This, of course, sets teens up for a “figure it out yourself” experience that could haunt them when they least expect it, and this extends far beyond “pay off your credit card at the end of each month”.
As housing affordability has reached all-time lows, alongside skyrocketing rents and comparatively sunken wages, financial literacy has become even more crucial to equip teens to step into their future independence and adulthood. The best way to teach teens about finances is to be transparent with them so they can gain a realistic perspective on how money impacts their or your family’s life today.
Consider asking them these questions and broaching deeper discussions:
- How much is the average monthly rent in your city?
- How much do you pay per person in monthly groceries?
- What other expenses are required to maintain their lifestyle?
- How much are houses in your town or an area they’d like to live?
- What’s the average salary in that area?
These types of questions will open your teen’s eyes to the real-world obstacles and decisions they’ll be faced with in the future. By talking about it now, you’re setting realistic expectations that will allow them to adjust their goals and priorities to ensure they can successfully craft the life they desire down the road.
9. Abiding by the “How you do one thing” belief and standard
There’s a controversial idea that “how you do one thing is how you do everything”; while this could be a hotly debated topic and undoubtedly varies person to person, applying this to the standard you set for your child could be setting them up for failure. One of the gravest parenting mistakes that wreaks havoc on talented teens, their confidence, and their parental relationship is requiring or demanding that your teen put the same amount of time or effort into their every class, task, club, or obligation, simply because you believe how they do one thing is indicative of how they’ll do everything. In truth, it isn’t that simple.
Yes, you can – and should – instill a strong work ethic, high morals, integrity, and the drive to pursue dreams and tackle obstacles. However, most teens have both strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes being considerate of that can unleash your teen’s greatest potential. Rather than monopolize your teen’s limited time, energy, effort, and enthusiasm prioritizing every activity equally, you both might be better served recognizing and developing their strengths.
Some teens could study all night and barely pull a B- on that History test, but in those same ten hours, they could create a new machine learning technology. While we’re not suggesting your teen should shirk any classes or responsibilities, their results might be revealing exactly where their gifts lie.
10. Creating this massive divide
If your child has high aspirations or listens to the advice of a world-famous CEO or multi-millionaire, many parents have the tendency to transfer their own insecurities onto their kids and insist there’s an inherent divide and that such outsized success is unrealistic or unattainable. In reality, and in today’s highly tech-accessible, information-affordable world, young people with limited resources are capable of much more than ever before.
Instilling your limiting beliefs into your child may be the difference between them reaching up to chase those larger aspirations and playing safe and small, in the box that keeps them – and most of society – comfortable. Successful, impressive people go after dreams and challenges that aren’t always easy, likely, or comfortable, and there’s no reason your teen can’t be one of them.
The worst parenting mistake you could make
Whether you find you accidentally commit one, two, or all ten of these mistakes, the true travesty isn’t your less-than-perfect parenting. We’re all human, and being the most influential figure in a developing teen’s life is challenging enough. That said, the true tragedy would be the possibility that your teen pursued or accomplished anything less than their dreams and capabilities, all because they allowed convention, their peers, insecurities, or fear hold them back.
Now that you know the 10 things parents need to stop doing if they want their teen to be successful, you’re equipped with the skills and knowledge to foster your teen’s bright future. As you likely know, being a parent is partly being a protector, a caretaker, and a role model, but you also need to step back and be the cheerleader that encourages your ambitious teen to chase and create the life, impact, and success of their dreams, even if that doesn’t look exactly like you’d formerly expected.