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Raising a kid is about teaching them the way the world works. If you shelter them from real life – and most every parent knows how tempting it is to do just that – they’ll only have a harder time once they’re on their own.
This is very logical, and very abstract, stuff. But when he visited the Business Insider office in May, marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel helped turn it into concrete advice.
It starts with understanding that you should “give [kids] more freedom than you’re comfortable with, earlier than you’re comfortable with.” What’s more, you should “give them choices before they actually ask for them.”
Here’s how that might play out. Let’s say your teenager asks if he can go to a friend’s party Sunday night and stay out until 2 a.m. Your best response, according to Runkel, would be: “Well, what do you think?”
(Runkel didn’t use the specific example of a party, but this response should work for pretty much anything your kid asks your permission for.)
“Let them wrestle with that,” Runkel said. In other words, let your kid put himself in your shoes – i.e. an adult’s shoes – and evaluate the pros and cons of staying out all night at a party on a school night.
Because, eventually, that’s exactly what your kid will have to do – when he’s in college, or when he lands his first job.
“I always counsel parents,” Runkel said, “to parent your child in such a way that by the time they’re a [high-school] senior, they have no rules from you whatsoever.”
It’s “like a dress rehearsal for the year after that,” Runkel said of senior year of high school. “You have no idea what they’re doing from one minute to the next.”
Everyone remembers those college freshmen who were so thrilled to be out from under their parents’ thumb when they arrived on campus that they overdid it on drinking and partying and under-did it on studying. Presumably, you don’t want your kid to be one of those students.
Of course, you should take Runkel’s advice with a grain of salt. If your high-school senior decides to spend every school night at a party, for example, you might want to have a discussion with him about his values.
Ultimately, though, it’s about guiding your kid through the transition to adulthood, rather than acting like their keeper until they turn 18, at which point you set them loose.
“I’m taking my emotion out of it,” Runkel said. “Because I’m wanting you to taste the freedom and responsibility of life.”