Beyond Helicopter Parenting: Empowering Teens to Think and Decide

By: Natalie Talpesh, LCSW
Teenagers may have the tendency to pull away from their parents, but parents must resist this drift… strategically. Natalie Talpesh, a CCA School Counselor for 9th and 10th grade girls, shares insightful and practical information on how parents can empower their teens to make sound decisions as their brains continue to develop.

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I recently stumbled upon this article by Today’s Parenting titled “How to give kids an easy way out of bad situations”, which details a practical exit strategy (known as the “X-plan”) for teens when they are in an uncomfortable environment or situation. This piece reminded me how much teenagers still need their parents.

They need empowering parents, not controlling parents (a.k.a. “helicopter parenting”). They need you in a way that fosters resilience that says, “I’m here to walk with you, as you learn by making your own decisions. I’m here to teach you how to think and make good decisions for yourself.”

I remember being invited to a party in high school where I knew alcohol would be served. My dad, who was very skilled in the socratic method, didn't say no. He said “Well, what do you think? Do you think you will be comfortable at the party?”

I knew the answer, and somehow he got me to realize that going to that party would put me in a moral and uncomfortable dilemma. This led me to decline the invitation on my own will. He got me to think it was my idea; now that is brilliant!

Parents, don’t buy the lie that “kids know everything now with Google” or “I’ve taught them all they need to know by now.” Teens are not done learning and growing, and they need you now more than ever. Their brains don’t stop developing until age 25, and some new research is showing closer to age 28! (Source: National Institute of Mental Health).

Below are four ways to help develop a stronger relationship with any teens in your life, which will build the trust needed to have empowering and guiding conversations.

  1. Master the socratic method (a.k.a. the Jesus way!).

    Jesus didn’t answer questions with a yes or no. Jesus told parables to illustrate His message, or He would answer with a question. I love this approach with teens; it gets them to think and answer you back! This empowers them and teaches them to think it through. Ask open-ended questions often!

    • Example: “Mom, I want to be a physical therapist.” Prompt dialogue, leading with questions: “Oh really, what do you think that job is like? What about physical therapy excites you?”

    • Example: “Mom, I failed my math test.” Instead of getting angry, pause your emotion on the disappointment, and seek clarity: “How do you feel about that? Do you think you can do something different to prepare next time? Did you talk to your teacher? What skill might you need to work?”

  2. Spend quality time together.

    Pursue your teen by engaging in activities he/she enjoys. This opens the door for conversations and forms greater connection. Without relationship, imposing rules will likely result in rebellion.

  3. Provide practical ways they can stay safe, and engage them in these conversations.

    This can look like a code word when they are in an unethical dilemma as the Today’s Parenting article mentions (I love this idea), or talking about the importance of holy sexuality and why it’s designed to keep them emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically safe. Talk to them about their world without passing judgment!

  4. Model emotional regulation.

    We can’t expect teens to have rational conversations with us when they see us react emotionally. Set limits and have consequences up front; it doesn’t need to come with a side of emotional reactivity. Click here to read more about this topic.

We aren’t parenting for short-term results, but rather long-term ones. Boy, can parenting make us weary, but thank God for His promises. I pray this verse encourages you to stay the course as you endeavor to make God-honoring disciples in your home:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” –Galatians 6:9
Natalie Talpesh has worked at CCA for 6 years and currently serves as a School Counselor for 9th and 10th grade girls. She earned a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from New York University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Florida. She holds a License of Social Work in Florida and counsels for Sheridan House. Natalie is married to Danny Talpesh, Assistant Middle School Principal at CCA. They have two daughters and enjoy traveling, boating, and working in ministry together.

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