• Sandra B

Are Parents Holding Teenagers Back?

Are you surprised to hear that even amongst older teens (17-18 years) 92% still rely on their parents, usually mum, to make their doctor and dentist appointments? This is just one interesting nugget of information from a recent survey of 877 American parents. Isn’t it quite staggering that Generation Z (born since 1997) is still relying on their folks in this way at an age when most of them would argue they are adults?

The survey showed that many parents start encouraging their kids to become more independent from around the age of 12/13 years. Especially on the issues of eating healthily, sleeping well, keeping on top of schoolwork and earning money for extras. I’d add in other key milestones – starting to use public transport, keeping bedrooms clean and tidy, helping with household and garden chores and doing your own laundry.

We live in the countryside where there’s not much in the way of public transport and I still recall the anxiety I felt when our first born, around the age of 11, wanted to go into town on his own with his school pal. The thought of him crossing the busy dual carriageway on foot towards the bus stop, where vehicles thunder along at 70mph, gave me the shivers.

And what about wandering around the big city and shops when he was so young? Would he be attacked, as his older cousin was by a group of thugs in the shopping mall, just for looking at them the wrong way? And if so, how would he handle it?

Then I recalled how I walked back and fore to school every day with my little sister on our own from the age of 7 and regularly got the bus alone to visit my granny from about 9 onwards. All through secondary school (from the age of 12) I bussed to school in the city of Dundee and when I’d spent the fare on other things, I thought nothing of walking the 5 miles home along busy streets and through several housing schemes.

If I’m honest, my mum would have got a mouthful of indignation if she’d suggested that I was still a child at age 13. I honestly thought I was a grown up by then and acted accordingly – soaking up responsibility whenever I got the opportunity and working part-time as a “Saturday girl” in shops from that age too.

Mum had serious ill health throughout our childhood and was often hospitalised. Dad was never domesticated and spent all of his time at work and in the pub, so we often had to fend for ourselves. Circumstances dictated that we grew up a bit more quickly than most kids, but the fact is that my sister and I largely took taking care of ourselves in our stride and never came to any harm criss-crossing the city. I learned from personal experience that children and teens are often more capable, resourceful and resilient than adults are prepared to believe.

My anxiety about our boy Steven is even more irrational when I think that my sister and I were petite wee lassies back then and Steven was several inches taller than me by the age of 11 - actually the size of a small man! Of course, we had to start giving him some rope, so I spoke to his pal’s mum and we agreed a system of dropping them off in town one way and letting them get the bus home. They had to stick to agreed times for return and keeping in touch and were both well briefed on how to deal with different challenging scenarios. All went well and within a few weeks they were feeling trusted and more grown up. As I always say, you can’t prove you are trustworthy until someone trusts you.

I think the thing that shocked our sons the most was when I announced that they must start doing their own laundry from the age of about 13/14. I made the decision one day when I realised I was standing ironing school shirts for a strapping teenager much bigger and just as capable of doing it as me. They only had school hours to contend with, whereas I was working full-time in a demanding management role, running a household, cooking, cleaning and also caring for my increasingly ill mother. They were initially quite horrified, but I saw the absurdity and unfairness of the situation and held my ground. And guess what? They coped fine and came to no harm. I had to turn a blind eye occasionally when they left the house in a crumpled shirt, but it was their choice and their responsibility.

In the survey, a quarter of parents say they are themselves the main barrier to their teen becoming more independent - saying its less time and hassle to do things themselves rather than involve their teen. 7% even said that they don’t think at all about how to give teens more responsibility. These parents make all the decisions for them and, in my view, are just stacking up problems for the future.

Big health warning though - this survey didn’t talk to any teenagers to find out if they felt grown up or were starting to take on more responsibility for themselves. Nor did they ask the parents who participated at what age they thought of themselves as grown up.

I’d bet good money that almost every teen thinks they are more grown up and responsible than their parents will admit. It’s just that Generation Z, and every teen before them, measures it against how they are feeling (as all those adult hormones start to kick in) rather than whether they make their own dental appointments!

See the full survey at

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© 2019 by Sandra Burke