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How to Best Support Your Student (While Respecting Their Independence)

We all know that tackling high school comes with a variety of unique challenges, both for our students and for parents. One very obvious challenge being the dawn of independence. During these four years, our kids are beginning to navigate what it means to be independent not only in finding their own voices and individuality, but also in understanding what it means to be an adult. In fact, high school is a critical precursor to the more dramatic shift into adulthood they will inevitably enter during college or other post-high school endeavors. And while the essence of independence calls for… well… independence, the steps needed to successfully transition our budding adults into these newer and bigger responsibilities will, without a doubt, require strategic and supportive guidance from their parents.

That said, the line between guiding our kids and giving them the space and respect to navigate these waters independently can be particularly delicate. And while it feels counter-intuitive to step back when we see our kids struggling, it is incredibly important to also allow them the space and opportunities to make these mistakes in order to grow and become stronger because of them.

As you – and your young adult – are wading the waters of independence, here are four critical ways you can help support them and guide them along:

1. Ask what they need.

Not all kids need the same kind of support. This is true for so many facets of being a living and breathing human, because we are all unique! In fact, each of our teenagers will likely be at different stages of the independence process at different times and therefore require different guidance. Having open and honest communication with your child is critical to better understanding what they need and want and to coming up with solutions together as to how you can better support them. Try to be open-minded and open-hearted about where your kid is coming from, and approach these conversations without judgement. You’ll likely receive a more positive and willing response in return.

2. Teach them how to set goals.

Success and independence are never achieved in one fell swoop. In fact, nothing about life works that way. While growth isn’t necessarily a linear process, it certainly comes in bite-size chunks which then are compiled into something bigger and greater than the sum of its parts. The sooner our kids understand the irrefutable truth of tackling life in steps and pieces, the sooner they will be able to successfully achieve their goals. Sit down with your teenager and have a candid conversation about the goals they have for themselves. Then work together to break those goals down into achievable steps that they can tackle monthly, weekly and daily to get them closer to their dreams. Practice these tactics with them in other areas of their life so that they learn how to problem solve on their own and create their own processes for achieving what they want in the future.

3. Set realistic expectations.

When we talk about expectations, we mean having reasonably high expectations. We know

you want your kid to aim for the stars (because we know they are capable), but the best way to do that is to make sure that your expectations of them are also ones they can reach. Setting high (and achievable) expectations means letting your kid know (and reminding them regularly) that you have faith in who they are and what they can do. Self-confidence is built upon a strong family foundation of support and belief. And while we would love for our kids to be straight-A students or get into Harvard, we must also understand that success is achieved in tangible, realistic steps. Aiming too high can result in irreparable self-doubt that could then lead to discouragement or lack of motivation. Certainly, let your child know when you think they can do or be better, but support their individual process in getting there too.

4. Focus on process not the result.

Keeping all of the points above in mind, we have to remember that mistakes are

part of the independence and growth process. Failure is too. In fact, when our kids don’t achieve their goals right away, it will help them to better appreciate their successes when they are met and to strive to be better each and every time the set out with a goal. As a parent, it’s vital that we continue to encourage them forward even when they falter. Our kids are bound to achieve more when they know wholeheartedly that their parents and families are a constant support system no matter what.

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