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Give Them Wings Not Strings - Part 2

11/30/2013 12:51:11 AM

There are two lasting bequests we can give our children.

One is roots. The other is wings.

~Hodding Carter, Jr.


At a recent educator conference, a college professor lamenting the lack of real world readiness among many students confided that teens aren’t the only ones unprepared—often it’s their parents, too. She pulled out her tablet and opened an email from a student who was failing in math and science. In it was this heartbreaking sentence … “I really want to be studying fashion design, but my parents won’t let me major in that.” This student had the gifts, creative temperament, and passion for design, but her parents were footing her college bill and had their own expectations and agenda.
Were they giving her wings? Or strings?
Ultimately, raising young adults and releasing them prepared for the real world is not supposed to be about us (i.e., parents) and our identity, interests, or agenda. It’s about doing what’s best for our kids—giving them wings, not strings. Here’s what strings and wings can look like as we relate to our teens:


  • helicoptering (hovering, orchestrating, interfering, nagging, meddling)
  • performance-driven (excessive pressuring for achievements and accomplishments, often because of how they reflect on the parent; valuing the performance more than the person, from the child’s point of view)
  • vicariousness (living life through the child; glorying in his or her successes and agonizing in his/her defeats as if they are the parent’s own)
  • enabling (not letting him/her fail and face consequences and take responsibility)
  • overprotection (being overly fearful of outside influences and perceived dangers; not allowing kids to experience enough of the real world to make informed choices; restricting them from meeting different people/navigating difficult situations and making their own decisions)
  • healthy separation (understanding that teens are their own persons separate from their parents and incrementally giving space and respect)
  • trust and grace (granting incremental freedom as it is earned through responsibility and integrity; making allowances for immaturity and lack of experience, extending forgiveness, and taking steps to re-establish trust when it is broken)
  • equipping (strategically training them to handle real world responsibilities and situations)
  • empowering (letting them make their own decisions and experience new/different kinds of people and challenging situations with trust and guidance; appreciating their unique design, gifts, and interests) 
Take a few moments for a self-check. Considering where you are in your parenting process, how would you answer the following questions?
  • Are you thinking ahead to the transition and how to approach it?
  • Are you setting goals and making decisions for your teen based on your interests and aspirations, or on theirs?
  • When you review the characteristics describing “wings” versus “strings” where do you see yourself? Are some mid-course corrections to your parenting style in order? In what areas?
  • What inspires you about the idea of giving your teen “wings” instead of “strings?” What concerns you and why?
By the time children reach the teen years and parents need to start letting go, the indications should suggest we’re raising—and releasing—mature, trustworthy, well-adjusted, and motivated young adults who are ready to tackle the world. If they’re otherwise, some of your parenting methods might be playing a role. It’s never too late or too early to for some mid-course corrections where needed.

Can you think of other examples of wing versus strings? If you are an educator, how do you see this impacting the students in your classrooms and how have you dealt with it?

Tagged as: parenting for the launch, parenting, teens, family, graduation, life skills

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