Preparing to Launch


by Danelle Spence



Teenager driving a toy car with a rocket on his back - ready to launch!

We all know of those movies where an adult child is still living in their parent’s basement: eating their food, borrowing money for gas, attempting to date.

Nobody wants that. The child themselves, the potential mate, and of course… the parents.

To prevent the above from happening – this article is for you. If you have a child in the upper high school grades, how do you ensure they are prepared to launch into their post-secondary world? Or just life in general?

There are lots of discussions right now, describing this generation of teens as being ill-prepared for success in the real world. This alarms me. So here are a few things to think about:

The Step-In and Step-Out Method:

Do a quick assessment. Where is your child having particular success? Where is your child requiring more guidance? You may only have them under your floor for a few more months. Observe. If they have mastered or built competency in a particular area, then STEP OUT from parenting this area. Example: if your child has shown they can hand-in homework on time, then stop reminding them. If they consistently take the dog out when needed, stop asking if the dog has been out.  Again, STEP OUT from over-parenting when they’ve “got it”.

On the flip side, if your child can’t make their own hair appointment, STEP IN and help them build this skill. Guide them, direct them and help them do it themselves. Stop doing it for them. If your child can’t ask their teacher for extra support, again, don’t to do this for them. Coach them how to ask on their own. Their professors in university won’t (and shouldn’t) talk to student’s parents, so try to keep these things in mind. Your child will complain, they will certainly be uncomfortable, but they have to build these skills.

Think about the following “competency” areas:

  • Can they make a handful of relatively nutritious meals on their own?
  • Can they do laundry (without shrinkage) and iron (without burnage)?
  • Can they grocery shop by themselves?
  • Do they know how to live on a budget?
  • Can they talk to a mechanic on their own? To a customer service rep?
  • Can they pump their own gas?
  • Can they order their own meal at a restaurant? Can they request modifications, if required?
  • Can they have a fight with a friend and resolve it in a healthy and constructive way?
  • Can they authentically apologize when they make a mistake? Can they accept an apology?
  • Can they regulate their technology use on their own? Or can they only put their phones down when you ask them?

On a more serious note:

  • Are they aware of how they feel after one alcoholic beverage? Can they manage and regulate having one drink? Two drinks? Most importantly, can they say NO under pressure to drinking if they don’t want to? Can they navigate a party confidently, only drinking pop if they chose?
  • Do they have an idea (at least) of how to handle unwanted sexual advances – can they speak up, have a voice and assertively say no to pressures in this area?
  • Are the emotionally well? Do they need support in this area, while they are still under your roof? Could they benefit from counselling, so they can leave home with a metaphorical “toolkit” of strategies and coping skills if they need it?

If any of the above questions alarmed you – now is the time to help them. Try to remind yourself of the step-in and step-out method, as you now parent your older teen.

They will make mistakes and they will flail around as young adults. This is normal, necessary and developmentally appropriate. You may have to get comfortable, with having your child be uncomfortable. Remember: it is this discomfort in learning a new skill that creates positive change.

The result? Independence, confidence, and resilience. You may also be surprised by how prepared-to-launch your child becomes, in a very short amount of time.

I’m sure we all agree… hearing the sounds of 32-year-old-video-playing-in-the-basement is not all that appealing.


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About the Author

Danelle Spence

Danelle Spence is a Registered Psychologist with a passion for helping teens effectively manage emotional distress and helping their parents’ understand the complex and developing teenage brain.

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