Two great gifts parents can give teens

I've got two teen gift ideas for parents.  Both are free and neither will be socially or technologically passe six months from now.

Our system of education and the process of applying to college virtually guarantee that kids are feeling judged and evaluated all the time.  They're judged in school by how well they perform in their classes.  They're measured by tests like state assessments and APs and SAT/ACT exams.  They're evaluated by coaches and the people who make decisions about who plays the first violin, who gets the lead in the play and who is put in charge of the club fundraiser. From the moment kids enter high school, they can feel their entire existence in and out of class being measured and evaluated by the colleges (even if that's not the reality, kids certainly feel that way).

So parents, here are my two gift suggestions.

1)  Let them take breaks and be kids.

Evaluation and judgment aren't all bad for kids; successful people know that part of getting ahead is working hard and impressing the people in charge.  But kids still need to be teenagers and occasionally do things that are just for them, things that have absolutely no application to the college admissions process.  So let them regularly take breaks and be kids.  Let them have downtime that's just for them.  I don't care how goofy or unproductive the way they choose to spend that time might be.  Don't evaluate it.  Don't judge it.  As long as it isn't covered by the criminal code, just let them have it for themselves.   

2) Make home and family the one place where kids aren't constantly being measured.

There aren't a lot of places kids can go today where they're told they're great just the way they are.  Make home that place.  Make your family the one audience who isn't constantly measuring, judging and evaluating your kids.

You've still got to be a parent, set rules, and chastise your kid when he neglects to take out the garbage.  But if you tell him that all he has to do to make you proud is try his best, be nice to people and come home at the end of the day, he'll be more likely to do all three.