This is an age-old question, and it is inherent in raising a teen. The battle for independence will continue to exist between teens and parents because becoming more and more prepared for adulthood is one of the essential tasks of adolescence. However, just how much independence is the right amount? This article will explore independence and how it can empower a teen and prepare them for adulthood.
Why Teens Need Independence
One characteristic of teens is the incredible amount of creativity they have, the intense desire to explore new things, and a need to discover who they are. All of this requires some degree of autonomy. Teens need to feel that their parents are loosening the grip on them so that they can taste a bit of freedom.
In fact, teens need some freedom to be able to grow into a mature and responsible adult. Ideally, when an adolescent is ready to move away from home, they should have experienced enough freedom throughout their teenage years in order to:
- make clear decisions
- problem solve
- discover the values that are important to them
- form their own identity
- find a greater sense of independence
- rely less on their parents – socially, financially, and emotionally
It will be a process for teens to discover, learn, notice, and realize more and more about themselves and their lives in order to accomplish the above tasks.
A Healthy Amount of Freedom
Most parents recognize that teens need more and more independence to support their maturity and transition to adulthood. However, just how much independence is the right amount? Certainly, teens need a parent’s support and guidance just as much as they need their independence. So, there’s a balance that parents may need to look for. And the balance between freedom and parental monitoring is completely unique for each teen. Here are some factors to consider when thinking about how much freedom to give your adolescent:
- your teen’s chronological age
- your teen’s emotional age
- the level of your teen’s maturity
- level of your teen’s confidence
- quality of your teen’s self-esteem
- the quality of relationship you have with your teen
- the level of support your teen has
- whether your teen is prone to taking risks
- unique circumstances of each family
- your teen’s group of peers
All of these may be a factor when considering just how much autonomy to give your adolescent. Also, parents may be willing to give more freedom around certain issues, such as spending time with friends, compared to other issues, such as curfew time. Finding a healthy amount of freedom for your teen will be a moment by moment decision for parents because each situation and each family is unique.
How Parents Can Support their Teen
It is important to remember that teens do need the help of their parents. Although some adolescents might think they have it all under control, the truth is they need parental guidance. There’s a balance that parents will need to find between providing that guidance and letting their teen explore life on their own.
Another myth among parents is that adolescents are pulling away from parents in order to attach more to their friends. However, this is not entirely true. Teens are pulling away from their parents, but mostly in an effort to find themselves, and find their own way separate from the family. However, teens shouldn’t be detaching completely because parents are still providing teens the support and guidance they need. Laurence Steinberg, a world-renowned expert on adolescent psychology, says “It is detachment from parents, rather than attachment to peers, that is potentially harmful.”
Here are a few points that parents should keep in mind for supporting their teen through a process of becoming more and more independent:
1. Talk with your teens about the issues they are facing.
When you are a parent of a teen, it’s time to put on another hat. Most of their life, you’ve been guiding them by telling them what to do. Now, it’s time to guide them by letting them figure out how to work through their problems on their own. For instance, you might encourage them to think about pros and cons. You might support them by asking how they arrived at a particular conclusion. You can also avoid criticizing any ideas that you would normally question. Let your teen go through their process on their own. As parent, don’t tell them what to do, simply support them in their process of figuring it out themselves.
2. Relax the rules as your teen shows more responsibility and maturity.
If you’ve had the curfew at 10pm for the last three years, perhaps now that your teen is a senior in high school, you could make their curfew later. This can let your teen know that you trust them and that they have the ability to make decisions on their own. And knowing this is important for teens. If they know that you trust their decision-making, they are likely to trust their own decisions as well, which will be important as they enter adulthood.
3. Highlight your teen’s strengths and abilities.
Praise your teen for their strengths. This can build their self-esteem and self-confidence. When a teen feels good about themselves, they are more likely to make positive decisions in their lives. Furthermore, it’s important that teens feel that their parents are proud of them; this also adds to a sense of confidence and empowerment.
4. Talk to your teen about their weaknesses.
It’s important that teens also know their blind spots and areas that they are not so strong in. Ironically, this can help build confidence too. When teens are aware of what they are not so good at, they can immediately get help for it rather than getting themselves in a difficult situation. Of course, when talking about this, parents can be gentle and empathetic, and point out why it’s useful to know what one’s weaknesses are.
Finding the right amount of independence to give your teen is a significant part of raising an adolescent. Parents will need to find the right amount based on the factors mentioned above. The process of giving your teen more and more independence is indeed the process of preparing your teen more and more for adulthood.