How To Manage Teenage Independence
We all know that becoming independent isn’t something that just magically happens during the teenage years, usually from our own experience! The journey can be a long one with plenty of mistakes made on both sides simply because there is no manual which gives us a nice clear and concise A to Z of how to relinquish complete control of our offspring.
In reality, the journey to independence begins long before the teenage years; usually around the time we send our children off to playgroup/school with the hope that they will make friends and show adequate respect for their peers and teachers.
We are already expecting our children to begin making independent decisions about how they interact with other human beings! Of course, we don’t worry too much at this earlier stage of development because we are confidently assured that they are well supervised by responsible and caring adults who are merely assuming our parental role temporarily.
In fact, our major worries and concerns usually surface when our offspring reach high school age and begin to want to step out into the big wide world without that all-important supervision.
Is it possible to strike a balance between a child’s need for independence and our parental concerns? I would argue that a positive family relationship and good lines of communication with your child/children is a great start to this process.
Set Out The Ground Rules
- Clear family rules regarding behaviour will help your child understand your expectations and limits.
- Make it clear that you are fully aware that every family has different rules. Explain that friend’s parents may have different rules but your family rules are the ones which apply to him/her.
- Once the rules are in place, apply them consistently – chopping and changing your mind regarding acceptable behaviour will only confuse.
- Family rules must naturally evolve as your child develops – involving your child in developing the rules will help them to understand the principles behind each one.
- If you set very strict limits your child may not have enough room to grow and try new experiences.
- Remember that negative behaviour is not always about annoying or testing you. Your child could be confused and upset by the physical, social and emotional changes of adolescence and need your emotional guidance and stability rather than anger.
- Bringing up children is a learning curve – be prepared for some trial and error along the way.
Show Genuine Interest
- Take a genuine interest in your child’s interests and hobbies and be encouraging when they want to try new things.
- If they flit from hobby to hobby they are not aiming to irritate you, they are just learning to be themselves and develop their personality and interests.
- Remember that your hobbies and interests will not automatically interest your child. It’s not a negative reflection on you if Jimmy doesn’t enjoy stamp collecting or running.
- Take an interest in your child’s friends – if you encourage their friends to feel welcome in your home you are more likely to know if anything changes within friendship groups.
- Make time to listen when your child needs to talk but respect their space and privacy if they don’t want to discuss everything.
- Show that you respect your child’s feelings and opinions – taking your child’s opinions and ideas seriously will provide an important boost to their self-esteem.
- Make it clear that you expect your child to respect your opinion too and that there may often be a difference between the two.
- Your child needs to know that there will always be different perspectives in life and that other people have the right to think and feel differently to them.
- Talking about opinions and feelings calmly can help to keep the lines of communication open.
Work On Developing Their Decision-Making Skills
- If your child needs to make a decision, about school, sports or hobbies, help them to look at all the different options.
- Discussing and weighing up the pros and cons of different actions will help them clarify their opinion.
- Include your child in family decision-making – being involved will be a boost to their self-esteem and show that you value their input.
- Learning to use a problem-solving approach can help your child to develop independent decision-making skills which will be an advantage throughout their entire lives.
Even if you manage to integrate all of the above suggestions into your normal family life, there are still going to be periods of unrest because learning to manage emotions is all part of growing up. Always remember the following:
- Young people are working out their own identities to find out where they fit in the world. As part of this process, they might test boundaries and question your authority.
- Your love and support are essential for your child’s self-esteem. Young people who feel good about themselves usually have more confidence in discovering who they are and what they want to do with their lives.
It’s completely natural to worry about how much independence we allow our children because we worry they may face risky or damaging situations but at the end of the day it’s part of our job description, as parents, to encourage them to become responsible, well-adjusted and confident adults.