Let Teens Earn Their Independence

In one way or another we prepare for our children to leave the nest from their first breath. We love them and protect them, watch as they learn to do more and more on their own. As they enter their teens, their focus shifts away from the family and they begin to prioritize peer relationships. With this comes more and more independence seeking – and rightly so! But, it can be a confusing time for parents.


Before they can fly solo, teens need to know some basics about how to handle themselves in the real world. They need to know what to do in an emergency, how to get around town on their own, how to manage time and money, and how to communicate effectively. Before you can feel safe giving them the independence they crave, they should be able to show you they can handle it. But how? Check in with yourself around how they’re faring with the responsibilities they already have, and be prepared that you might need to teach them some new skills.


Because it’s hard to know how much independence is right for your child, looking for examples from peers can be really tempting. However, since kids and families are all so different, this is rarely an ideal strategy. Your family has its own set of circumstances that require expectations tailored just to suit you. Base your decision-making on how reliable your child is at this point – how much trust your child has earned from you, and how responsible he’s shown himself to be. Using that as your guide will make you feel confident in loosening the reigns.


How Responsible is Your Child?


On the surface the question of how responsible your child is can seem like a judgement call, but  it’s not. Take a few minutes to think of specific examples of her responsibility, and bear in mind that responsibility is something to cultivate, not an inherent trait. Think about how your teen approaches homework. Does he plan ahead and pace himself? Does she understand the connection between homework and opportunity? Do his chores get done without a lot of nudging from you? Does she recognize the value of housework when it is not attached to rewards? Find three examples of times he’s taken on responsibility, beyond what was expected of him, within the last year.


If producing examples for the above scenarios is difficult, then your child might need more opportunities to cultivate her reliability. Learning to take responsibility can be challenging for a kid, but you can support him by offering rewards for good behavior. Housework is one way that your child can take responsibility. If you have a chore system in place already, it may be time to adjust it or give her more multi-faceted jobs. Even better, invite him take ownership of one part of the household work of his choosing and reward him for doing a great job, like keeping the living room in top shape. This way you get buy-in, and your child gets to practice being the sole caretaker of something meaningful. Their sense of pride might just make them want to do more.


You Can Use Tech to Boost Communication


Another way teens prove their reliability is through their communication. Not only do you need to know where they are and what they’re doing, it’s very helpful in the pursuit of independence when you and your teen can check in about works-in-progress.


One amazing boon of all the tech available to families is that it makes these interactions more fun for teens, and less painful than the grillings of our youth. Families are using anything from simple platforms like text to more advanced ones like Google Docs to keep each other in the loop. Social media apps like Pinterest and Snapchat are great for kids to share their ideas with you, while other apps like Landra are designed specifically to allow kids an opportunity to let you know what they’re thinking and needing around responsibilities you expect of them. The apps are fun in large part because they give teens a sense of accomplishment and industry.


Their willingness to let you into their worlds and to update you on the status of their work is a great indicator of how ready they are for more independence. By doing it, kids will learn to incorporate feedback and adjust their planning – boosting their executive functioning they need to handle more on their own. Communicating more builds trust and is a necessary independent living skill they will need to succeed in the working world.


How Trustworthy Is Your Child?

What is her communication like? Does he come to you with problems? Does she remember to share important details about school and upcoming events with you? Does he check in with you when he is supposed to? Does she tell the truth, even when she’s made a mistake? Does your child understand that mistakes provide valuable learning and opportunities for self-correction? Think of three examples of times your teen has been trustworthy over the last year.


Most parents wish that their kids were more forthcoming than they are. If your teen needs to develop more of the above communication skills, help her by addressing her fears around being honest with you; assure him that safety is your first priority and that he will earn more independence, as well as your respect, when he communicates honestly! Remember kids often hide the truth because they are frightened of its consequences. Be sure to give them appreciation for telling the truth, even if they’ve broken the rules. Sometimes face-to-face communication can be difficult. Some kids are better at it when they’re able to write or create something for you. Make use of some of the fantastic tech alternatives out there to transition your teen into more frequent communication. An added bonus, platforms like Landra allow you to give them feedback they can use to improve their work, showing you that they value your communication and building your trust.
Communicating about their lives is an essential ability kids need to have if you’re going to feel confident giving them more independence. Prioritizing it, and making good use of tech to support it, can be part of your family’s daily routines around chores, homework, and comings and goings. It won’t feel like a chore, it will feel like fun.

Jenny Kepler, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and writer who has been helping families navigate parenthood for over 10 years. Her office is in downtown Portland, OR where she does in person therapy with adults, couples and families. She also offers parent coaching over the phone for people who can’t see her in Portland. http://jennykepler.com/

Photo credit: Scott* via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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