Teaching Adolescents Independence

Adolescents dream about the day when they will be on their own–have their own home, make their own choices, and reach their potential. The independence needed to fully live on one’s own, however, must be learned.

A parent’s teaching and approach towards their teenager influences how an adolescent develops responsibility, self-sufficiency, and independence.

Parents can foster independence and conscientiousness in their teenagers in the following ways:

  • Give children responsibilities and chores around the home. Even very young children can help with a few simple chores.
  • Give children clear limits and consistently enforce them. Despite how adolescents may rebel against restrictions, they need them and often want them. Limits engender a feeling of security and balance. They might even feel unloved if they see their parent is giving them no limits (6). They will learn to expect more from themselves through your guidance.
  • Offer freedom based on age and level of maturity and responsibility. As your children prove that they can follow the rules given they can receive more of the decision-making power.
  • Allow adolescents to make some decisions. Parents should step in and stop anything that puts their child or anyone else in danger, influences their future health or wellbeing negatively, or harms the environment of the home. But less serious decisions can be made by the adolescent, who is seeking the chance to form her own personality, preferences, and ideas. It can be frustrating for a parent, if a teen wants to wear an outrageous clothing style. But if the decision is harmless, arguing may not be truly effective.

Parents must recognize that a teen’s temporary exploration of different personalities and styles does not always reflect who they are and who they will become. (6)

  • Increase expectations of your teenagers in stages. Complete responsibility should not be dropped on a child at once (1). As children develop they will likely have moments where they are very responsible and some where they are not. With the learning of any new ability, we often experience stops and starts in our progression.
  • Allow your teenager to experience the consequences of their decisions. This can be difficult. An older teenager, whose parent always covers for him and drives him when he is repeatedly late to the school bus, is possibly being disabled by his parent. Enforce appropriate consequences for a teenager’s behavior, for example, have your teen ride his bike to school, or do some of mom’s housework to make up for the time to drive him. This is doing him a great service towards his future.
  • Help younger children be organized in school assignments and scheduling of activities. Older adolescents can take on the responsibility of remembering and managing their own schedule and assignments, asking parents for help if they need it.
  • Teach children to work for what they really want by having them earn money, do chores, or contribute in some way. Consider having them earn an appropriate part of the cost of big things (that they cannot earn on their own) before you agree to help them with the rest. Help them find ways to earn their own money and open a bank account. Teach them how to make and follow a budget.

Young adults who are very independent may often recall moments when their parents made them do many things by themselves and take responsibility for their actions throughout their lives. Because of this, the adjustment to living on their own and managing adult responsibility was much easier.

For more information on helping kids and teens develop adolescence:

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1) Brown University Child and Adolescent Letter. (Sept. 2, 2014). Encouraging responsibility: A guide for parents. Retrieved from: https://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=82d62159-a198-4285-84dd-0966ffe9fd30%40sessionmgr4009

2) Gengler, C. (2011) Becoming independent. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved from: https://www.extension.umn.edu/family/families-with-teens/resources-parents/whats-normal-for-teen-development/becoming-independent/

3) National Physicians Center. (2017). Building independence in adolescents. Retrieved from: http://www.physicianscenter.org/parents/parenting-resources/articles/building-independence-adolescents/.

4) Pickhardt, C. (Jul. 12, 2009). Teaching your adolescent independence. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/200907/teaching-your-adolescent-independence.

5) Tiret, H. (May 11, 2015). Helping teens learn independence and responsibility – parts 1 and 2. Michigan State University Extension. Retrieved from: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/helping_teens_learn_independence_and_responsibility_part_1

6) U.S. Department of Education. (2003). Independence – helping your child through early adolescence. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/adolescence/part7.html

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