Balance trust and freedom with your teenager

Working out how to give your teen freedom and trust them with it can be a balancing act. If you rely too much on fear or authority, they are more likely to rebel in order to gain some control. On the other hand, too much freedom can leave them feeling unsupported and like you don’t care. How can you give them the freedom they crave with the trust you need to know that they’ll be safe?

There are some boundaries that every teenager needs to have. These will help you feel comfortable that your child knows what your expectations are and will give them security and the ability to start self regulating their behaviour.

8 tips for setting boundaries

Your primary job is to keep your child safe and healthy and support them to grow into a responsible and contributing adult. Below are some tips for setting boundaries that can encourage your child to develop independence.

Boundaries should grow with your child

Knowing that your child is probably excited to learn what life is like beyond their family, there are some things that you can do to help them grow within boundaries that don’t inhibit them. These boundaries should change and adapt as your child gets older and at a rate that they can handle with maturity.

Outline your expectations

The boundaries you set for your child should be based on reasons that are clearly communicated to them. Make it clear that if they respect these reasons and meet your expectations, you will be happy to extend their boundaries and the freedom they have. You may want to let them know that with freedom comes responsibility and there will be consequences for times when they don’t comply with the boundaries you agreed on.

Let them decide their own hobbies

Hobbies create safe areas of independence and self-determination and can help your child to socialise with peers who share their interests. Let them decide how and where they will engage in them. They may have hobbies and interests which involve a level of risk. Learning how to take safe risks is healthy.

Allow them to determine their appearance

This area of their life is essential to finding out who they are. Their taste might test your opinion of good style, but we all have photos of when we were a teenager that make us cringe. This is the time for individuality to be explored. They will have rules for how they dress for school so you may need to discuss what’s appropriate for those times.

Give them some areas in their lives where they are completely in control

Think about the issues you feel confident they are ready to take on. When you do give them control, make it explicit. Commit to accepting their decisions, even if you don’t agree with them. This could be from getting to and from school on their own, taking public transport, getting a part time job or even being in control of their bedrooms. That’s right, it could be their private and personal space. How they choose to keep it is up to them. They will soon learn that not doing the laundry means no clean clothes.

Curfews should grow with your teenager

Having rules around when your teenager can go out with friends and requiring them to keep you informed shows you care. By adapting and giving them more freedom as they age shows you trust them more. Talk about the reasons for this rule, and decide together what should happen if they know they will be late.

Include your child in big decisions that affect their lives

This includes things like school and the subjects they take, further study, staying out late, and rules for using devices etc. If they help make these decisions they are more likely to honour them and it will give them a sense of control over their lives.

Give them opportunities to develop experience

Reducing restrictions over time gives your child room to demonstrate they can be trusted and make good decisions. Reward them with increased freedom. Knowing your child will be able to look after themselves is a great reward for both of you.

When to let go

Teenagers with too much freedom can be at just as much risk as those who haven’t had enough. There is a trust balance that you need to strike. Here are some ways in which you could do that:

  • Give them safe outlets for thrill seeking. If they are looking for thrills, support them to take on hobbies or engage in activities like rock-climbing, sports, outdoor activities, or even creative arts.

  • Let life be the teacher. You can’t protect your child from failing, feeling disappointed, hurt or sad. They have to find this out on their own. Life is about taking risks, both negative and positive ones, that’s how we learn to make the right decisions for ourselves. Preventing your child from taking risks won’t empower them to become the adult you want them to be. Celebrate their successes and learn how to support your child to respond well to failure.

  • Let them know they can always rely on your support. You won’t always like or agree with the choices your child makes. Being there for them means letting them know that you may not always agree with them but that you will always support them.

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