Teach your teenager to be independent

boy looking happy
boy looking happy

boy looking happy

The teenage years are when young people begin to master the skills that will enable them to be fully independent in adulthood. As parents, we need to encourage independence in our teenagers, while keeping them safe and supported. We look at ways to encourage your child to be confident, independent and responsible.

Different kinds of independence

While some teenagers are craving freedom and independence from a young age, others need a little push to become confident and self-motivated. No matter which end of the spectrum your child sits at, there are a whole range of skills that teenagers need to learn in order to become independent. Some things to consider are:

  • being independent on the domestic front – cooking, cleaning and processing laundry
  • managing their time, study and responsibilities themselves
  • being confident in the outside world with different types of people and situations
  • looking out for themselves and their friends when out and about.

Young people mature at different rates, so what their friends are doing may not necessarily be right for your child at the same time. It’s important to have ongoing discussions with your child about their developing independence and to find a common ground where there is a balance between independence and safety.

Setting boundaries

When encouraging independence with your child, it’s important to discuss and set boundaries around behaviour. By setting firm and clear boundaries, both of you know what’s expected and allowed. 

When the expectations are clear, your child has the chance to explore things for themselves within them. Clear boundaries also help your child feel safe and cared for. As independence develops, it’s important to sit down with your child to discuss what the boundaries will be around different situations. Some examples to consider:

  • What are the rules about going out with friends?
  • What are the rules about contacting you while they’re out?
  • What are the rules about social media and technology use?

Earning trust

If your child wants more independence than you feel comfortable with, or you feel they’ve been untrustworthy in the past, consider creating some activities that could earn trust. Things like small outings or being left at home alone for brief periods of time will provide the building blocks for more independence. By building up trust in small increments you’ll both feel safe and supported as mutual trust develops. And there’s a balance struck between freedom and responsibility. Learn more about how to build trust with your child.

Effective decision-making

Teaching your child effective decision-making is a big step in preparing them for independence. By allowing them to work things out for themselves they develop an ability to identify and solve problems. They’ll also gain skills in rational thinking, listening and develop an ability to prioritise and compromise.Some ways to help your child develop decision-making skills:

  • encourage them to stay calm, listen, and think
  • get them to brainstorm a wide range of possible outcomes
  • get them to write a list of positives and negatives
  • encourage them to listen to their instincts.

Managing money

As teenagers want to exercise their independence and go out more, money takes a greater role in their lives. You can help by: 

  • modelling responsible money management in your own life
  • encourage them to earn their own money
  • help them set savings goals for things that they want
  • allow them to spend their money how they want, even if it means making mistakes
  • include them in making family financial decisions such as planning holidays or excursions.

Encourage responsibility

The level of responsibility you expect from your child should grow as they do. It’s important not to expect too much too soon. Remember that a teenager’s brain is still developing and that they’ll have poorer impulse control than adults.

As part of becoming responsible, young people learn to take ownership for the positive and negative consequences of their actions. When you encourage responsibility you have to be prepared to let your child fail and make their own mistakes, and to be prepared to allow them to do things their own way.

Teaching responsibility means you need to stand back and let them do things on their own. This will sometimes mean dealing with negative consequences in order for them to learn and develop. This is a really good life lesson.

Time management

Encouraging your child to become responsible for their time management is an important part of independence. Some things you can do:

  • Sit down with them and plot down all of their activities and responsibilities and create a weekly schedule.
  • When scheduling the week, make sure that there is a balance between work or study time and free time.
  • Consider introducing time management apps if they’re better with their phone or computer than written lists.
  • Encourage them to realistically identify how long things take.

Let go

It can be difficult and worrying to facilitate your child’s growing independence. Concerns about safety, responsibilities and wanting them to enjoy their lives without too many worries, can all make it difficult to let go and allow them to develop independence. When we progressively “let go” to allow our child to become independent we not only have to learn to trust them as young people, but we also have to trust ourselves and believe that we have laid a good foundation from which they will grow. Do your best, that’s all you can do.

Page last review by ReachOut Parents Clinical Advisory Group on