Your teen is beginning to build the skills that will help them be an independent adult – someone able to secure a job, grow their abilities and thrive in a changing world. As a parent, you can encourage independence in your teen, while also keeping them safe and supported. Here are some ways you can encourage your teen to be independent and responsible, and to have confidence in their future.
Different kinds of independence
While some teens crave freedom and independence from a young age, others need a little push to become confident and self-motivated. Wherever your child sits on this spectrum, there is a whole range of skills they can learn that will help them to become a confident, independent adult. Skills you can help them practise are:
- being independent at home – learning to cook, clean and do their laundry
- managing their time – being responsible for their work and study
- being confident in the outside world – meeting people, and dealing with new situations
- looking out for themselves and their friends – being responsible when out and about.
Teens mature at different rates, so what their friends are doing may not be right for your teen at the same time. It’s good to keep an open dialogue going with your teen. Talk about their developing independence, and find common ground where they feel independent and you feel assured that they’re staying safe.
Setting boundaries that grow trust
Part of helping your teen to become independent involves agreeing boundaries around their behaviour so that you both know what’s expected and allowed. Your teen then has the chance to explore and discover things for themselves while also feeling safe and cared for. Boundaries will be different for different situations and should evolve as your teen grows older. Here are some areas where boundaries can be useful:
- Going out with friends – where they can go and how late they can stay out.
- Contacting you while they’re out – when and how often they should check in.
- Using social media and devices – what platforms are okay, and any device-free times.
Earning trust gradually
If your teen wants more independence than you’re comfortable with, or they’ve been untrustworthy in the past, create some activities where they can earn back your trust. Learning to be responsible and having freedom are all part of becoming an adult. Try building up trust in small increments, so you both feel safe and supported as they grow into it:
- Agree small outings they can go on without you.
- Practise leaving them at home alone for brief periods of time.
- Give them space in the home. (Teenage years are an intensely private time.)
Making effective decisions
Teaching your teen how to make decisions is a big step in preparing them for independence. If you allow them to work things out for themselves, they’ll become more able to identify and solve problems. They’ll also gain skills in rational thinking and listening, and will develop the ability to prioritise and compromise:
- Encourage them to stay calm, listen and think things through.
- Get them to brainstorm a wide range of possible outcomes.
- Get them to write a list of pros and cons so they can see if it’s worth it.
- Support them in listening to their instincts and trusting what they feel inside.
Managing their own money
As your teen exercises their independence and starts going out on their own more, money takes on a greater role in their lives. Learning to be responsible with money as a teen can set them on the right track financially for life. Here are some ways to help them:
- Be a role model – demonstrate responsible money management in your own life.
- Encourage them to earn money – pay them for doing certain chores around the house, or suggest they look for a part-time job.
- Get them to set realistic saving goals for things they want – a habit that will help set them up for life.
- Allow them to spend their money how they want – mistakes will help them learn.
- Give them a say in financial decisions that affect the family – such as what holidays or excursions to plan for.
The level of responsibility you expect from your teen should grow as they do. Don’t expect too much too soon. Remember that your teen’s brain is still developing and that they’ll have poorer impulse control now than they will have as an adult. When you encourage responsibility, remember to:
- Respect their individuality – provide guidance, but let them do things their own way so they learn from their own successes and failures.
- Ask their opinion – involve them in household planning about things like meals, chores and activities.
- Let them handle problems themselves – be available for problem solving, but don’t rush to bail them out.
Learning to manage their time
Being responsible for your own time management is an important part of becoming an adult. You can help your teen feel confident that they can handle everything on their plate with a little guidance:
- Sit down with them and create a weekly schedule – get them to plot all of their activities and responsibilities and when they’ll do them.
- Teach them the importance of balance – make sure they allow time for work and study, but allow for free time, too.
- Encourage them to be realistic – help them to work out how long things take, and to see that they need to allow for breaks, and for delays or problems.
- Introduce them to time management apps – if they’re better with their device than a written list, a good app can help. Evernote, The Homework App, Trello and Google Calendar are all popular.
It’s okay to let go!
As a parent you want your teen to grow into a confident, capable adult. When you progressively ‘let go’ and allow your teen to become more independent, you learn to trust them and they learn to trust themselves. It requires a bit of trial and error on both sides, but with your guidance they can grow and learn, and go on to great things.