As most parents of a teen can attest, dealing with their teen’s growing independence is often a daunting challenge. But pushing away from parents is a normal part of adolescence and necessary for a teen to develop into a healthy, capable adult. Yet because they are still maturing, they do need guidance and support along the way. So, how do you give your teen the space to grow and avoid overstepping boundaries that tend to push your teen farther away? The first step is understanding the necessary components for your teen to become a capable, healthy adult, and then know how you can guide and support your adolescent during this trying stage while still providing your teen the freedom to grow.
Responsibility - As kids grow, they need to take on more responsibility for themselves and within the family. Taking responsibility for themselves includes waking up and getting to school on time, managing homework and extracurricular activities, among many other tasks. Teens also need to develop more responsibility toward others. Teens can cook for the family, do more chores, and help care for younger siblings. They can also hold part-time jobs and volunteer to serve their communities.
Decision-making - Learning to problem-solve and making good decisions is crucial to becoming a capable adult, so teens need lots of opportunities to make their own decisions. There’s no doubt, they're going to make mistakes along the way. But the best lessons in life are often a result of mistakes. It’s natural for parents to want to protect their kids and prevent them from experiencing pain (physical or emotional). But the mistakes teens make, and particularly the consequences of those mistakes, often dull in comparison to those they could make in their adult life, so don’t try to protect your teen from ever making a mistake. By allowing adolescents to make their own decisions, experience failure, and problem-solve now, they’ll have the foresight and skills to make better decisions as adults.
The best way to help your teen develop decision-making skills is to pick and choose when to intervene. Consider the severity of the repercussions if your teen makes a particular mistake. For example, drinking and driving can be deadly not only to your teen but anyone else on the road, so if your teen doesn’t make an appropriate decision regarding this, you need to intervene. When the consequences are less severe, you should still offer guidance, but your teen should have much more freedom to decide for themselves and given the opportunities to fail and learn lessons.
Their own identity
During the teen years, kids struggle with the formation of their own identity, but forming their own identity is necessary to becoming an emotionally healthy adult.
Teen identity formation is seen in a number of behaviors:
Rebellion - Teens often rebel in an effort to differentiate themselves from their parents and authority figures. Rebellion can take the form of non-compliance or non-conformity. Either way, says Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D., in “Rebel with a Cause: Rebellion in Adolescence,” a teen will provoke their parents’ disapproval to assert the teen’s individuality. Unfortunately, rebellion can lead to self-defeating and even self-destructive behavior. If your teen is rebelling, Pickhardt recommends that you allow natural consequences to occur, provide positive guidance (repeatedly), and support constructive growth.
Sex, drugs, and alcohol - In addition to peer pressure, teens often use sex, drugs, and alcohol to feel grown up. These can be challenging issues for parents to deal with. The best approach for parents to take is to offer ongoing guidance to their teen regarding these matters and to keep the line of communication open. Talk to your teen about the facts and dangers of drugs, sex, and alcohol, how to be safe, and your expectations regarding these behaviors. If your teen comes home intoxicated, don’t overreact. Wait until your teen is sober and discuss the matter with them, calmly. Above all, make sure your teen knows they can talk to you at any time.
Status - Status symbols are another means by which teens search for their identity. They may insist on wearing expensive shoes and clothing or spend their money on pricey electronics or buying a car. This is an area where allowing your teen to make their own decisions is often best (so long as they’re spending their own money, not yours). Still, you should try to instill in your teen that material things aren’t what defines who they are; rather, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Idolization - Idols are another way teens search for their identity. Teens often mimic their idols in the way they dress, do their hair, and talk. While this can give teens a sense of belonging, it ultimately results in the loss of their own identity. Let your teen know it’s okay to admire their idol, but encourage your teen to be themself and remind your teen of their own valuable qualities.
Cliques - Another way teens try to discover or establish their identity is through cliquish exclusion. Being part of a group can be a good thing because it provides commonality and a sense of security and belonging. But unlike groups, cliques are restrictive and allow only certain types of people in. Teens are very good at disapproving of and excluding others who dress or act differently from them and often form cliques. If your adolescent is part of a clique, talk to your teen about the importance of still being oneself, having a mind of their own, and the courage to stand up to bad behavior that may occur within the clique.
Personal values - It’s only natural parents want and hope their kids will grow to hold the same values as their parents. But during the teen years, as adolescents try to carve out their own identity, they begin to question some of those values and experiment with new ones. Some of the values your teen comes to hold or oppose may go against your own. In some cases, these different values may even be self-destructive. Still, teens also often carve out new positive values on their own.
Although teens will ultimately choose the values they’ll live by, parents can still try to influence positive values in their teen. The key is talking with your teen and allowing for open dialogue between the two of you. When you do talk with your teen, ask open-ended questions that make your adolescent think. For example, ask your teen, “What would you do if you were with a friend who was bullying someone?” Also, ask your teen if they feel pressured to ignore certain values. If so, ask how your teen thinks they can overcome that pressure.
Finally, lead by example. Throughout the teen years, look for teachable moments. Find opportunities to invite your teen to join you in a value-based activity so your teen can experience the impact it has on others, the world, and their own sense of self-worth.
Kimberly is a freelance parenting and lifestyle writer. She also offers high-value B2B and B2C writing services that achieve results. Find her at kimberlyblaker.com.
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