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Dear parents: how to raise an independent teen

Navigating independence during teen years can be tricky. What responsibilities and decisions should be left up to them? Which ones should be up to you to decide? We sat down with high school counselor and lifelong educator, Donita Jackson, to figure out what she wished parents knew about their teens.

1. “Teens need their space and time away from family.”

Though it may be hard to see your teen pushing away when they once physically clung to you, teens need to form their own independence away from family. From a psychological perspective, Jackson points to Erikson’s Stages of Psychological Development. According to Erikson, teens are in the Identity vs. Confusion stage. In this stage, adolescents search for a sense of self through an intense exploration of their personal values and beliefs. In The Self-Driven Child, authors Stixrud and Johnson emphasize the significance of teen autonomy as it lends them a healthy sense of control in their own lives. “When they [teens] are denied the ability to make meaningful choices, they are at high risk of becoming anxious, struggling to manage anger, becoming self-destructive, or self-medicating.” As a parent, supporting this independence and autonomy can help them make their own choices down the road. Visualize the next time your teen comes to you with something they’d like to be independent on. How can you give them a sense of control in the task or situation?

2. “While it is normal to have their own space and time away from family, parents should know that [their teens] are not yet adults and still NEED to have input from caregivers.”

Although kids need time and space away from parents to grow into independent beings, Jackson cautions against parents not taking an active role in their children’s lives. While teens will more likely go to their friends with daily troubles, they will reach out to adults more often for big issues. When raising a teen, parents need to shift from a dictator of what should happen to more of a coach who guides their teen through the decision making thought process. From The Self-Driven Child, Johnson writes, “Remember that your job is not to solve your children’s problems but to help them learn to run their own lives. This reframing [from manager to consultant] means that while we should guide, support, teach, help, and set limits for our kids, we should be clear—with them and with ourselves—that their lives are their own.”

3. “Parents need to realize that while their teen may have physically grown and surpassed the parent, they are not adults.”

What makes caregiver input all the more important during a teen’s formative years is the fact that their brains are still developing. “The frontal lobe is still developing and at times they may be rash or quick (impulsive) with emotions and decision making. Allow them space and give grace when they make decisions that aren’t the best AND love them back to where they can launch again.” This requires the ability to listen compassionately to your teen and understanding that they are developing a sense of self. As Jackson puts it “Allow them the space to grow and be within your boundaries.”

Teens need the right amount of exploration and autonomy to come into their own identity during these formative years. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t need a nudge in the right direction once in a while.

Let us know what you think! If you’re interested in a personal parenting coach, sign up here. Cherish also has free COVID-19 resources, from SMS coaching to curated parent community groups. Stay tuned for more!

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