Some parents find it downright liberating when their teenagers become increasingly independent. Others find it unsettling, even threatening. Parents who are used to being in control often discover that allowing their teens to experience the world on their own is terrifying. However, developmentally it is important to slowly hand over control of your teen’s life…to your teen. You will always be their parent, but they have to learn to manage more of their day-to-day lives.
Here are some ways to give both you and your teenager practice shifting the locus of control from parent to teen:
- Have them take over any and all paper work involved with employment and their driver’s license. This sort of busy work will always be in their lives, so the sooner they begin to master it, the better. Money and driving are good motivators.
- Stop being their wake-up service. Insist they use an alarm, even two or three, to get up in the morning. Many parents find that their teenagers have less trouble getting up if there is no parent to nag them.
- Allow your teenager to not only use public transportation, but to figure it out on their own. It is much easier than it used to be thanks to the internet, but still may require some problem-solving skills, ingenuity, and if using a subway system, perhaps a bit of map reading.
- Don’t text them while they are at school. That is a time for them to be appropriately independent. Furthermore, many teachers find it frustrating when students excuse their use of the phone by saying something like, “It’s my mom.” If it’s an emergency, call the school office and speak with an administrator. If not, let them do their school day without you.
- Say yes whenever possible. Obviously, there are still questions that deserve a “no” answer. But, try to say yes when your teen is asking to do something that requires independence and a bit of freedom.
- Teach them life skills like cooking and laundry. Create opportunities for them to practice these skills frequently, like having ongoing responsibility for their own laundry.
- Leave them alone in the house—perhaps even for a weekend. I know, I know, everyone tells you not to leave teens alone for fear a party will erupt in your absence. But, not every teen is one step away from hosting a keg party. Additionally, you can always inform your neighbors and/or family and friends in the area just to make sure someone has an eye on the house. Teens can benefit from practicing their newly acquired life skills without being observed, cajoled, or corrected. (Editor’s note: Not sure if you and your teen are ready for this step? Check out our article “Is Your Child Responsible Enough to be Home Alone? Do’s and Don’ts for Parents”)
Have no fear, your teenager still needs you desperately, but they don’t need you to do for them what they can and should do for themselves. Instead, they need you to teach them how to do life on their own; the best way to do this is to give them chances to get out from under your watchful eye and slowly, maybe even imperfectly, take on more responsibility for their own lives.
Linda Rosenberg McGuire, MSW, MOL is a parenting coach, consultant, speaker, and writer. She provides insight, support, and education for parents and teachers who live and work with teenagers. Additionally, she currently serves as the Dean of Students at Westtown School in West Chester, PA.