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Giving children responsibility to encourage independence

Karen Jarczyk, Prevention Director

March 20, 2017

Adolescents experience certain milestones. Beginning high school. The first date. Getting a driver’s license. And, finally graduation. These milestones are some of the markers in our children’s journey toward independence.

As parents, the goal is to develop healthy critical thinkers who can survive outside the nest. This journey can feel, at times, more traumatic for parents than it is for their children. Parents can become ruffled.

How can a parent foster their child’s sense of his or her own identity while maintaining a loving bond?

Complicating matters is that children develop at their own pace. What might not be an appropriate step toward independence for a friend’s child may be right for yours.

Some may be concerned autonomy means their teen separates from parents and gives in to peer influence. A more realistic, healthy, and developmentally appropriate way to view autonomy is to see it as the parent and the teen figuring out together a new relationship which is based on the teen becoming more mature.

Teens are curious birds. They enjoy learning about themselves. Developmentally, they try to identify how they are different from their parents. Parents can encourage their teen to spread their wings safely:  “best to test while in the nest.” What are little tests? Prepare a meal for the family. Do the laundry. Try a later curfew on the weekend. And perhaps a smoke detector beeps, white socks turn pink, and a chat occurs when the garage door opens just past midnight.

It’s OK.

Many good conversations can occur when mistakes happen. Parents can and do evolve through the easy times and the more challenging ones. They can see how relaxing the rules and increasing the freedoms goes. They may need time to grow comfortable with new roles. A bidirectional respect grows when parents don’t swoop in to fix problems and let children try their hand at resolving situations. Allowing teens the opportunity to display accountability may feel new for more protective parents; however, adolescents appreciate the trust they feel they’ve earned. Entrusting them little by little, more and more, helps children continue gaining responsibilities and thus feeling empowered. This can help adolescents and parents gain a healthier connection over time.

A parent fosters their child’s sense of his or her own identity while maintaining a loving bond in many ways. Listen to them, and keep talking. They are paying attention.

Visit the March Parents Use Your Power Newsletter for helpful tips in guiding your child on the path toward independence. For parents for high school students click here. For parents of middle school students click here. You can also listen to this month’s podcast, Parenting Strong, to hear our experts discuss ways the parent and the adolescent together figure out a new relationship which is based on the teen becoming more mature. Curfew, spending, laundry are just a few of the responsibilities parents and teens navigate. Sometimes mistakes can be better teachers than words.

Download a PDF of this blog post here. 


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