Teenagers crave freedom. They chaff under the restrictions imposed by parents, teachers, and society, and each generation seems to spend a few years struggling to find their way and place. Adolescence is that time of discovery, learning the skills necessary to become a successful independent adult. Some teenagers seem to struggle more than others. If you have a teen who is in the middle of that struggle, it may seem like their intention is to simply reject everything that you suggest, fighting back against your guidance and rebelling against your values.
Let’s step back for a moment and explore what it really means for teenagers to grow towards independence. When your teen rejects your suggestions, refuses to follow your lead, or defies your family values, is there a way to walk through the mine-field without being in constant conflict?
I come from a place of remembering vividly the epic battles of my own adolescence, growing up in an ultra-conservative religious family with parents who simply could not find a way to celebrate someone different than them. I also come from a place of having raised four kids through the teen years, and each one of those kids eventually found their way into lives that are quite different than mine but that work well for them. Finally, I come from a place of working with hundreds of families through the often conflicted teen years, helping them find peaceful solutions, bringing hope and healing to teenagers and parents stuck in a battle-zone mindset.
While every family is unique and each parent and teenager presents their own gifts and challenges, there are a few key things that I find in every successful family that are powerful ways they’ve learned to teach teens independence – so that when they reach adulthood, they’re fully prepared to live a successful life as an adult.
Here are Ten Ways to Teach Teens Independence.
- Listen more than you speak. Its easy for us parents to get stuck on imparting our words of wisdom, but so often we forget to stop talking and really listen.
- Find the good stuff. Even in the middle of epic battle moments, when it seems like everything you try doesn’t work and your teen is unreachable, there is something good. You simply need to be willing to find and focus on it.
- Offer real choices. When your kids were toddlers, the choices you offered may have been things like, broccoli or peas? The blue shirt or the green one? Now that you have teenagers, offer choices more appropriate to their budding independence. Take a shower this morning or tonight? Wear jeans or khakis? Come to the family reunion or stay home? Participate in religious studies or not?
- Measure success not in ways your teen is like YOU, but ways they can own their own identity. So often parents get stuck trying to create “mini-me’s”, and forget that adolescence is really a time of discovering and creating who THEY are.
- Be flexible. Teens get to change their minds, alot. That’s normal.
- Earn your teen’s respect. Oh dear, this one is guaranteed to annoy some parents – especially the ones who believe it really works to simply ‘demand’ respect. I used to believe that! But demanding respect only goes so far, and ends about the time your child turns four, not fourteen.
- Work to be the parent you wish you’d had. Remember what it was like for you? Some things never change, and you can go far by staying in touch with the ways you wish your own parents had celebrated your growing independence.
- Own your own stuff. This one is huge. So many parents seem to get stuck in a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. They’ll have their own verbal meltdown, then wonder why their teenager is disrespectful. Or they’ll justify little white lies or broken promises, then wonder why their teenager has a tough time trusting.
- Model gracefully doing life. If you complain about the unfairness of your employer, continually point out the problems in your town or your country, realize that your teenager will most likely copy your behavior regardless of how you hope to teach them a better way. Work to gently adjust as life has its ups and downs. Be intentional about choosing peaceful ways to adjust to tough days, and be wise about giving back. Your teenager is watching you, even when every signal you see says they are not.
- Involve your teen in an age-appropriate portion of real family life. This means involve them in family finances, discuss tough relationship issues, and give them real input into things like where to go on vacation or how to keep up with family chores. In a very few years your teenager is going to be completely responsible for their own life – let this be a exciting rehearsal!
While there is no sure-fire formula that can remove all conflict and erase the confusion and even desperation from your teenager’s growing up experience, following these ten ways to teach teens independence will go a long way toward helping to create a more peaceful way for them to get from where they are now to where they want to go.
What are some ways you’re working to teach your teenager independence? How are you celebrating their uniqueness? What are some struggles you can’t seem to find a solution to?