Encouraging Healthy Independence In Your Teen

It’s that time of year again, where college students are off to their new dorms, and parents are saying goodbye for the first time or yet again while their babies go back to school. Although it feels like children grow up in the blink of an eye, there are nearly two decades between birth and goodbye for us to prepare them to take on the world on their own. The last few years at home — namely, the teen years — are some of the most crucial to make sure your child is capable and confident when they leave the nest. If they are able to hold their own during these years of budding independence, they will be that much farther ahead of the game as they try to figure out adult life. Here’s how you can prepare your child to go off to college, trade school, the work force, or all three as an independent adult!

Let them problem solve, by themselves.

It’s natural for parents to want to shelter their children from every hard thing, but as they become teenagers and eventually adults, we must let them make some of their own decisions and, inevitably, mistakes that result in some real life consequences. A big part of this is letting them problem solve without trying to push them toward a certain course of action. To teach them this skill, try asking questions when they present you with a problem, instead of immediately offering a solution. If there is drama at school, instead of simply saying “ignore them” or “you should do xyz,” try prompting them to think it through with questions like “how do you think that made him feel?” If they are struggling at work or with a school assignment, don’t grab the reigns! Ask them questions like “What are some possible solutions to this problem?” or “How can you try to make sure this doesn’t happen again, moving forward?” As you ask them questions like these, you will help them learn to logically think through things independently, which is a crucial skill for successful adulthood.

Give them responsibilities and freedoms as they prove themselves ready.

One of the biggest predictors of whether or not a teen will become a “wild child” after moving out is whether or not they were given some age-appropriate responsibilities and freedoms before leaving the nest. Instead of throwing them in the deep end when they move out, by making them go from little to no responsibilities or control to all of it, try to give them some as they prove themselves ready. For example, if they are responsible with time spent on electronics, you may want to consider removing screen time restrictions and letting them decide for themselves. If they consistently keep their curfew, you might consider giving them a little more leeway on the weekends or during the summer. Even these little everyday decisions will give them the chance to learn responsible decision making and limits, making them much readier for independence.

Let them know that, if they need it as they figure out independence, you are always there to help.

This is another “don’t throw them in the deep end” thing. As they figure out pieces of independence like budgeting, social lives, and staying healthy, make sure they know that you are more than willing to help or advise them as needed. A big part of this is making sure you are available on a regular basis to talk to, hang out with, work alongside, or even just exist in the same room as. While there is something to be said for “tough love” and making them accept real life consequences for their actions, there are few things more comforting than knowing mom and dad are ready to give good advice and help out a little when needed. You want to be their safety net — not always holding them, but ready to catch them if they start to fall.

Children becoming adults can be a big learning curve for everyone involved, but with these three tips you can make sure that your child will hit the ground running!

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