It’s likely that the independence your child wants – and the amount of independence you want to give – will change as your child goes through the teenage years. Be prepared to adjust and keep negotiating as you move together along the learning curve.
Help your child develop decision-making skills
When your child needs to make a decision, you can help her develop skills by:
- finding out about different options
- talking about the pros and cons of different actions
- weighing up the pros and cons to make the best decision
- brainstorming what to do if things don’t go according to plan
- giving your child feedback on how she handles the process.
You can also include your child in family decision-making. This is another chance to boost your child’s self-esteem, and show that you value his input.
When it comes to big decisions that impact on your child – for example, about school, further study, staying out late and so on – try to make those decisions with your child, not for her. Our article on problem-solving can help you work through these decisions together.
Your teenager’s brain
continues to mature into the early 20s. In particular, the decision-making part of the brain is still developing, and your child is still learning to control impulses. Teenagers, especially younger teenagers, might be less capable of understanding the consequences of their behaviour.
Provide safe opportunities for your child to exercise independence
Activities that are safe and supported, but that give your child freedom and time away from you, can help your child:
- learn new skills and test new abilities
- take positive risks
- foster a sense of belonging
- build resilience.
For example, there might be a youth group or sports club in your area that your child would like to be involved in.
Look after yourself and seek help
Many parents report difficulties adjusting to their child’s growing independence. Some parents find their mental health is affected. You can read more about looking after yourself in our article on parenting teenagers.
It’s OK to admit you’re having difficulties – seek help if you need it. Speak with your GP, your child’s school counsellor or call Parentline on 1300 301 300.
Young people often experience conflicting feelings about an issue or person. Your child might seem to love and disrespect you at the same time; to want freedom, but also guidance; to want to hang out with friends, but also be alone. These mixed signals happen because your child is still developing emotionally and socially.
Young people are working out their own identities, and finding where they fit in the world. They’re likely to want more control over things like socialising, behaviour and appearance. As part of this process, they might test boundaries and question people they see as authority figures – especially you.
This might look like a recipe for conflict, but it doesn’t have to be. To learn how to handle these kinds of discussions, you might like to read our article on managing conflict with teenagers.
Many people think that adolescence is always a difficult time, and that all teenagers have bad moods and behave in challenging ways. In fact, some studies show that only 5-15% of teenagers go through extreme emotional turmoil, become rebellious, or have major conflicts with their parents. Good family relationships help teenagers develop the skills they need for adulthood.
Independence in children with special needs
If you have a child with special needs, this child’s growing independence might seem like an extra challenge.
For these teenagers, reaching full independence might take a bit longer than for other children. Achieving independence can be harder if children have spent many years being dependent on others, being cared for and having decisions made for them.
For children with chronic health needs, there’ll come a time when you’ll begin to share responsibilities with your child, such as managing his medications. Knowing when and how to do this can be challenging. If you’re trying to work out whether your child is ready to take on some of these responsibilities, consider whether your child can:
- solve problems
- make planned decisions, rather than impulsive ones
- understand the possible consequences of actions
- recognise when advice or guidance is needed – and accept it
- care about and plan for the future.
For younger children, it’s important to explain these issues clearly. This is better than saying, ‘You’re too young to look after things by yourself’.
You, your child and the health professionals managing your child’s care will all be involved in deciding when and how your child will begin to independently manage health decisions. Speak to a health professional about any concerns you might have.